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.