Day 158: Choosing Between Similar Signature Model Guitars

Kirk Hammett Signature Guitars: (left) ESP LTD KH-203 & (right) ESP LTD KH-502

Let’s dive into the specs since there aren’t many differences between these guitars:

  • Model: 203 // 502
  • Contour: Les Paul // Double Cutaway
  • Construction: Bolt-On Neck // Neck-Through Body
  • Neck: 3-Piece Maple (same)
  • Body: Basswood // Alder Sides (Maple core)
  • Fingerboard: Rosewood, 24.75″ Scale, Spider and Skull & Cross Bone Inlays, Locking Nut // Rosewood, 25.5″ Scale, Skull & Cross Bone Inlays, Locking Nut
  • Electronics: Active EMG Pickups (Bridge & Neck), 2 Volume Knobs, 1 Tone Knob, 3-Way Lever Selector (same)
  • Hardware: Floyd Rose Bridge, ESP Tuners, Black Hardware (same)

With basically all else the same between the two guitars, I like the 502 best. They sound slightly different, with the 502 sounding more full. And while I could never really hear the differences between body woods before, I suspect that the difference in sound comes from the combination of contrasting construction, scale-length, and tonewood.

Legend has it, neck-through guitars and basses have more sustain. According to legend, the energy of a strummed note will be absorbed by the guitar’s bolted-on neck, especially when transferring between different wood types (the 203 guitar goes from maple to basswood). If the neck and body are a single piece of wood (like the 502’s maple neck-through body), then the energy of the note isn’t lost in the hardware, which results in the longest possible notes. I have compared the sustain between my various basses, and my neck-through bass definitely lasts the longest. I can’t say that construction makes all of the difference in sound, but I definitely think the 502 sounds bigger than the 203. 

The difference in scale-length between the guitars is less than an inch, but in my experience, scale-length makes a difference in volume. I already own basses in 3 different lengths, and even when playing the same notes, the longest bass sounds like it produces a larger sound, as if the volume is turned past 10. Either way, the 502 is 3/4″ longer in scale than the 203 and I think the 502 sounds more full. Coincidentally, my 7-string guitar has the same scale length, so I should have very little trouble switching between the two.

As for body woods, it is agreed around the world that different tonewoods have different qualities. If I’m going to own different guitars, I want them to sound different from one another. My Squier guitar, which has a maple neck and alder-poplar body, sounds identical to the maple/basswood combination of the 203. Even though there are many more differences between my Squier and the 203 such as string gauges and scale-length, I can’t tell the difference. This interesting similarity leads me to conclude that I’m drawn to the sound of the 502’s maple body.

I really like the 502 in comparison to the 203, so the final question for me is whether or not I should I be buying a guitar since I previously stated that I’m not interested in collecting guitars. The 502 is a rare guitar, but I think its sound could be useful for recording and performing. After all, I plan to use this guitar like heck. I should probably consider hanging them on the wall… On display, my guitars can be admired for their beauty and readily accessible for recording.

My unexpected collection of guitars is growing, but at the very least, all of my guitars will be getting TLC.

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