ESP Alex Skolnick Signature Guitar vs. ESP EC Gary Holt Signature Guitar

Updated on October 12, 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.

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Alex Skolnick, Thrash, Jazz, and World Music Guitarist

Alex Skolnick grew up in a Jewish family where his mother and father were both very scholarly. Both of Alex's parents were PhD earners, and educators. Alex began playing guitar at nine years of age, and his list of influences are all pretty typical for someone of his age, and who went on to play his sort of music.

Far less than typical, Alex would have the amazing opportunity to take guitar lessons from none other than the great Joe Satriani. With a teacher like that, a dedicated student could surely take his talent further than one less fortunate. Satriani, of course, taught guitar to some other very notable guitarists. From 1983 through 1993 Skolnick would play for the thrash metal band Testament.

Thrash metal guitar work is fast and heavy, and Skolnick would play both rhythm and lead, but his talents were in no way limited to the genre. After the initial tenure with Testament, Alex would join other bands for short times, and even get the coveted role as guitarist for Ozzy Osbourne for a time. Alex's career path, however, would soon take another turn.

He'd leave his native California for New York City. Remember that the Skolnick family is a family of scholars. Alex would attend The New York School for Jazz and Contemporary Music. He would leave with a degree in jazz performance. Now a much more complete musician, Alex would return to doing thrash metal guitar in Testament, but he'd opened his mind, and he'd keep experimenting.

In 2012 Skolnick launched a world music project called Planetary Coalition. It would be an acoustic guitar driven, bringing together inspirational melodies, in-depth improvisation and the passion of the musical styles of Gypsy, Middle Eastern, Indian, Latin, East Asian, Mediterranean, Balkans,Eastern European, African and other indigenous lands. Most of the music was written by Alex, and today he continues on with being a musical scholar and stellar guitarist.

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Gary Holt, Thrash Guitar Hero of Exodus and Slayer

Gary Wayne Holt is another California headbanger. Holt was an original member of Exodus, and for a time shared guitar duties with Kirk Hammett. Kirk left the group in 1983 to join what would become the biggest metal act in the world, Metallica. Exodus managed just fine without Hammett, but wouldn't be Exodus without Holt, who has appeared on every album they've created.

Today when you think of Gary Holt, you can't help but notice he's always wearing one of his Kill The Kardashians t-shirts. The shirt says a lot more, it says what a heck of a lot of us are thinking about the vapid celebrity culture in our nation. People who know who Gary Holt is are highly unlikely to be fans of the persons and television shows alluded to.

When you think of thrash metal music you may not think about politics, but a heck of a lot of thrash metal music expresses extreme disdain and revulsion for the state of the political world. Gary Holt is a politically thoughtful person, and he's well disposed to express his beliefs and opinions on it all.

In 2013 the band Slayer lost one of its founding members, guitarist Jeff Hannaman. Gary Holt had been filling Jeff's position in Slayer since 2011, however. Gary would be as close to a perfect replacement as could be hoped for. At first he was only there to fill in, but Hannaman died and Holt has been a member of the band on the road and in the studio since Jeff took ill.

What does the future hold for the under-rated thrash guitar hero, Gary Holt? I suspect there will be more albums and tours from both Exodus and Slayer. Gary will most likely be a part of both.

ESP Alex Skolnick signature guitar with Floyd Rose tremolo/vibrato in black aqua sunburst finish
ESP Alex Skolnick signature guitar with Floyd Rose tremolo/vibrato in black aqua sunburst finish

ESP Alex Skolnick Signature Guitar with Floyd Rose

Alex Skolnick has long used Les Paul style guitars. For many years he had a Heritage signature series guitar, but he's currently endorsing ESP. These custom shop Alex Skolnick guitars come in two varieties, one with and one without the Floyd Rose tremolo. I chose to display and discuss the Floyd Rose model because it more perfectly compares to the Gary Holt guitar.

ESP produces guitars in places other than Japan. Their finest work, however, is done in Japan, and this guitar is representative of their finest. For all intents and practical purposes, this guitar is a signature series Eclipse with a Floyd Rose.

You've got all the classic elements of a Gibson Les Paul. The body is mahogany and there is a spectacular maple top to it. The scale length is that of the classic Gibson design, and the neck is three piece of maple. That neck, however, is a very thick and chunky 'U' profile. A body needs to know whether or not they can comfortably play a U profile neck. Are you hands big enough?

ESP's website doesn't tell me, and neither do others, what grade of maple top is on this guitar. Maple tops are often graded A, AA, AAA, or other ways. What is certain is this is as high a grade of A maple as there is. That is a spectacular flame top, and in black aqua sunburst.

Our pickups are Alex Skolnick model Seymour Duncan pickups. You simply do not hear of rational complaints involving Seymour Duncan products. These are very classic PAF style pups, and as wide ranging and versatile a guitarist as Alex is, you can bet the Duncans with his name attached are also just that way. The guitar comes with push-pull pots, in other words, the pickups can be split for single coil use as well as being humbuckers.

The fingerboard is rosewood, and its radius is 12", a shredder's board. There are classic Gibson style pearl block inlays. You'll notice the positioning marker at the twelfth fret is quite different. The twelfth fret inlay are the initials of Alex Skolnick with a circle around them. Those may not be your initials, or mine, but the thing certainly looks cool. This guitar is spectacular in every single way, including the price for one. More on that later.

