My first ESP Horizon is an NT-II model[1] which I bought second hand on eBay in 2012. I also forgot to mention the reasons why the NT-III was my next ESP of choice in my last post. The ESP models available for the Japanese market is marked different from those sold elsewhere. One main difference is the availability of certain body shapes. The Horizon is the super-Strat range with an arched top. The NT-II is available in both markets but not the NT-III. Another difference in her design is her teardrop-shaped headstock a staple even in the cheaper models back in the 90s. Say hello to KuroiMAMI / 黒いMAMI (kuroi – transl. black).

The Horizon III body is offset unlike the others in its range. KuroiMAMI is an Original Series ESP which is made at the Kiso factory[2], one of custom shop factories that is said to do only neckthru and set necks. Unlike the E-II (standard series ESP in the old money), the Original Series is handmade by a builder as opposed to a factory made ESP, not that a factory made ESP is a badly made guitar. This change in the ESP range at about 2014 is to preserve the ESP ethos as a custom shop guitar company. Hence, the standard-built ESPs in the past was felt to “downgrade” the ESP name. That is why, apart from KuroiMAMI, I tend to favour the older ESP standards from a price perspective. My first ever ESP is a standard series Viper bought firsthand in 2008, back in the days before this change.

KuroiMAMI’s alder body has a nice weight to it and feels well balanced. Playability is well superb and the neck is very comfortable, reminiscent of my Gibson LP Standard albeit very much lighter. The bridge pickup is a JB which is something I already have in three of my guitars – Ryoko, MAMIchan and the MAMIcaster. The usual pairing is with an SH-1 ’59 (as seen in those three), but KuroiMAMI is paired with an SH-2 Jazz at the neck, which is not unusual but she is my first guitar that has a JB-Jazz set. Interestingly, looking at this Horizon NT-III model in the current ESP Japan catalogue, one change worthy of note (other than the double striped inlay, and the more expensive price tag) is the custom-made Seymour Duncan pickups (hybrid JB/Custom at the bridge, hybrid 59/Jazz at the neck).

I am not a big fan of the Floyd Rose as it makes maintenance a bit more cumbersome. But I am so in love with this NT-III model that it is something I was happy to overlook. I remembered sorting out my brother’s used ESP KH-2 when it arrived at my house. The previous owner had it strung with .52s if I remembered correctly. With the help of a friend I learnt what those three springs were for, sorted those out and the trem was well balanced once I restrung the guitar with a lighter gauge set. So, I knew I would be fine with handling KuroiMAMI’s FR trem.

Owning several ESPs meant I am so in love with their locking machine heads by Gotoh, which is installed on KuroiMAMI’s headstock. She has a black finish all over, including the back of the neck. Her overall appearance looks very good, which made me feel so glad I said no to the offer of modding the hardware to gold at the BIG BOSS in-store workshop. This was another reason for getting the Japan-only series, an option for a more sedate finish. The current catalogue shows a range of nice colours but a little out-of-this-world for my liking.

Plugged in, KuroiMAMI’s tone is lovely. The master volume knob has push-push pot as the JB has a split coil should I wish to have a single coil tone. I really have to admit that I couldn’t tell the difference having the SH-2 Jazz on her neck, but this pickup is said to be a tad brighter and has a lower output than the ’59[3]. I am certain of her versatility but my limited repertoire in the songs I know as a bedroom player means she’ll be doing pretty much rock numbers and not much else.

This is KuroiMAMI plugged into my old Marshall VS100R via a TS-9 Tube Screamer and a Mesa Boogie Throttle Box, and played using the bridge pickup.

BODY Alder (Thickness 47mm)
NECK Hard Maple 3P
FINGERBOARD Ebony w/ white binding
SCALE 648mm
NUT Lock Nut (42mm/R2)
FRET #213, 24frets
INLAY Pearloid Offset Block
JOINT Neck-thru-body
BRIDGE Floyd Rose
PICKUPS (Neck) Seymour Duncan Jazz SH-2n, (Bridge); Seymour Duncan JB TB-4
CONTROLS Master Volume (w/Coil Split SW), Master Tone, Mini Toggle PU Selector
SET STRING .009-.046 (Elixir®)
PRICE 445,000yen (without TAX)

[2]The letter K at the beginning of her serial number.
[3]This is good video that showcases the Jazz SH-2, with a quick comparison to the other Seymour Duncan neck pickups.