ESP was founded by Hisatake Shibuya in 1975 as a manufacturer of higher-end guitar replacement components based in Tokyo. Within a year ESP began producing guitars in Japan, but remained relatively unheard of in the U.S. until the early 1980s.
It was not until 1984-85 that ESP started selling one-off custom guitars domestically in New York City. At the same time ESP began supplying necks and bodies for Kramer Guitars.
Also of interest about the same time, some of Robin’s guitars (of Houston, TX fame) were being manufactured by ESP including the Robin Ranger Custom.
Enter 1986, the first year that ESP delivered a production line of guitars in the U.S.-- the 400 Series. Also dubbed as the "Traditional Series" there were three lines of electric guitars, a strat and tele body style, and two jazz style basses.
While on tour with Dokken in 1986, George Lynch and his guitar tech stumbled into ESP’s main shop in Tokyo. They ended up spending a half a day working with ESP on a custom build that included a wide 1 ¾” nut width closer to the classical guitars Lynch grew up playing.
The result was Lynch’s Kamikaze guitar and it was ESP’s first signature model.
The Kamikaze, among other superstrat and shredder style guitars were introduced in the 1987 catalog and it was the crest of a tidal wave.
Before the turn of the decade endorsements kept coming from the likes of George Lynch, Bruce Kulick, Ronnie Wood, Vernon Reid, and James Hetfield (a few among many).