Saturday, February 25, 2012

1980s ESP 400 Series Bass Review


ESP is a Japanese guitar maker that has been around since the 1970s, but first started mass-producing guitars and basses in the 1980s. Today we are looking at one of their biggest early success stories, a 400 Series bass.

Looking at this instrument, you can see clearly that it is a Fender Jazz Bass copy, but it is a very good one. It has the traditional Jazz bass body offset waist profile, a 1.5-inch nut and two single-coil Jazz pickups. Not to mention the same pickguard and control cover shapes. The headstock shape is a bit different, probably to avoid lawsuits from Fender.

There are a few divergences from tradition, though. The end of the bolt-on neck is probably the most notable. Though this is a normal 34-inch scale 21 fret neck, the fingerboard extends beyond the end of the neck so it lies on top of the pickguard. This makes the truss rod super-hard to adjust, and I cannot figure out why they did this. If anything, it seems like it limits access to the higher frets.

This one has lost its two ESP LH1300 single-coil pickups over the years, and ended up with a set of EMG active pickups and a pre-amplifier. The preamp and battery are hidden under the control cover, and no extra routing was done to accommodate them. The controls are now volume, pan and stacked treble/bass (I think).

The rest of this 400 Series bass appears to be original. It has a vintage Fender style serrated saddle bridge, and ESP vintage deluxe tuners which still hold well (and are adjustable for tension).

From my previous experience with ESP instruments, I am sure that this bass was originally very well built. But, 20-something year later it is a little hard to tell, as time has taken its toll on this one. The finish shows plenty of gig wear, and the nickel silver frets are also a bit worn. It still plays beautifully, though, with a slim and fast neck, as well as the EMG tone that is always a favorite of mine.

The original ESP 400 Series basses are very hard to find these days, and the condition of this one makes it a bit more affordable. I will be moving it along to a new owner, as I have found a beautiful ESP J-Four, and I have no good reason to keep more than one Jazz Bass around.

If you ever have the chance to pick one of these up, I say go for it. It would be great if ESP re-issued a made in Japan 400 series for the US, but it is not going to happen any time soon. The Yen to dollar situation is grim, making many Japanese built products uncompetitive here.



  1. I had one of these, same as this with colour matched Tele headstock, around '84. Loved it and regret ever selling it around 5 years later.

  2. Good description of this bass. They built these so well I too can't figure why they extended
    the neck so fat into the body.