I’ve always been an admirer of ESP’s Horizon body shape, ever since I saw Devin Townsend holding one on the cover of Guitar World when he was in Steve Vai’s band. Part traditional, part sleek modern and, in Townsend’s words, “It looks like Satan,” the Horizon is a great platform for experimentation. The arched, carved top is comfortable and attractive whether it’s finished in a solid colour or a transparent finish over quilted maple, the recessed controls are comfortable, and it can be a wildly different guitar depending on whether you go for a Floyd Rose model or a fixed bridge one, and if you rock active or passive pickups. Part of ESP’s Japanese-made Standard Series, the Horizon FR 27 is an alder-bodied superstrat with a three piece maple neck, neck thru construction with super-comfortable neck/body carve, snappy 25.5″ scale length, and smoky-looking black nickel hardware. The fretboard is ebony, and the bridge is an original Floyd Rose double locking unit.
The neck features 27 — yes, 27 – extra jumbo frets, although the last one doesn’t quite extend all the way up to the low E string thanks to the curved fretboard edge. The neck pickup is a Seymour Duncan SHR-1n single coil-sized humbucker which slants along with the fretboard, while the bridge pickup is a Seymour Duncan TB-14 ‘Custom’ model. There’s a three way pickup selector switch, a master volume control, and a master tone pot which doubles as a push-push coil split. Oh and the fretboard is scalloped from the 12th fret to the 24th, which makes a huge difference to playability but is a subtle enough modification that you might not even notice it if you see the guitar hanging on the wall in a store.
Tonally, the Horizon FR 27 is fat and full of attitude. The bridge pickup screams with harmonics and pick attack, with a respectable low end which will certainly please the downtuning crowd, but it works great for standard tuning too. Pinch harmonics fly off this thing. And the neck pickup is very articulate and clear even at high gain levels, again with plenty of pick attack and great sustain. Hit that coil split though and you’ll get a thinner, grittier, rougher, almost vintage feel from the guitar. With the right amp you could almost use the coil split as a faux channel switch.
There are a lot of myths about scalloped fretboards: do they make you play faster? Do they change the tone of the guitar? Do you get haunted by the ghosts of the chunks of wood they carve out? The truth is, a scalloped fretboard doesn’t help your fretboard speed at all. In fact, it could even slow you down if you’re used to low frets and light strings. What it really does is it allows you go grab every note by the goolies, whether you’re laying into a five-semitone bend or playing a blazing flurry of 64th notes. The Horizon 27 is particularly playable because the scallops start up where you really need them, where fret spacing starts to mush your fingers together, so you can really get the most out of each note. And they really help you to get a grip on those extra 25th, 26th and 27th frets. It’s safe to say that these frets wouldn’t be anywhere near as blazable if the fretboard was unscalloped.
What I like most about the Horizon 27 is that it’s almost like a custom shop guitar. It has plenty of features that are unusual and unique — the scalloped fretboard, 27 frets — yet it’s a production guitar that you don’t have to wait months for. Construction quality is flawless and even the factory setup is great. I think it’s a testament to growing quality control standards across the guitar industry that over the past year I’ve reviewed more ‘I wish I owned this’ guitars than ever before.