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In the beginning...

An exclusive interview with Ralf Benninghaus

Ralf Benninghaus has made quite a career in the music business.  With 47 years of experience running retail and distribution in the musical instrument industry, he has represented brands such as Gibson, Selmer Brass and Woodwind Instruments and most recently, Fender for the last 22 years before joining the Cordoba Music Group. But a young Ralf Benninghaus working at the ESP Custom Shop in Düsseldorf, Germany at the end of the 80s, and in the early 90s, made history with creating the ESP 901 guitar, which we love so much.

When did ESP came up with the idea of the 901? How was this model conceived?

Ralf Benninghaus:

The 901 was a brainchild of ESP Germany, namely Reiji Maruyama and me. At ESP, we had all the cool metal guitars, and on the other hand, we were also kind of copying a lot of designs from other manufacturers. We wanted to do some new and classic stuff. 

ESP had a model called the Maverick. It had a powerstrat-like body and pointy headstock. One day in 1990, we put a Maverick on the shop's floor and drew it's contours on a piece of paper. We rounded the body a bit, made it more comfortable, added a pick guard and mini switch and also designed a new, more classy looking headstock. The guitar was equipped with the ESP in-house pickups and ESP's own Sinclair locking tremolo.

Who was responsible for the 901 name? Is there a special story to it?

Ralf Benninghaus:

In fact, that was me. We were looking for a classic name for our new line. I loved the Levi's 501 and the Porsche 911 brands. I combined both, and voila, the name ESP 901 was born.


Ralf Benninghaus


The ESP Custom Shop in Düsseldorf, Germany in the early 90s. Reiji Maruyama (left) and Ralf Benninghaus (right), the two gentlemen responsible for the 901. 

Photo by: elmwood_3100

Was the 901 built in Germany?

Ralf Benninghaus:

No. Reiji and I designed the guitar in Düsseldorf in 1990, but all instruments where manufactured, built and assembled in our Custom Shop in Japan.

Where there any special editions made?

Ralf Benninghaus:

I remember a custom made 901 with tiger graphics that was built for George Lynch. We also did a very, very rare lucite / acrylic version of the 901. I think not more than 5 or 6 were ever produced for Europe.


Thanks to the ESP 901 grandfather, Ralf Benninghaus for the quick and informative chat.

The father of the 901:

A 1989 ESP Maverick

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