Darkest Hour’s Mike Schleibaum on his new ESP MSV1

DC-based melodic death metal titans Darkest Hour are coming into 2021 hot with the forthcoming release of their 2020 livestream, entitled Live In Lockdown – The Complete Collection. The set was recorded September 26, 2020 as a benefit for Washington D.C.’s legendary venue Black Cat, and saw the band performing 11 of their greatest hits with a wide ranging supporting cast appearing via satellite – Fred Ziomek (ex-Darkest Hour), Kris Norris (ex-Darkest Hour), Buz McGrath (Unearth), Doc Coyle (Bad Wolves / God Forbid), Fella Di Cicco (Dreamshade) and Mark Heylmun (Suicide Silence).

Not only that, but guitarist Mike Schleibaum has just relased his signature LTD MSV-1 – an olympic white beauty based on the regular ESP Arrow shape, but pared back to only one humbucker (and a James Hetfield EMG JH at that) on top of some killer wood and finish choices.

To celebrate the release and the record, we caught up with Mike via email. Check it out!


First off, congrats on the new signature guitar out! It’s a pretty sweet guitar with a lot of killer features – and i love a one pickup, one knob guitar – but if you were to pick out one thing that you feel really makes it special, what would it be?

Thanks for the kind words and for taking the time to write about this awesome guitar! It is super hard to break it down to one thing that I love about it but, if I had to, it would come down to either the wood combination or scale length.

Although there are other ESP and LTD’s Arrows this is the ONLY one that has this combination of wood (mahogany, maple top, ebony fretboard). Additionally this is the only Arrow design that has a 24.75 scale shape (which is very unique) – the scale length makes it just a bit easier for me to hit some of those solo moves and the wood really colors the sound, so I know it’s cheating but I just picked TWO things, but again I love every detail!

ESP Guitars: LTD Mike Schleibaum Signature Series MSV-1

How was the process of working with ESP on getting the specs right?

First of all ESP has been behind this band for over 10 plus years, they have been ultra supportive of our younger generation of metal musicians and in my option they make the absolute best, high performance, high responsive guitars. It’s a huge honor to get to work with these talented people.

For a while we debated on making the guitar distressed and sort of beat up like my road weather customs shop. After some consolation for their time we decided a cleaner look was the route to go and I am very grateful for this because while I enjoy the road scars on my guitar the impact of seeing this majestic white guitar glowing in all its glory is worth it!

I’m really glad we took our time with it because it really took me some time to gravitate to the Arrow design, tour with it, fall in love with it, and then be able to design exactly what I wanted from it. So while it was a long time coming I couldn’t be happier with the guitar or the process creating it

Having been through the process of getting a signature guitar up and running once, were there any things you would do differently a second time as far as the process, not necessarily the guitar?

The whole thing has been so well put together, ESP really knows their stuff. They helped produce an awesome promo video for the guitar and I connected with a local photographer to get some great images even in the time of covid. It takes time to build pre-awareness so I don’t think there is much we could have done differently. Honestly, anyone who gets to do what we do in the state of the world today has to look at this from the perspective of total gratitude.

It is really hard to think of anything that could have been done better because I am just so thankful for the opportunity and I know the guitar will speak for itself once it is in the hands of players who love to shred!

You were a single cutaway guy for a long time. What is it about this shape that made you decide to make the switch?

I love this question because it gets to the heart of why I fell in love with the Arrow in particular.

Darkest Hour is all about playing live, it is at the center of what we do, and so it drives so much of our decision making. We also have a lot of intricate guitar parts that have to be played spot on while running around and having lights flashing in your face the whole time.

The offset V design of the arrow, combined with the way the strap locks are placed allow it to sit exactly where I need it for maximum access, which is what I think ultimately made me fall in love with the Arrow. It plays great, looks great, and allows me to move around the stage while always having total access.

Darkest Hour - Demon(s) - LIVE IN LOCKDOWN

Darkest Hour have a new release on the way as well, tell me about how the Live In Lockdown session came about?

As the covid pandemic hit we were looking for “new” ways to interact and connect with everyone who loves our music. Right before the pandemic hit we launched our official band Patreon (which is a monthly subscription service to all things darkest hour). This gave us the avenue to expand our connection and experiment with new things, not the least of which was creating our first ever live stream concert.

