ESP vs PRS Electric Guitars: Which are the Best?


If you’re in the market for a new electric guitar, then PRS and ESP are two great quality brands to look at, but which one makes the best guitars? In this article, I’ll compare the tone, origin, price, hardware, pickups and tone woods, plus plenty more, to help you decide if you should go with a PRS or an ESP model.

The Quick Answer

ESP electric guitars are mainly aimed towards metal players, whereas PRS guitars are made to suit a wide market. ESP make a range of entry-level models, as well as mid-range and professional level guitars, whereas PRS do not cater for beginners and only make mid-high range electric guitars.

Brand Overview

Before we jump into some comparisons, I wanted to give you a brief outline of how each brand organises their range, and the kinds of shapes they offer.

PRS

PRS organise their range into different line-ups which cater for different budgets. Each series has multiple different shapes available. Here are the different series:

  • SE: this is the cheapest range of guitars PRS offer and they cater for the intermediate/ mid-range market, costing between $580 and $1500, however most models are under $1000.
  • S2: these are the cheapest American-made PRS guitars can cost between $1000 and $1500.
  • CE: these are also made in America and have a bolt-on neck, unlike the other series which have set-necks. Models in this range cost between $1900 and $2250.
  • USA Core: this is the flagship range with models starting at around $3500.

I’ve written an article explaining the PRS range in more detail if you’re looking for some more information on the differences between each series.

PRS offer different shapes within each series listed above. Here are the main ones:

  • Custom 24: double cutaway, 24 fret neck and tremolo bridge.
  • Custom 22: double cutaway, 22 fret neck and tremolo bridge.
  • 245 Standard: single cutaway, 22 fret neck and fixed bridge.
  • Standard 24: double cutaway, 24 fret neck and tremolo bridge.
  • Santana: symmetrical double cutaway, 24 fret neck and tremolo bridge.
  • Mira: symmetrical double cutaway, 22 fret neck and fixed bridge.
  • Starla: single cutaway, 22 fret neck and fixed bridge.
  • Silver Sky: double cutaway, 22 fret neck, pickguard and tremolo bridge.
  • Hollowbody and semi-hollow body designs.

Here are some images (all link to Amazon) of the main PRS shapes.

Custom 24

Standard 24

Standard 245

Santana

Mira

Starla

Hollowbody

Silver Sky

ESP

ESP divide their range into 4 main series which cater for different budgets:

  • ESP Ltd: prices range from $200 to around $1500. The models are made in China and Indonesia primarily.
  • ESP II: start at around $1900 and are made in Japan.
  • ESP USA: start at around $3000.
  • ESP Original: custom shop, USA-made guitars.

ESP produce guitars with many different shapes which can often be found in at least two of the series listed above:

  • EC/ Eclipse: LP-shape
  • Arrow: V-shape
  • EX: Z-shape
  • FRX/ F-series: aggressive double cutaway
  • H-series/ M-series/ MH-series/ SN-series/ Horizon: double cutaway.
  • Pheonix: offset single-cutaway.
  • TE-series: T-type.
  • Viper-series: offset SG shape.

Here are some images (all link to Amazon) of the main ESP shapes.

Arrow

EC/ Eclipse

EX-Series

FRX/ F-Series

MH-Series

SN-Series

TE-Series

Viper

Comparing the Tone

It can be difficult to compare the tone of an entire brand with another, because most models in the range sound different from each other. However, I’ll do my best to pin down each brand’s “signature tone” in this next section. To make things a bit easier, it’s probably best to take two of the most popular models as a starting point: the PRS Custom 24 and ESP Eclipse.

  • The PRS Custom 24 has a warm tone with plenty of mid-range frequencies, giving it some depth. It doesn’t sound super heavy, and has more of a vintage-style sound which is commonly associated with rock ‘n’ roll.
  • The ESP Eclipse has a dark and aggressive tone, but still with plenty of clarity due to the active humbucker pickups found on a lot of mid-high end models in the range. This makes it very suitable for heavy rock and metal, but not quite as good for softer genres.

PRS guitars tend to have a warm and full tone that compliments a lot of music styles, whereas ESP guitars are usually targeted towards metal players due to their high-output, dark and rich tones which sound a bit more aggressive compared to PRS guitars. ESP guitars tend to have more low-end than PRS, giving ESP models a “fatter” tone.

That’s not to say that you can’t play metal on a PRS, and you can only play metal on an ESP. Both models are versatile, and the amp you use is going to make a huge difference.

Here is a video comparing a PRS SE Custom 24 and ESP Ltd EC guitar. But keep in mind that these are just two models. It’s best to look at all your options within your budget from both brands, and play them in the store to see which tone sounds best to you.

