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ESP LTD Guitars and Slayer: Jeff Hanneman JH-600 vs. Gary Holt GH 600

Updated on November 13, 2017
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Wesman Todd Shaw started playing the guitar when he was 12 years old. He loves nothing more than to pick one up and pluck some strings.

The late and great Jeff Hanneman of Slayer with one of his ESP guitars.
The late and great Jeff Hanneman of Slayer with one of his ESP guitars. | Source

The Late, Great Jeff Hanneman, a Founder of Thrash Metal Music

Jeff Hanneman was born in Oakland, California in 1964. He came from a family where lots of the men were veterans of foreign wars, and warfare was something talked about often. It's no wonder at all Jeff took an interest in such things, and studied them. As a kid, he liked to build model tanks and planes.

Hanneman is a German surname, and though Jeff's father fought for the allies in the United States military against Nazi Germany in World War II, the Hanneman family in no way disavowed their German roots and heritage. Jeff could tell folks exactly where in Germany his family had come from, and what sort of distinct cultural things were done in that German province.

Seems strange, but maybe it shouldn't, Jeff was first turned on to heavy metal music by his sister. She had been rocking out some Black Sabbath and it caught Jeff's ears. Probably, it grabbed both of them and pulled. Not too long afterwards he was exposed to hardcore punk music, and one can certainly see how the thrash metal Jeff would create was a combination of metal and punk.

Jeff met Slayer's other guitarist Kerry King in 1981. Jeff had only been playing guitar for a year at that point, and King inspired him to push himself much harder. When Jeff met the band's drummer, Dave Lombardo, he realized he needed to learn to play much faster in order to attain the kind of sound the band was after. Well, they certainly achieved it all.

How heavy is the music of Slayer and how aggressive is it, really? Well, before Slayer there was Metallica, which was the big dog bad boy band. I never thought anything could be heavier and more aggressive sounding than Master of Puppets. But then I heard Slayer. I had a third cousin who was also a friend I ran around with a lot. He was heavy into Slayer. He was always proud of the time he jumped onto the stage at a Slayer concert and Kerry King stepped on his head. That's Slayer right there.

Jeff Hanneman wasn't just the other guitarist in Slayer, he was one of the primary musical composers of the group and some of the group's most notable and well loved songs were primarily Jeff's creations. He not only contributed some of the most amazing riffs in metal music, he wrote a lot of the lyrics too.

Gary Holt of Exodus and Slayer with one of his ESP guitars.
Gary Holt of Exodus and Slayer with one of his ESP guitars. | Source

Gary Holt, Thrash Pioneer From Exodus and Slayer

As the story goes, Jeff says he was bitten by a spider while relaxing in a hot tub. This was in the early months of 2011. He contracted a flesh eating disease from this bite, whether it was a spider or whatever it was, and came down with necrotizing fascitis on one of his forearms.

Jeff couldn't play the guitar, as he was having surgeries to prevent his forearm from being destroyed completely. Slayer had already booked a tour, and so they were obligated to go out and play, without Jeff, who was one of their cornerstones. Gary Holt, a long time guy from the same genre of music was quickly procured to fill the position. But Gary was also a guitarist in a touring band, and when his other obligations were calling, Slayer used yet another person in place of Gary.

In 2013 it looked for all the world that Jeff Hanneman was recovering from the necrotizing fascitis, and would soon rejoin the band. He'd been playing his guitar again, and had even managed to play with Slayer again in concert, but unbeknownst to seemingly everyone, he was also dying from liver failure. On May 9, 2013, Jeff passed away.

Gary Wayne Holt will apparently be the second guitar player for Slayer for the foreseeable future. He's also going to be his regular self, as a member of Exodus. I don't think any Slayer fan could think Jeff was replaceable, but then again, we can't complain about the facts of our existence, and that things change. It's hard to imagine a more well suited guitarist to step in and fill the shoes as best as possible.

Gary recorded guitar solos for Slayer's 2015 album, Repentless. Slayer and Exodus, and all thrash metal music express a certain level of extreme aggression, one could call it violence. It's just music, of course, and it can be good to get things out of your system in a healthy way, like with music. Gary has an instructional video called, 'A Lesson In Guitar Violence.'

The ESP LTD  JH-600
The ESP LTD JH-600

The ESP LTD Jeff Hanneman Signature Guitar, the JH-600

Now the late Jeff Hanneman hadn't always played ESP guitars. Early on in Slayer Jeff played a black Gibson Les Paul. Then, for the longest time Jeff played a custom built Jackson Soloist. Like anyone who is a guitarist in a major band, and who plays on the road in countless cities across the world, Jeff had lots of guitars, and played lots of different models.

In the year 2000 Jeff started endorsing and playing ESP guitars nearly exclusively. These ESP Jeff Hanneman guitars, each and every one, are based upon that Jackson Soloist Jeff loved so much. This isn't to say, however, the specifications of the ESP guitars are exactly what were on the Jackson. They are not.

Another thing one needs to understand here is Jeff had a lot of ESP guitars. They had different graphics and different paint jobs, and some of them had various and sundry stickers on them. Jeff had been a big fan of The Dead Kennedys, and of the Oakland Raiders. You can always get those stickers and add them to your guitar in order for it to look more like one of Jeff's, if that is important to you.

The earlier years of production of the ESP Jeff Hanneman guitar had Floyd Rose brand tremolo and locking nuts. Well, Slayer fans didn't like that, so now the guitars feature the Kahler hybrid whammy bar and locking nut. Kerry King, of course, is another person who endorses Kahler.