All of the proceeds from said concert went to our favorite hometown club, The Black Cat, and in the end we were able to raise a little over $6000.00 for the club, over $1500.00 for other clubs around the USA, and create this very special Patreon release all at the same time.

You had a pretty killer list of guests “appearing” with you on the live stream – how did you guys decide who to work with, and how did it work on a practical level?

We knew we had to do something different, something special, something that would make it more of an event. It was easy to find guests that fit the mold. Both Doc (God Forbid / Bad Wolves) & Fella (Dreamshade) have recently filled in on tour with Darkest Hour. Fred and Kris are ex-members so that was an easy win, and Buzz (Unearth) & Mark (Suicide Silence) are longtime friends who we knew could easily shred one of these songs with joy.

We can’t thank the guests enough, they really made the show / release / video special and have solidified their own little slot in DH history.

So the good stuff – what gear were you using for the live stream? And was it your normal live rig or did you do anything fancy for the event?

My rig in our Live in Lockdown record is my main rig for all things Darkest Hour. I am so in love with it I doubt I will change it anytime soon. I wanted to capture the exact vibe of my live tone, which I think we did a great job of.

Here is a chain I am using in the video and audio concert:

Ernie Ball Strings -> ESP – Custom Show MSV Arrow -> James Hetfield Pick Up -> Sure Wireless -> Axe FX ultra (for effects only) -> Behringer MC1010 footswitch -> EVH 5150 (3) Original 6L6 Head -> EVH 4X12 (First Generation) Speaker Cabinet.

As far as gear, what’s something you picked up in the last few years that didn’t think you would like but were pleasantly surprised with?

Recently the good people at Electro Harmonics hooked me up with a Metal Muff overdrive pedal and I was skeptical, big muffs are usually too fuzzy for me. But the gain structure, built-in noise gate, and beautifully perfect design made me fall in love with this pedal.

It’s sort of like the perfect pedal, they pack a lot in a small package here. You can use it to highlight your existing high gain metal tone or use it to drive the whole sound of your guitar for a more vintage metal sound. I even love to just crank it up and make some really aggressive overdriven sounds for layering and dramatic effect.

I highly suggest you pedal geeks check out the Metal Muff from Electro Harmonics asap!

Going the other way, anything you were stoked to get your hands on only to be disappointed?

A lot of people know I am a huge Dimebag fan and I have always wanted to get one of his 333 signature guitars from Washburn. I have a killer Boogie Street Washburn Southern Cross that I got when I was with Washburn many years ago, it’s incredible, and I was interested to see how the Dime signature 333 Washburn guitar stacked up against it. I was also really interested to see how the 333 held up next to my MSV1.

When I finally got one of the 333’s it didn’t play nearly as well as one or two of my Dean MLs or even close to my boogie street Southern cross. I actually was pretty shocked. That being said, none of those guitars feel as good as the MSV1 to me. So although I didn’t fall in love with the 333 it did help solidify my love for what I did with the MSV1 and my older ML shaped guitars.

For someone who’s not familiar with Darkest Hour’s music but wanted to learn one or two on the guitar, where would you suggest they start? Any particularly fun riffs or passages to check out?

We love guitar solos and riffs, they are basically the foundation of the band’s sound.

So if it’s sick riffs you are looking for I would check out the songs: Tranquil, Deliver Us, Knife in the Saferoom, The Sadist Nation, and Tunguska.

If it’s majestic and epic guitar Olympics I would suggest: Timeless Numbers, Sound the Surrender, The Tides, An Ethereal Drain, Hypatia Rising, and Futurist! Basically, we love guitar and you can tell by these songs.

Thanks for helping to spread the word about my new MSV1 guitar from ESP, our band DARKEST HOUR, and our upcoming Patron release. Everyone is encouraged to follow us on our socials and via our Patreon to see what we unleash on 2021. We have dedicated our lives to the love of metal music and anyone who feels the same will surely find something to connect with.

Brian Kelleher

I'm the main guy at KillerGuitarRigs.com and I want to tell you all about guitars. I've been playing music since 1986 when my older brother taught me to play "Gigantic" by The Pixies on a bass with two strings. Since then, I've owned dozens of instruments from guitars to e-drums, and spent more time than I'd like to admit sitting in vans waiting for venues to open across Europe and the US.