Where are They Made?

ESP make their guitars in China, Indonesia, Japan, South Korea, and the USA, and PRS make their guitars in China, Indonesia, South Korea and the USA.

  • PRS make most of their SE-line (under $1000) in Indonesia, and their hollow-body models in China. ESP
  • ESP make most of their mid-high end models in the Ltd range in South Korea which range between $950 and $1750. PRS make some of their SE-line in South Korea.
  • ESP make most of their high-end models in Japan, starting at around $1900.
  • PRS make the majority of their guitars in America, starting at around $1000 with the S2 line. ESP make a limited selection of guitars in America (custom-shop models), which start at around $3000.

Why does it matter?

Many buyers like to use the origin of the guitar as an indication of the quality, however this is definitely no the be-all and end-all.

Some believe that Chinese and Indonesian-made guitars are lower-quality because they are often mass produced, followed by South Korea, then Japan, and then finally the USA has an excellent reputation for making the best guitars.

However, try not to focus on the country it says on the back of the headstock, and choose the guitar that sounds, looks and feels best for you.

I’ve written a full article discussing the differences between guitars made in different regions, so check it out if you’re after a more detailed answer.

Components

When comparing the two brands, I think it’s probably most important to consider the components used to make the individual guitars, as these are often a useful indication of the quality.

Neck

Most ESP guitars have a “thin-U” shaped neck, whilst PRS guitars often have a “wide-C” shaped neck. This means that ESP guitars often have a thinner and flatter neck profile, compared to the more rounded profile found on PRS guitars.

For shredding, most players will prefer ESP necks, since they generally feel a bit “quicker”. However, PRS necks are often described as universally comfortable, and although they may not be quite as quick, they suit a range of playing styles and are usually easier for holding barre chords.

It’s all personal preference though, and the best thing to do, is to try a few guitars in a store. The neck will vary depending on the model, so it’s very possible to try an ESP with a super thin neck, or a more rounded one. It’s impossible to decide which is the most comfortable design, unless you’ve given them a try.

Bridge

PRS and ESP both offer fixed and floating (tremolo) bridge options. It is perhaps slightly more common to find a floating bridge on a PRS guitar, due to the popularity of their Custom 24 models, compared to ESP which are probably best known for their EC/ Eclipse range, which often uses a fixed bridge instead.

When it comes to floating bridges, PRS mainly use their own design which is stable but does not allow for super dramatic tremolo pulls. ESP opt for Floyd Rose licenced tremolos on a lot of models, which allow for more dramatic use of the tremolo arm.

Pickups

Most PRS and ESP models use humbucker pickups. A lot of ESP guitars have active pickups, which have a high output and produce a loud and clear tone, even with heavy distortion, making them great for metal. PRS primarily use passive pickups instead which have a lower output. They can still be used for metal, but typically don’t sound quite as good.

In terms of the branding, PRS mainly use their own pickups on a lot of their models, whilst ESP tend to use EMG, Fishman Fluence and Seymour Duncan pickups instead. At around the $800, you’ll usually start seeing one of these pickup brands, instead of the ESP-pickups found on cheaper models.

Tone Wood

PRS and ESP make most of their guitars using mahogany bodies. Mahogany is a dark and heavy wood which has excellent sustain, and provides a low of bass and mid-range frequencies, giving the guitar a full and warm tone. Many models in both ranges also have a maple top or cap, which provides a unique finish such as quilted or flame, and adds some brightness to the tone to help balance it.

Cheaper ESP models also use basswood, which is more affordable but doesn’t offer as much resonance and sustain. However, typically at around $500 you’ll see mahogany bodies on most models, which is a similar price point to where the PRS range starts.

Constructions

ESP guitars primarily use neck-through constructions, except for the cheaper models which have bolt-on necks. PRS mainly use set-neck constructions, except for a limited selection of guitars (the CE range) which have bolt-on neck constructions instead.

  • Bolt-on necks: these are the cheapest construction type, but offer the least sustain.
  • Set-necks: these are more expensive than bolt-on necks and offer more sustain. This involves gluing the neck and body together.
  • Neck-through: these are the most expensive to construct, and offer the most sustain. This is when the neck and body are made from a continuous piece of wood, instead of being joined together.

Check out my article on the different neck construction methods and why they’re important if you want to learn more about this topic.

I’ve written a complete buyer’s guide for electric guitars which takes you through all the things you need to consider and a step-by-step method to narrowing down your selection and choosing the best option. Here is a link to the article.

