Bucking the trends, Japanese guitar maker opens U.S. factory to address
those consumers who put a premium on “Made In America”
It’s a common tale in our industry: suppliers establishing (or re-establishing) domestic manufacture to escape returns, repairs, erratic product quality, and other challenges associated with offshore production. ESP Guitar management explains that the motivation behind establishing a new factory in North Hollywood, California, a short distance from the company’s USA headquarters, is very different. First, ESP instruments have always been made at a factory in Japan that is 100% owned, operated, and exclusive to ESP; OEM factories are used only in the production of the company’s lower-priced LTD line. ESP will also benefit from proximity to many of the U.S. suppliers whose materials are used on all high-end ESP guitars. Also, pricing/value and margin pressure will be mitigated by elimination of freight and duty expenses incurred when the company imports guitars.
But the primary incentive for establishing the new factory was to answer longstanding marketplace demand for American-made ESP guitars. “There have always been many consumers and dealers who put a premium on U.S.-made products, while others are simply looking for a quality instrument,” explains ESP President Matt Masciandaro. “With this USA project, we can now serve both those camps.”
Noting another advantage of having production close to the primary market, Senior Vice President Jeff Moore observes, “There’s something to be said for being able to walk across the lot and engage with the craftsman responsible for building your guitars. We can view the entire process, start to finish, and be able to make changes and enhancements to the line quickly and efficiently. It also gives us the ability to hire within from the great team of guitar builders already working in our QC department.”
Since ESP Guitars was founded in 1975 as a custom shop in the back of a Tokyo music store, the company has carved out a respected niche in the global guitar market. The brand is iconic among the hard rock and metal crowds, promoted with support from such world-class endorsers as George Lynch (Dokken), Kirk Hammett and James Hetfield (Metallica), Stephen Carpenter (Deftones), Ron Wood (Rolling Stones), Alexi Laiho (Children of Bodom), and Max Cavalera (Soulfly). However, its instrument designs, from traditional and classic to angular extreme, appeal to a broad range of players, and its introduction of the moderately priced LTD line in 1996 drove exceptional sales growth over the decades. ESP USA opens a door to a new slice of the guitar-buying public.
On track to open in 2014, ESP’s California factory will produce the entirely new ESP USA guitar line to complement the existing ESP and LTD series, plus the new E-II series, also slated to debut next year. During its first year of operation, the USA facility will be crafting a series of production models on a limited basis, ramping up as demand for the new line grows. ESP USA instruments will initially be available through a select group of ESP dealers.
The first three models produced at the new factory are based on classic ESP designs, with distinctive design and cosmetic changes that make them unique to the USA Series. For example, the single cutaway Eclipse will feature a chambered mahogany body and a new inlay design. The Horizon will use set-through construction, which is a set-in neck with a smooth heel, instead of the more common neck-through body. All models feature quilt or flame maple tops and the pearl and abalone ESP USA inlay at the 12th fret.
Looking forward, the California factory will eventually introduce more designs and limited runs. But there are no immediate plans, Masciandaro stresses, to make it a “custom shop” offering one-off instruments built to customer specs.” This highly specialized craft will remain the province of the world-renowned ESP Custom Shop in Tokyo.
While acknowledging the currently lackluster electric guitar market, Moore calls the decision to open the new factory “an investment in our future.” He adds that the first ESP USA models will be priced in the $3,000-$4,000 range (MAP), “which is very competitive compared to other U.S. builders. We’re excited to be able to offer top-quality U.S.-made guitars that are profitable for our dealers and an exceptional value to musicians. It’s going to be an exciting year for ESP and our customers.”
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