The fingerboard here is ebony. Asian guitar manufacturers sure seem to have less of a problem coming up with ebony these days, than do their American competition. Ebony feels spectacular on your fingertips, and I can't really prove it, but I am convinced it sounds differently than rosewood. The Hanneman 'H dagger' inlays look aggressive, and that's really what this guitar is all about. Twenty four frets, and twenty four super jumbo frets so you can bend while you dive bomb and shred.

ESP LTD Jeff Hanneman JH-600 Guitar features:

  • Neck-thru-body construction
  • 25-1/2" scale
  • Alder body
  • Maple neck
  • Extra thin U neck contour
  • 1.6" neck width
  • Ebony fingerboard
  • 13.7795 fingerboard radius
  • 24 extra jumbo frets
  • Grover tuners
  • Hanneman dagger inlays
  • EMG-81/85 active pickups
  • Volume, tone with 3-way toggle
  • Black nickel hardware
  • Kahler hybrid bridge
  • Locking nut
  • White binding on neck and headstock

ESP LTD Gary Holt GH-600 gutiar
ESP LTD Gary Holt GH-600 gutiar

The ESP LTD Gary Holt Signature Guitar, the GH-600

ESP's LTD line is all about supplying affordable guitars to folks, whether you are a beginner or a working professional, a serious amateur, it doesn't matter, ESP's LTD line has something to suit your needs, and they're all way affordable, especially when compared to something like a Gibson, or ESP's Japanese production.

So this looks like a Les Paul style guitar, and it is, but yet it is not. What am I talking about? There is no maple cap on this guitar, and with the dark ebony finish, a maple veneer wouldn't have amounted to much. So you get the tone of a large hunk of mahogany with this guitar. Again with the ebony fingerboard, and it is on a mahogany neck with twenty two frets, and extra jumbo fret-wire.

LTD GH-600 Gary Holt comes equipped with a red EMG 89R humbucker in the neck position, voiced for classic-thick tone. It's a great pickup for warmer tone that remains articulate and defined. The red EMG 81 at the bridge position gives you the classic EMG sound - detailed and aggressive, with rich sustain.

Gary Holt prefers the Floyd Rose tremolo and locking nut to the Kahler. This particular FR is the Floyd Rose 1000 Series. This is a low profile FR, so it hugs that mahogany body nice and tightly, so it won't get in the way of your, presumably, very aggressive right hand work.

Grover tuning machines on both the Hanneman and the Holt guitars. Brothers and sisters, for around a thousand bucks, you're not going to find many more guitars with ebony fingerboards, and Grover tuning machines. Gary Holt likes simplicity with his control scheme. You get two volume knobs and a three way pickup selector switch.

The dark ebony finish, the dark fingerboard, the split inlays, and the red pickup covers and red binding make this guitar look like a devil wearing a tuxedo. That's exactly the sort of look for someone into Exodus and Slayer.

ESP LTD Gary Holt GH-600 Guitar features:

  • Construction: Set-Thru-Neck
  • Scale: 24.5"
  • Body: Mahogany
  • Neck: Mahogany
  • Fingerboard: Ebony
  • Fingerboard Radius: 13.7795
  • Finish: Black
  • Nut Width: 1.65"
  • Nut Type: Standard
  • Neck Contour: Thin U
  • Frets/Type: 22 XJ
  • Hardware Color: Black
  • Strap Button: Standard
  • Tuners: Grover
  • Bridge: Tonepros locking T.O.M.
  • Neck PU: EMG 89R Red
  • Bridge PU: EMG 81R Red
  • Electronics: Active Electronics
  • Layout: Vol/Vol(p/p)/Toggle Switch
  • Case: CECFF not Included

Choosing Your ESP LTD Slayer Signature Guitar

Now clearly, the ties that bind here all have to do with the band Slayer. These two guitars have some serious differences, and I shall go over some of that further, but the price point is another thing which, to me, bring these guitars into close comparison. I've got nine hundred and ninety nine bucks for the Jeff Hanneman JH-600, and one thousand and thirty three dollars for the Gary Holt GH-600.

The fingerboard positioning inlays on the Hanneman guitar look like a much more difficult bit of work than the more traditional split ones on the Holt guitar. The Holt guitar, however, with its bindings and set neck construction likely constitute more total labor. Whether you prefer the Kahler or the Floyd Rose, to me, seems to be purely a matter of taste. As to which is best, you will have to answer that question for yourself.

You may or may not be able to hear the difference between the different sets of active EMG pickups these guitars have. Jeff's guitar sports an 81/85 set, and Gary's guitar has the 81/89 set. I'm not saying there isn't a difference between the sets, there is most certainly a difference. But the two guitars have different woods for the bodies, for the necks, and they've got the difference in scale length you always have between a Fender style and Gibson style. The Hanneman is the Fender style 25.5" scale, and the Holt is the Gibson 24.75" length of scale. So those things, I think, will have more effect here on the difference in sound.

One thing I always think about concerning EMG pickups is how freaking good they sound without distortion. Yes, of course these are the pickups one uses when they want to play with as much distortion as possible. They also sound amazing played clean. Oh, you could think they sound kind of sterile, you could describe the clean tones a thousand different ways. but the active pickups pick up almost nothing in the way of background noise. They have a distinct kind of clean tone, and you hear it sometimes when a thrash guy plays an interlude or passage running clean. It's something which one could use or apply towards country music, even. Then with the whammy bar, you could simulate a lap steel guitar sound.

Are you a person who likes to de-tune your guitar, as many metal sorts of guitarists sometimes do? The Hanneman guitar, with its longer length of scale, would probably be the best guitar to do that with. The shorter scale of the Holt guitar and de-tuned strings can result in strings so loose they become difficult to play or intonate with. For around a thousand dollars, these are guitars which would never need to be upgraded or replaced, just so long as you act like an adult with them. Thanks for reading.

© 2017 Wesman Todd Shaw

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