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For the Kirk Hammett appreciators out there, there is nothing quite as satisfying as shredding along to one of his epic solos on one of his signature ESP KH guitars. However, diehard Metallica fans may struggle to justify dropping over five grand on a premium KH-30. Thankfully there are more wallet-friendly ways to buy a Kirk Hammett signature, with the KH-202 from ESP’s budget line LTD proving the most affordable of the bunch.
On the face of it, the KH-202 is very similar to the more expensive iterations of Hammett’s signature KH models. It’s also a very simple guitar – in fact, without any of the decoration, it would just be a mediocre black superstrat. However, LTD include all the key details that make the KH-202 anything but mediocre, such as the distinctive reverse headstock and Hammett’s iconic skull and crossbones inlays.
In terms of materials, everything stands up to scrutiny here. The body is made from solid basswood with a deep, glossy black finish. Bolted onto the body is a very sturdy and equally thin U-shaped maple neck, which is incredibly fast to move around. Meanwhile, the 24 extra-jumbo frets on the roasted jatoba fretboard make for easy string manipulation.
Despite its thin neck and comfortable body, the guitar has a little heft to it which adds to the overall feeling of quality – definitely a gig-worthy axe.
So, it looks the part – what about the hardware? For the sub-$500 price tag, the KH-202 offers enough to satisfy and it is clearly built with the lead player in mind. Components include a Floyd Rose Special Tremolo with a locking nut, which allows you to bash, bend and divebomb to your heart’s content without affecting the tuning.
As for electronics, the KH-202 is loaded with a pair of ESP-designed LH-301 humbuckers at the bridge and neck positions, along with a volume control for each pickup, as well as a master tone knob and three-way selector. A simple but effective setup in the electronics department.
Any ESP guitar is built to rock hard, and the KH-202 does exactly that. Despite the pickup covers, the two ESP-designed humbuckers are passive, so you don’t get the same articulation as you may expect from active pickups, yet the sound is still incredibly detailed. Cleans are satisfying and clear with a touch of warmth, but it’s with a severe distortion pedal and touch of wah when this axe really shines. Powerful, chunky, crisp, and – thanks to that bolt-on neck – great sustain. Classic Metallica and hard to fault for the price!
The KH-202 is undoubtedly a lead guitarist’s guitar, offering a bold, articulate and mix-cutting sound while the neck, frets and bridge ensure nothing stands in your way of nailing a blazing solo. It’s a workhorse of a guitar and one that feels like a good buy at under $500.
The video below offers a great look at the sounds this axe can produce: