I'd like to address both you and Trashgreen.
I'll post this regarding mostly the Eclipse guitars, but it goes for other ESP and LTD's as well.
Prior to 2013 there was LTD and ESP Standard.
LTD EC-1000 guitars were the highest end of the LTD line and lower model numbers having less features etc... ESP Eclipse II Standard was the Japanese built model, and the LTD built in lower labor cost Asian locations.
In 2013 ESP announced an additional line of guitars, the LTD Elite. These were intended to bridge the price gap between the LTD and ESP Standard models. The LTD Elite specs were/are LTD except the guitars are built in the same Japanese factory by the same Japanese luthiers. Basically the idea is that those who feel the Japanese builders build better guitars can now have an LTD spec guitar that is made by those builders. The price was/is between an LTD and ESP.
For example, and ESP Eclipse II is MSRP around $1950, and LTD EC-1000 about $800-$850. The LTD Elite Eclipse MSRP is $1399. As you can see it's somewhere in between Also, the LTD Elite Eclipse has one EMG pup model and 2 Duncan passive pup model, and the maple tops are not as figured as the highly quilted and pricier ESP Eclipse. Another difference is the fret board radius of the necks. ESP 305mm, LTD and LTD Elite 350mm. The ESP fret board is slightly flatter. The tailpiece and bridge are lockable on the ESP Eclipse and not lockable on the LTD/LTD Elite. Those are the minor differences, as they are not big or major.
Now, the curious thing is that ESP has decided to change things completely just a year later. LTD Elite no longer exists. The ESP Standard no longer exists. The ESP Standard and LTD Elite line have been merged. For the Eclipse the model is now called the "E-II Eclipse". The E-II contains the ame ESP Standards as before and includes the LTD Elite models, which are the see through black EMG model and the 2 passive pup models. Also, ESP is adding, or returning, a vintage honey burst with passive pups.
The former ESP Standard models have NOT changed. They are still the same guitars with the same hardware, and same Japanese build. Actual hardware changes are on the former LTD Elite models. Those now get the 305mm fret board radius, which was 350mm before. The passive Duncan pup's are now Dimarzio. That's it.
A significant difference for buyers is that they can now get an ESP E-II, formerly name "Standard", at LOWER PRICES! Yes, LOWER prices.
The former ESP Eclipse II Standard had an MSRP of $1950. The new ESP E-II Eclipse is $1699 for the quilted top EMG models. So, now you can get an Eclipse STANDARD for $250 LESS. This is not a downgraded model. It has the same wood, hardware, and build, nothing different other than a lower price.
The former 2013 LTD Elite Eclipse 1 was MSRP of $1399. The new E-II version has gone up by $100 for a new MSRP of $1499. For the extra $100 you now get a new flatter 305mm radius fretboard, and Dimarzio passive pups. I've played the different radius fret boards and really there is almost no discernable difference. Whether or not the Dimarzio's are better than the Duncan's I can't say for sure, but from former experience I prefer Duncan pups. And, Dimarzio's tend to cost less than Duncan's. This seems a cost cutting measure on ESP's part by lowering their pup costs yet charging more for it.
So, what happens to those who feel they should get a higher end ESP since the Standard no longer exists? Well, you can now get the new "Original" series or new "USA" series, which are ESP's made in their new US plant. Prices? Ready for this? $5000 for an "Original" series Eclipse. $4000 for a US made Eclipse. And if you feel the need to pay even more there is always the Custom Shop.
Basically, your fears are unfounded, and your conclusions about "sub brand" are wrong. The "E-II" is simply a model designation, it's not a downgrade in the least. ESP now has the "Original" and "USA" series to help move their higher end price point up. You can kind of looks at those series are semi-custom shop guitars at lower prices, except you can't make and decisions on what goes in it, similar to what Gibson does with it's "custom shop" where they decide what to make and then charge an arm, leg, and internal organ to buy one.
As for Trashgreen's assertion the that LTD Elite is not the same quality as the new E-II, well, that's just not true. There is nothing to support that notion. I've given the major differences and changes above. LTD Elite is now part of the E-II series. As far as Eclipse style goes, these are the lighter flame tops instead of highly quilted, and passive pups instead of active EMG's. The added item is that the former LTD Elite now gets the former Standards 305mm fret board instead of the former 350mm. Price difference between an EMG quilted and passive flame is $1699 vs $1499. Price difference reflects costs in maple tops and pup's/electronics, with or course added profit coming from the added models of the former LTD Elite line. :)
I just returned a new 2013 Gibson Les Paul Standard with AAA Plus top, and I bought an LTD Elite Eclipse 1. I got a GREAT price on the Elite. I compared it with 2 different colored ESP Eclipse Standards. I was expecting an easily noticeable difference between the guitars and was very surprised, and pleasantly so, to discover that other than the tonal difference between EMG's and passive Eclipse's, the LTD Elite is everything ESP says it is. It is a lower cost option to the Eclipse II Standard. The LTD Elites passive pups sound better to my ears than the EMG's and that's why I choose it. Of the 3 guitars the LTD Elite played the best as it's set up was nicest. The EMG Eclipses needed setups to get them to play like the Elite. Once set up properly the ESP's would have been just as great as the LTD in this case. What my experience demonstrates is how great the LTD Elite's really are. They are right on par with the ESP Standards and for 2013 they are a steal. I'm sure that's one of the reasons why ESP dropped the LTD Elite and included them in the new E-II line along with the ESP Standards because bascially the LTD Elite are Standards with passive pups and less figured maple tops. It would have been great if ESP made a vintage honey burst LTD Elite Ecipse 1 as that is my favorite finish for the passive models. For 2014 the E-II w/passive pups will be available in vintage honey burst!!!