ESP Alex Skolnick Signature Guitar features:

  • Body type: Solid body
  • Body material: Solid wood
  • Top wood: Flamed Maple
  • Body wood: Mahogany
  • Body finish: Gloss
  • Orientation: Right handed
  • Neck shape: U
  • Neck wood: Three piece maple
  • Joint: Set-in
  • Scale length: 24.75"
  • Truss rod: Standard
  • Neck finish: Gloss
  • Fingerboard Material: Rosewood
  • Radius: 12"
  • Fret size: Extra-jumbo
  • Number of frets: 22
  • Inlays: Pearl block
  • Nut width: 1.69" (43mm)
  • Neck: Seymour Duncan AS Signature
  • Bridge: Seymour Duncan AS Signature
  • Active or passive pickups: Passive
  • Special electronics: Push/pull tone control
  • Control layout: Volume 1, volume 2, master tone
  • Pickup switch: 3-way
  • Coil tap or split: Coil tap
  • Bridge type: Floyd Rose Tremolo Vibrato with locking nut
  • Chrome Color Tuning machines: Grover
  • Special features: Body finish
  • Case: Hardshell case
  • Country of origin: Japan

ESP EC Gary Holt Liquid Metal Lava
ESP EC Gary Holt Liquid Metal Lava

ESP EC Gary Holt Liquid Metal Lava Signature Guitar

I would consider a guitar like this one a work of art without the amazing finish. The thing about this guitar, however, the main thing, the most amazing thing, is the stupendously well done and unique liquid metal lava finish. The finish is not just on the top of the guitar, but it is also on the backside, and even on the back of the neck.

I'm sure not everyone would want a guitar with such a fancy and peculiar look, but for those who do appreciate it, you can appreciate it for miles and miles. The video down below gives a much better presentation of the fine artistry this guitar's finish represents. One picture simply won't cut it.

This guitar's fingerboard is of ebony. Ebony fingerboards are becoming harder and harder to come by in the world of guitars. Like the Skolnick guitar, the board is a shredder's delight with a 12" radius. The split diamond fingerboard positioning inlays provide a very classy look. The neck is of mahogany, and is also a U profile like the Skolnick, but the Gary Holt neck is a thin U profile. It is just slightly less of a baseball bat.

The controls are more simple here, there is one volume and one tone control. The pickups are active EMGs. If you are a thrash metal guitar player, EMG pickups are probably what you want. That isn't to say passive pickups can't be used for the genre, or other such heavy genres of metal, they absolutely can. Active EMG pups just provide more crunch.

Again you have the Floyd Rose tremolo bridge and the locking nut that always goes with one. Also like the Skolnick guitar, you have extra jumbo frets so as to bend strings to the extent they are capable of being bent. The guitar is made by the finest luthiers Japan has to offer, and of course, comes with a terrific hard shell case.

ESP Gary Holt Liquid Metal Lava Signature Guitar features:

  • Body shape: Single cutaway
  • Body type: Solid body
  • Body material: Solid wood
  • Top wood: Maple
  • Body wood: Mahogany
  • Body finish: Gloss
  • Orientation: Right handed
  • Neck shape: Thin U
  • Neck wood: Mahogany
  • Joint: Neck-through
  • Scale length: 24.75"
  • Truss rod: Standard
  • Neck finish: Gloss
  • Fingerboard Material: Ebony
  • Radius: 12"
  • Fret size: Extra-jumbo
  • Number of frets: 22
  • Inlays: Block
  • Nut width: 1.65" (42mm)
  • Neck pickup: EMG 89R
  • Bridge pickup: EMG-81
  • Active or passive: Active
  • Series or parallel: Series
  • Control layout: Master volume, tone
  • Pickup switch: 3-way
  • Bridge type: Tremolo/Vibrato
  • Bridge design: Floyd Rose original
  • Black Color Tuning machines: Gotoh
  • Special features: Signature model
  • Case: Hardshell case
  • Country of origin: Japan

Choosing between these two boutique quality metal guitar masterpieces

It is important that it be understood that there are much more affordable versions of both of these guitars. What I've presented here, however, are two of the finest electric guitars the very best builders of Japan produce. These are very expensive instruments.

How much are we talking about? The Skolnick guitar goes for just a hair under six thousand dollars. The Holt guitar around three hundred dollars less than the Skolnick. The affordable versions of these instruments are not made in Japan, but in other parts of Asia, where lots of other great and also affordable guitars are built.

There is no better guitar here, but there is one which is more versatile. The Alex Skolnick guitar is clearly the versatility champion, and this is for two reasons. First of all, passive pickups like the Seymour Duncan ones in the Skolnick guitar are more able to please an audiophile guitarist who plays in various and sundry genres.

I wouldn't opine the Holt guitar couldn't be used for country music, or for anything else, but EMG pickups are clearly and near universally thought of as devices of ultimate aggressive crunch. Seymour Duncan humbuckers, conversely, can be used to play any style of music where an electric guitar is used. Do not forget the Skolnick pickups also have a second thing going on, they can be split via the push-pull pots and circuitry.

So it's the Holt guitar for persons in love with the honestly spectacular and unique finish, and for persons who are absolutely going to be thrash metal guitarists. The Skolnick guitar is equally beautiful, but more expensive, and more versatile. Thanks for reading.

© 2017 Wesman Todd Shaw

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