All Access Spotlight: ESP Collector Jim Schwilk
All Access Spotlight: ESP Collector Jim Schwilk
All photos courtesy of Jim Schwilk
We met Jim in the aisles of the 2023 NAMM Show, held in mid-April of this year. Jim, a member of the ESP All Access community as well as several other ESP-focused online groups, had stopped by to tell us about his appreciation for ESP Guitars, but that turned out to be a bit of an understatement. When we started talking to Jim about his extensive and impressive collection of our guitars, we knew we’d want to know more about him and his passion for ESP.
When did you start playing guitar?
I was a drummer back in sixth grade. I was 12 years old or so. I was in a heavy metal band playing drums, but I was always drawn to the guitar. Around ninth grade, I started picking up the guitar in between sets, and that’s when I switched over. In a later band, one of my guitar players told me, “You’re the best guitar-playing drummer I’ve ever heard.”
What kind of music do you generally prefer?
As a listener, I listen to everything. I’ve always been a music guy my whole life. I actually started on piano early on, then on sax when I was in fourth grade. My parents always had us playing music growing up. I have an older sister, and one day she introduced me to Metal Health (note: the breakthrough 1983 album by Quiet Riot). Ever since then it’s been all about metal. But I do like all sorts of music. I’m a huge David Gilmour fan. When I do write my own stuff, the slower pieces, you hear a lot of Pink Floyd and other different styes that were influential to me. But when I heard Metal Health and Pyromania and Master of Puppets, my life changed. I’ve always been grateful that I was born at the perfect time. I was old enough in early ‘80s to appreciate what was happening in music, and young enough to absorb it. It was around that time that I became a huge Metallica fan.
Did getting into Metallica lead toward your discovery of ESP Guitars? We hear that a lot.
It was and they did. Seeing James play those ESPs, I always dreamed, “One day, I hope I can get an ESP.” And then back in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, I got to go to the NAMM Show. It wasn’t like it is these days. They didn’t check IDs back then. I’d hang around outside the convention center and buy someone’s badge off them. I would go to NAMM and go straight to the ESP booth. I remember walking up to the ESP booth and I saw the “Man to Wolf” guitar in person. I was able to pick it up and play it for a little bit before they took it away from me. Somewhere there’s a photo of a young Jim with bushy long hair, playing that guitar.
What was your immediate reaction?
Just the feel of it. When I felt that neck, how smooth it was, how incredible it played, I knew ESP was hands down the best. But especially as a kid, ESP seemed so expensive, and I assumed there was no way I would ever actually own one. It was never gonna happen. And then the dreams have come true with what I’ve been able to get.
You have other personal connections to Metallica as well.
Sort of. I grew up in Brea and graduated from Brea Olinda High School, which James did too, but 11 years apart from me. So being here and growing up where I did and learning his history and playing the guitar… man it’s just awesome.
What was your first ESP?
The very first one I got was when a Guitar Center opened in Brea. I happened to be at my parents house and checked out the grand opening. I looked around and then I saw an EC-10. It was the only LTD in the place. And I thought, “I’m gonna buy one.” Literally the cheapest one you could get. I remember it being heavy, but it was my first ESP, and that was an awesome feeling.
What came next?
I’d always dreamed of having a Les Paul, but of course I still was focused on the guitars of James Hetfield. I convinced my wife that if I go buy a white LTD Iron Cross, it’s gonna be the best of both worlds and satisfy my urge. That was my second LTD purchase.
We’re not going to run through every guitar individually, but how many ESPs are in your collection now?
Uh, I have… a lot now. I started collecting a lot of LTDs, mostly James Hetfield Signature LTDs. Most of my collection revolved around his stuff. I got an LTD Truckster. It was a gray one I found used on Reverb. It played incredible. It was definitely the best playing LTD I had at the time. And then as things progressed, I got my first real ESP. I bought a black Eclipse from a guy in Europe. I can tell you, I love LTD but there’s a huge difference when you play a real ESP. And that really started me down the venture of man, I want the ESPs. Over the next three or four years, I was able to find ESP replacements for my LTD Trucksters. I found the white Iron Cross ESP. Right now it’s sitting between my white ESP Snakebyte and my KUIU Camo ESP Snakebyte.
So at this point, how many do you actually have?!?!?
I have 54 guitars total, and 35 of them are yours. 15 ESPs, 18 LTDs, and two Edwards.
That’s a pretty outstanding collection. Do you ever concerned about protecting them in case of an earthquake or other emergency?
Yes. We live in the hills of Corona, and one time we were evacuated for a fire. I was out of town at the time and I called my wife and I was like, “Take the guitars. Get those in the truck!” But yes, it’s pretty crazy. The cases alone could take up a whole bedroom and spread throughout the house.
I’m sure it’s hard to pick, but what are some of your favorites and why?
The ESP Snakebyte. I think everything about it is perfect. The weight. The balance of it. The craftsmanship. The feel of the neck. I bought it from Sweetwater but I chose not to have the setup that they offer. It’s an ESP, it’s handmade, it’s coming from the factory beautiful as it is. There’s no neck dive. It’s comfortable to play sitting down, or standing up. My arm rests perfectly on top. It’s perfect in every way and also is a killer shape. I do want to mention my second favorite, because it actually is an LTD, not an ESP, and it’s not a Metallica guitar. It’s the Sir Headly.
The signature from Brian “Head” Welch of Korn.
That thing plays like an ESP. The quality is phenomenal on the SH-7. Blindfolded, I would tell you that’s an ESP if you handed it to me.
Did you ever envision that you’d end up having one of the most enviable ESP collections on the planet?
No. I never thought I’d have even one ESP, much less what I’ve ended up owning. It’s a dream come true. There’s not a day that goes by I’m not grateful about the collection. I don’t take it for granted. And it’s also an investment. My daughter’s gonna buy a house with my collection someday.
Where do you typically find and purchase your ESPs?
It depends on, I guess, what I’m looking for. If it’s something new, my first stop is Sweetwater. My rep there in phenomenal and takes care of me. That’s where I got a couple of my Snakebites, and I’ve just received the white Vulture this week from Sweetwater. For used stuff, my first go-to place is Reverb. I find them more trustworthy than places like eBay and Craigslist. I like how they protect both parties in a transaction. But a lot of it has been about the chase. Being such a huge James Hetfield fan. I’ve never met him, but having that connection through Brea Olinda high school and through his music and lyrics. The chase of his guitars is one of the things that drives me. I have three ESP Vultures, one custom painted camo. I have two white Snakebytes because I’m having one chromed right now. I have some models that only four have been made in the world. I treasure those guitars and go after them.
As a player, what do your ESP guitars do for you that other guitar brands don’t?
Every guitar brand’s going to have their quality, but the quality on the ESPs are far above the others. I have high-end guitars from other brands. But the feel and the fit of the ESPs… I have an almost 20-year-old Truckster, and if anything it just keeps getting better. The quality is just amazing.
Are you active in any online communities associated with guitar playing or with ESP specifically?
I am. I’m very active in the ESP groups on Facebook, like the official ESP page and the ESP Fanatics group. I’m also an admin on the Guitars of James Hetfield page on Facebook. I’ve been deeply into those communities for a long time.