Metallica and Kirk Hammett in particular require no special introduction. This band has single-handedly altered the world of metal, inspiring tens of thousands around the world. When you are such a figure of authority like Hammett, people tend to follow your lead on many things including guitars. Today we are going to check out one of Kirk’s creations that goes under the name of ESP LTD KH202. This bad boy delivers everything you would expect to see in a guitar inspired by one of the greatest guitar players in the world. With so much ground to cover, lets get right into the thick of it.
ESP LTD KH202 Review
When you are a popular guitar player, chances are that sooner or later a guitar manufacturer will approach you with a deal. That’s just how the industry works. What you do with that deal is what matters the most. Some are perfectly happy with just having their name on a piece of scrap wood, while others tend to add a bit more significance to those guitars. Kirk belongs to the latter group of guitarists. Despite there being a large variety of his signature models, each and every one has a pretty big set of shoes to fill – shoes chosen by Hammett himself. Same applies to ESP LTD KH202. This guitar brings the essence of his style, taste and setup in a fairly affordable package. Lets take a closer look.
On a first glance, ESP LTD KH202 breathes simplicity. It features that standard Super Strat body shape that we have seen in so many electric guitars by now. The finish they have chosen is a simple black lacquer with a glossy layer on top. In other words, nothing that stands out but a solution that is eternally classy no matter what your taste is like. Underneath, we find a basswood body. Whether or not you agree with their choice of tonewood doesn’t change the fact that basswood actually works rather well in this configuration. On a side note, basswood on its own can often be a much better choice than say mahogany. It is a very situational decision.
Neck is a classic maple piece with a rosewood fretboard on top. ESP made sure to include the skull and bones inlays on the fretboard, which is probably the only real way you could figure out what you are looking at on a whim. From a purely aesthetic point of view, with all black body and hardware, this guitar looks very attractive. Speaking of hardware, there is an interesting selection to be seen. ESP LTD took a Floyd Roze Special tremolo bridge that comes with a locking nut. At the headstock, they have installed a set of fairly decent tuning machines.
Usually when you see a Floyd Rose on a cheaper guitar, it is a cause for suspicion. Floyd Rose issued a number of licenses to other manufacturers, but their bridges aren’t always up to the standard of what we consider to be a proper Floyd Rose. In case of this guitar, everything is fairly solid. Once set up, this bridge won’t drop out of key nor mess up your intonation if you drive it a bit harder.
Moving on to pickups and electronics, we see a pair of ESP designed passive humbuckers. Even though Kirk is a fan of EMGs and has been for quite some time, this choice of electronics makes perfect sense. Not only are you getting a pretty hot set while still retaining the ability of expression which is something passive pickups are known for, but they have plenty of range as well. Controls include two volume knobs, a tone knob and a three-way pickup select switch.
The sound portion of the story is what it all comes down to in the end. KH202 is a sister guitar to the more expensive KH602. The main difference between these is the choice of electronics with the latter featuring a full set of EMG 81/60. So, how does KH202 compare to what would be Hammett’s perfect choice of electronics? Quite well, to be honest. Sure, there is an obvious lack of gain in the signal and you won’t be driving those amps as hard as you would with those EMGs. However, these ESP humbuckers still deliver that signature Hammett tone. They are responsive, well balanced and are capable of handling even the most gain rich distortions without the sound getting too mushy.
On top of that, the guitar itself feels very good when you pick it up. It sits well, which is another way of saying that it is properly balanced. The neck is fairly smooth and fast, although you have more than enough meat to grip a chunky chord. One thing that we were wondering about the most was sustain. Basswood isn’t really the best known tonewood for sustain. With that said, KH202 has proven to be a fairly formidable guitar in that regard. With Floyd Rose working as intended, a decent set of pickups and a well balanced body, ESP LTD KH202 starts to make a lot of sense. Last but not least, if you look at this guitar in context of its price, it is really hard not to include it as an option if your budget allows for it.
Many tend to limit Kirk Hammett’s legacy to his music alone. However, ESP LTD KH202 is a perfect example of the lesser known extent of his impact. This guitar, as basic as it is compared to more formidable signature series out there, still retains the essence of Kirk’s style. It becomes apparent the moment you pick it up. Those worried about the lack of EMGs should really put those thoughts aside. If the EMG package stretches your budget too far, KH202 is more than a suitable alternative. After all, it has been around long enough to prove this point quite clearly on multiple occasions.