Kirk Got His Guitar -  ESP 400 Series

Kirk Got His Guitar - ESP 400 Series

Stevie Ray Vaughan, Earthquakes, Tighty Whities - The Adventures of Chris Kelly (audio only)

In this week’s podcast I have the privilege of hanging out with Chris Kelly. I don’t usually struggle for words, but it’s hard to put into writing where to start. 

My jaw was on the floor for most of the conversation, listening and laughing in amazement, but Chris disperses so much great substance in the mix you’ll listen to this one a few times.  

Chris has a storied tenure with legacy guitar brands such as Robin, Ibanez, Peavey, and Budda Amps. 

Much of our time focused on the Ibanez years as Chris was Director of Artist Relations and headed up the Custom Shop from 1985-1994. The artists he worked with and his circle of friends are household names and Chris shares some amazing stories:

  • Being best friends with SRV and designing the double neck guitar/mando he and Jimmie played in “Pipeline”

  • Working with Steve Vai to develop his JEM and the infamous monkey grip

  • Signing Joe Satriani to Ibanez

  • Hanging out with EVH at Studio 5150 (all the time)

  • Rooming with Johnny Depp and Nick Cage at The Roosevelt in Hollywood

  • Weekly golf games with Jani Lane, Tommy Lee, and Vince Neil

  • Playing in 10,000 Maniacs, Ministry, and League of Blind Women

Beyond the incredible rock n’ roll stories Chris drops some eye-opening life lessons that led to his success working in the industry and helping design amazing guitars. 

Given his experiences I had to ask Chris about the single best piece of advice he’s ever received and here’s what he said:

“Meeting Bob Hope on the 9th hole at a golf course in Burbank, CA”.  The exchange went like this from Chris to Bob, “can you give me any advice?”. Bob said, “I guess I was in the right place at the right time, but I knew enough to take myself there”.  

Thank you Chris for sharing your candor and heartfelt rock n’ roll journey, much love!

ESP (Electronic Sound Products) was established in 1975 by Hisatake Shibuya 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.  

Their entry into the U.S. came in 1984/85 as ESP started selling one-off custom guitars from their freshly established New York City 48th Street custom shop. 

At the same time ESP began supplying necks and bodies for Kramer Guitars. Also of interest around that timeframe, some of Robin’s guitars (of Houston, TX fame) were being manufactured by ESP including the Robin Ranger Custom.

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. 

These were not new guitars for ESP, but they were new for the U.S. market. 

Then ESP went full bore with super strats, pointy guitars and George Lynch’s Kamikaze with their 1987 offerings and never looked back.   

ESP Kamikaze (reissue)

In Metallica’s “One” video Kirk Hammett played a 400 Series S-Type and marked the beginning of a relationship with ESP that continues to this day. 

Hammett’s 400 is a little different, more of a sleepy super strat with a Floyd Rose and locking nut.


I suspect it was a 48th Street custom job. ESP did catalog some similar versions for sale in Japan, but Kirk’s was just different enough that I haven’t seen anything similar.  

Iconic video, iconic guitarist.  It sold at auction in April 2021 for $112,500

Leave a comment

Please note, comments need to be approved before they are published.