ESP 901 "Herzeleid"


Part 1 // His First ESP

After the fall of the Berlin Wall, a young and aspiring musician from East Germany decided to visit the famed Musikmesse in Frankfurt in 1993 to stroll the exhibition halls and find inspiration in the breathtaking displays of musical instruments. 

His name: Richard Sven Kruspe. 

Having been raised in the German Democratic Republic with its socialistic approach - lacking nearly everything in life western people were used to - it must have felt for Richard like a kid in a candy store. While in the GDR, the only electric guitars officially available were the states' own Musima brands or instruments from socialistic partner countries (eg. Jolana from CSFR), the whole world displayed their instruments back then in Frankfurt.

ESP Guitars, founded in 1975 by Hisatake Shibuya in Tokyo, Japan, also exhibited their craftsmanship there. ESP started as a supplier of guitar parts, but soon began to build custom guitars. On these fateful days in 1993, Richard visited the ESP booth where he then made his first connection with a special series of guitars which were produced in limited quantities exclusively for the German market.  

That day, Richard bought his very first ESP, one of many to follow over the next decades. But this guitar, an ESP 901 made of Ash in the color Misty Brown and bearing the serial number 208303, was about to make music history worldwide.

This very same guitar had been especially manufactured to be displayed at the Musikmesse and it was also photographed for the 1994 ESP Export catalogue.

Richard started to use it with his then band, Orgasm Death Gimmick, which dissolved at the end of 1993. Richard went on to form Rammstein in January 1994. The band played their first concerts in March of that same year.  Richard and his ESP 901 would be inseparable over the next few years.

This very rare excerpt from ESP's long out-of-print 1994 Export catalogue shows the now famously dubbed ESP 901 "Herzeleid" guitar in brand new and pristine condition before it was bought by a future rockstar named Richard Sven Kruspe. Handwritten documentation by Richard states he bought the guitar in 1991, which is not correct. 

This is the only known pre-Rammstein photograph from 1993, showcasing Richard with his long gone dreadlocks and the nearly brand new ESP 901 in his hands.

Rammstein‘s first ever promo picture, showing a young Richard Kruspe second from left.


Rammstein continued to play all over Germany in 1994 and always by Richard‘s side, of course, his favored weapon of sonic mass destruction - his ESP 901. While the phenomenon of Rammstein continued to grow, the band started to record demos for their groundbreaking debut album, "Herzeleid", which would be released in 1995.

German filmmaker, Carl G. Hardt followed the band's early days in 1994 with his film camera, which resulted in a documentary called "Flüstern und Schreien 2".  The film was shown on German television, MDR, but due to legal actions by Rammstein‘s management, Hardt was not permitted to use the imagery of Rammstein in his documentary, so he replaced them with another German band named Sandow.

This very rare footage from the early history of Rammstein shows Richard using the ESP 901 "Herzeleid" for the first concerts and also during the recording of demos that would later become songs soon to be acclaimed by millions of fans worldwide.

The guitar was also played when Rammstein got kicked off the airwaves by MTV Europe in 1996 when the band's live performances of "Du riechst so gut" and "Rammstein" in the Hanging Out Studio were too much for the stations' censors.


A German newspaper article documented Rammstein's first ever concert in the United States. This would also be the guitar's first tour in America.


Part 2 // A photographic history of the ESP 901 "Herzeleid" and changes over the years


With the release of Rammstein's debut album, "Herzeleid" in 1995, Richard continued to play his 901 exclusively on stages throughout Europe. As Rammstein gained in popularity, Richard decided around 1996 to have the stock Sinclair tremolo replaced with a Schaller licensed Floyd Rose tremolo. "Herzeleid" could be seen continuously up until the "Sehnsucht" tour in 1997, when he added a second ESP 901 (dubbed "Engel" because it was prominently used in the now famous Rammstein video, "Engel") and a couple of Kirk Hammett ESP KH-2 signature guitars.

The "Herzeleid" was featured in the band's own first live video that was given out to members of the official fanclub as a Christmas present. Richard plays the whole set with this very guitar. 


Rammstein‘s 1995 self-titled song from their debut album, "Herzeleid" was featured in American director, David Lynch’s film, Lost Highway. The band’s music video for the song uses a combination of scenes from Lynch‘s film and footage from Rammstein’s 1996 Arena Berlin show, featuring Richard with the 901.

Richard showcasing his 901 while performing with Rammstein on the 1996 edition of Zillo Festival in Hildesheim, Germany, June 1996.

​Some time in the late 90s, the guitar was involved in an accident which resulted in a damaged headstock. The "Herzeleid" was then retired for a period of time, and made a last appearances during the two year-long "Mutter“ tour. When it was seen again after it's hiatus, it sported a bigger white pickguard as the only other modification. After the "Mutter" tour, Richard's old and trusted first ESP 901 was then retired where it lived in his studio.

Rammstein plays the Bizarre Festival in 1996.




These photos show the original condition of the "Herzeleid" before Richard sold it. On March 25, 2016, the guitar found a new home in the hands of a great fan in the United States. 



A side by side comparison of the "Herzeleid" in 1993 (top) and in April 2016 (bottom). 


The 1993 promo photo was used in ESP's 1994 Export catalogue before the guitar was showcased at the Musikmesse in Frankfurt, Germany where Richard fell in love with the guitar and bought it.   



This is the last photo ever of Richard Kruspe, taken April 8, 2016, playing his old comrade before it was shipped to America.

The story of the ESP 901 "Herzeleid" is not just about a guitar. It's also the story of Rammstein.


DISCLAIMER: This website is for educational purposes only. No copyright infringement intended.

All photo content belongs to the rightful owners.

Copyright © 2020 ESP901.

All rights reserved.