Five years ago, I travelled to Tōkyō (again) to watch SCANDAL live. This was my third visit and in my two previous trips, I performed the obligatory pilgrimage to Ochanomizu, an area in Tōkyō known for its music shops, and the location of the main BIG BOSS store which sells ESP guitars. During those two separate trips, I browsed, looked and contemplated. My main excuse was luggage space. Well, in this trip I made sure I travelled light. The morning after the gig in Tachikawa-shi, it snowed. Well, it was more like sleet but it was the day of reckoning and, together with a friend, we then took the Chuo line from Shinjuku. Ochanomizu is also known for its universities and shops selling sports equipment. Personally, there’s nothing to see here as I did walk around the area in my previous trip. It was late Friday morning but the place seemed pretty busy with people.

Now, the guitar that I hoped to buy. As this is the big daddy of all ESP stores, being presumptuous, I didn’t make any enquiries as to the availability of the guitar that I wanted to get. Any ESP fan worth his/her salt should know that the “bargain” version of any ESP model is the Edwards. Naff name, but if I can get the “same” model at about 67% of the ESP RRP, plus – these Edward models carry the same electronics (eg Seymour Duncan pups) and are made in Japan, one would be a fool to not consider one. I was in Singapore two years prior to this trip, and I fancied an E-Geki-Tetsu model but later wised up for a white Horizon NT-III with gold hardware. Now, when I looked at the ESP catalogue at that time, the hardware was chrome, but I am sure I saw one with gold at BIG BOSS during my first visit a year before. Anyhoo, it’s gold again now:

The Edwards are hung in the front of the store on 1F (that’s the ground floor in our money) and to my dismay, they didn’t have the white one I saw previously. There was the black one and as I was looking at it, a member of staff asked, “Can I help you?” in English, albeit with a slight hint of a Japanese accent. I told him that I had visited BIG BOSS before and wanted to buy a white Edwards Horizon since then. He looked at me and pretty much said, “Why do you want to buy an Edwards?” obviously hinting that since I travelled this far, I should be getting the more upmarket ESP model. I sheepishly said that I was fine with an Edwards, and would be happy to buy the black one they had, provided I could buy an ESP hard case for it as I would be travelling back to the UK with it. He then asked me to follow him upstairs as he can then check if he has a hard case in store. On reaching the 2nd floor (I think), he reached for this guitar and plonked it on my lap. “Have a try. I will go check if there is a case for you.”

I looked at the guitar and it was a black Horizon NT-III. The label on the headstock says ESP.

I didn’t have to play it to know the quality and the playability of the ESP. He then came back but as opposed to telling me about the status of the hard case, he asked how is the ESP. I told him it plays very well and I know what ESP guitars are like – hence, it’s a no-brainer, really. I then asked how much the ESP costs after which he said, “I can give you a very good price. And as you have come here, walking all the way with the snow outside – I’ll give you a further discount.” He tapped on the calculator and showed me the discounted price. Now, a non-discounted Edwards Horizon NT-III goes for 145,000円 and that’s before haggling a bit, being a tourist and all (they will give you a discount on the RRP and not charge you the goods tax as you are a tourist). An ESP version costs 445,000円 at RRP then[1] and the calculator read 370,000円. That’s a pretty impressive discount but it does translate to a few quid on conversion to GBP.

A colleague of his then came over saying that they don’t have a hard case in store and but can get one over. By this time, I asked the first chap for his name and he said it was Joji Handa as handed me his business card. “This is the only one in Tōkyō. Actually, it may be the only one in Japan.”, he added. If you think you have seen the skills of a car salesman, you would be excused if you think Handa-san had been one in a previous life. A colleague did tell me, after I recounted the story, that Handa-san probably had seen me coming a mile away. That may be the case, but I could afford the ESP. It was between the “want vs need” philosophy and the “you’ve come all this way – just buy it!”. Just to add, this was an Original Series model (equivalent to the Gibson Custom Shop) and not the E-II (what used to be the ESP Standard model). This would explain why this particular model may well be the only one in Tōkyō, but at that moment in time.

And I succumbed to temptation. Handa-san told me that my case will be arriving directly from the ESP factory in Saitama which should take a couple of hours. I asked if there was anywhere in the neighbourhood to go eat, and Handa-san said we were better off going to nearby Akihabara. Before we left, Handa-san asked, “If you want gold hardware, we can do it for you.” And of course they could. The store was also an ESP Custom order shop where you can select the wood, hardware and electronics. I told him I was happy with the black hardware, as the gold looks better on white in my opinion. At that time, I was tempted by Handa-san’s offer but later on I realised it would have costed me a few yen as the hardware is not free! By this time, I was receiving messages on social media – from “Tag laa your brother…he’ll fly to Tokyo to kill you… oh wait… he texted me asking me to KILL YOU!!! Hahahahhaha” to “I’ve told you a million times… ESP better than Edwards… anyday! Please buy. 🙂

After spending some time in Akihabara, we returned to BIG BOSS and the Horizon was already in the case. Took my credit card out and did the deed. After saying my thanks for such excellent customer service, Handa-san actually hailed us a cab to take me back to my hotel in Nishi-shinjuku. I have just spent that much on a guitar. What’s a cab ride in Tōkyō. LOL.

For the trip back to the UK, I took the airport limo (aka coach) from the hotel foyer directly to Narita. Said a little prayer when the JAL ground staff placed the hard case carefully on the conveyor belt. I knew it would be okay on this leg, but was a tad concerned with the second – between Helsinki and Manchester. On reaching Manchester, there was nary a scratch nor dent on the hard case, with the Horizon in it intact.

BIG BOSS has a few stores but this big one in Ochanomizu is known as the Ekimae store (“front of station” – it is a stone’s throw from the Ochanomizu JR eki). To tell you the truth, BIG BOSS is the place to be to buy ESP stuff. For one thing, it’ll be cheaper than buying it outside of Japan. The attention given to me by the BIG BOSS staff was great and should be expected if you are going to spend your hard earned moolah for that dream guitar. As for the white/gold Horizon – I am still interested in one, albeit I’ll be content with my original intention to get the Edwards version.

Review in the next post.

2-1-9 Kanda Surugadai
Tōkyō 101-0062

[1]It is 470,000円 (without tax) now.