Hetfield is back with the Explorers, but with a slight twist this time. James Hetfield is the frontman for the band Metallica. He is known for his Explorers and Les Paul shaped guitars. Playing with ESP mostly he has had dozens of signature models throughout the years. This is ESP's new James Hetfield Snakebyte model. This one is the full ESP version. There is an LTD version which is about 2000 dollars cheaper because it is not made in Japan. This guitar is made in Japan and has Custom Shop quality fit and finish. It has a Explorer shape but it is tweaked just enough so they dont get in trouble. Up top it has Sperzel locking tuners and a new sleek ESP logo. The neck is a beefy piece of mahogany with an ebony fretboard. It has standard dot inlays apart from a snake at the 12th fret. It has 22 jumbo frets The body is mahogany as well with set neck construction. The guitar comes stock with straplocks. It has a locking tune-o-matic bridge and tailpiece. The pickups are the formerly standard Hetfield set the 81 in the bridge and the 60 in the neck. The controls are simple with just a master volume and master tone knob with a 3 way.
Full branded ESP guitars have great fit and finish. This guitar plays very well. The Explorer shape is naturally a very comfortable guitar. Its shape lends it self to nice balance and provides good access to the upper frets. The jumbo frets and ebony fretboard let you get a nice smooth action and the locking tuners and locking bridge are something every guitar should have. The locking tuners keep you in tune and the locking bridge prevents the bridge from falling out during string changes and messing up your intonation. Factory straplocks are another great item. If you are gigging a guitar straplocks are a must. Nothing can kill a guitar faster than a strap coming undone.
This guitar has the classic Hetfield set although there is a new Hetfield set out. This guitar has the active EMG 81 in the bridge and the 60 in the neck. The 81 in the bridge is a classic setup. It has a nice high gain crucnh to it and with a razor sharp top end. It has a bit of a scooped sound. The 60 in the neck compliments the 81 well. The 81 is kind of limited because it does not clean up well. It has so much output and top end even rolling off the volume it does not get a good clean tone. The 60 is all clean tone pretty much. It has a smoother tone and a lot less output than the 81 in the bridge. So with the 81 and the 60 you get the best of both high gain crunch and cool clean tones. It will be interesting to see if ESP decides to use Hetfields signature pickup set in the future. It is more expensive than the standard 81 and 60 but it is more accurate to what he is currently playing.
This guitar is for the person who will only play a super high quality guitar. I know some people who will not play LTD's even if they have the same exact specs. This guitar is nearly 2000 dollars more expensive than the LTD model that has the same specs and hardware. This might be worth it to some people to get the full Japanese build quality but I do not see a quality difference worth 2000 dollars. An LTD with a good setup will play just as well as most ESP guitars. If you are looking at this guitar I would recommend you try out the LTD first and see if you can save yourself a bunch of money.