The Ranges

I’ve chosen some of the top selling models from both brand’s for comparison. The prices are all from Guitar Center at the time of writing and the tables are ordered from the cheapest, to most expensive model in each price bracket. This is definitely not a full list of each range, far from it. But it does help to highlight the kinds of features you can expect to see at the different price points.

Guitar Center are always the first place I look at when I’m interested in a new electric guitar because have a huge range of models for sale and always have some excellent deals on. Here’s a link to take you directly to Guitar Center’s electric guitar range so you can see all the offers available at the moment. 

Under $500 (ESP only)

GuitarConstructionPickupsBridgeBody WoodPrice
ESP EC10Bolt-onPassive ESPFixedBasswood$200
ESP M10Bolt-onPassive ESPFixedBasswood$200
ESP LTD EC-256FMSet-neckPassive ESPFixedMahogany$500
ESP guitars under $500

$500-$1000

GuitarConstructionPickupsBridgeBody WoodPrice
ESP LTD EC-256Set-NeckPassive ESPFixedMahogany$550
PRS SE Standard 24Set-NeckPassive PRSPRS TremoloMahogany$580
PRS SE 245 StandardSet-NeckPassive PRSFixedMahogany$650
ESP SH-207Bolt-onPassive ESPFixedMahogany$700
PRS SE Custom 24Set-NeckPassive PRSPRS TremoloMahogany$790
ESP LTD EC-401Neck-thruActive FishmanFixedMahogany$900
PRS S2 Standard 24Set-NeckPRS PassivePRS TremoloMahogany$1000
PRS vs ESP guitars between $500 and $1000

$1000-$2000

GuitarConstructionPickupsBridgeBody WoodPrice
ESP LTD Deluxe EC-1000Neck-thruPassive EMG/ Seymour DuncanFixedMahogany$1050
ESP EC-1000 ETNeck-thruPassive EMPFixedMahogany$1250
ESP MH-1007 EvertuneNeck-thruActive FishmanFixedMahogany$1350
PRS S2 VelaSet-NeckPRS PassiveFixedMahogany$1450
ESP NS-6Neck-thruActive FishmanFixedMahogany$1500
PRS S2 Custom 24Set-NeckPassive PRSPRS TremoloMahogany$1650
ESP E-II MINeck-thruActive EMGFixedAlder$1800
ESP E-II VIPERNeck-thruActive EMGFixedMahogany$2000
PRS CE 24Bolt-OnPassive PRSPRS TremoloMahogany$2000
PRS vs ESP guitars between $1000 and $2000

Over $2000

GuitarConstructionPickupsBridgeBody WoodPrice
ESP E-II HorizonNeck-thruPassive Seymour DuncanFloyd RoseMahogany$2200
ESP E-II Eclipse-IINeck-thruActive EMGFixedMahogany$2400
PRS Silver SkyBolt-OnPRS PassivePRS TremoloAlder$2400
ESP USA M3 GTBolt-OnPassive Seymour DuncanFulcrum TremoloMahogany$3300
PRS Custom 24Set-NeckPassive PRSPRS TremoloMahogany$3850
PRS vs ESP guitars over $2000

Which are the Best?

PRS and ESP both make great electric guitars, but I think they excel in different areas and will suit different players.

For metal, ESP guitars are usually the better option compared to PRS. ESP guitars are aimed at metal players with their high-output pickups and thin necks, which make them perfect for shredding. PRS guitars usually don’t have enough low-end for modern metal, however you can adjust the amp settings to accommodate.

For beginners, ESP guitars are better than PRS guitars because they can be found for a much cheaper price. The ESP range starts at around $200, whilst PRS guitars start at around $550-$600. However, both brands make comfortable and versatile guitars which are good for beginners to learn to play on.

If you’re looking for a USA-made guitar, then PRS is the best option, as their S2 range starts at around $1000, whereas ESP make a very limited selection of custom shop models in the USA which start at roughly $3000.

If you are looking for a very versatile guitar, then PRS may be the best choice, as ESP guitars tend to be more focussed towards metal players. PRS guitars have a balanced tone, and have less aggressive and dramatic shapes compared to PRS, so will look good on stage no matter when genre of music you’re playing.

As I’ve mentioned throughout this article, the best thing to do, is to find the models in your price range, and try them in the store. You need to choose a guitar which sounds, feels and looks best to you, and that’s really hard to do unless you’ve given them a proper try!

I’ve written a complete buyer’s guide for electric guitars which takes you through all the things you need to consider and a step-by-step method to narrowing down your selection and choosing the best option. Here is a link to the article.

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Heather

Hey, I'm Heather. I started playing an electric guitar when I was given a Squier Strat for my birthday around 15 years ago. I now own an acoustic guitar and several electric guitars including my personal favourite, a PRS SE Custom 24.

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