Sound — 9
I play an odd mixture of mid-'60s British style blues (e.g. very early Fleetwood Mac), modern pop-rock and pop-punk (e.g. Paramore), late '80s and early '90s arena rock (e.g. Bon Jovi), some classic rock (e.g. early Aerosmith) and modern hard rock/post-grunge (e.g. Foo Fighters), although I mostly bought this guitar to satisfy my random love for gothic and symphonic metal (e.g. Within Temptation). I'm currently running through a Peavey Windsor Head and Marshall 1936-v 2x12 cab. With this guitar I have been using a Boss delay, a Dunlop wah and an EHX octave generator; I usually use an overdrive pedal and an EQ pedal too but with this guitar I have yet to need them. The H-1001 has managed to fit in to all of the above styles of music almost perfectly. This is the first guitar I've found where without touching the amp, without using pedals, I can go from a sterile modern metal tone to a surprisingly warm classic rock or blues tone using just the guitar's two basic controls, something I don't usually associate with active pickups. I believe this may be due to the H-1001's set neck design with the warm mahogany body, compared to most super-Strats which have neck-through designs with lots of rock maple. The neck pickup in particular (EMG 85) is proving to be one of the most flexible pickups I've come across, at least it is in this guitar. My amp isn't known for cleaning up too well (in fact there are many people who will say that a Peavey Windsor isn't capable of clean tones at all) but this guitar manages it, even with the gain control well past the halfway mark this guitar still manages to clean up and radically alter its tone. The bridge pickup is just a touch too brittle-sounding for some uses, but with the tone control rolled back a little it becomes at the least highly usable, even if it's not entirely perfect. This guitar sustains fairly well, though you're not going to get any legendary Spinal Tap sustain out of it. With dead-average gain, flat EQ, no compression, no effects and no vibrato, this guitar will hold a fretted note for around six seconds. With additional vibrato and the amp cranked a touch more, a fretted note will last around eight or nine seconds. Open notes last considerably longer of course. Pretty good considering this isn't exactly made out of the highest grade wood. The best tones I've gotten out of this have been gothic metal, modern hard rock and grunge tones, though I have been very pleasantly surprised by the pop-punk sort of tones I've been able to get out of it too. For blues and classic rock it manages to be acceptable. The bridge tone has a lot of power behind it without becoming too booming and muddy and the neck tone is shockingly smooth and also highly responsive by neck standards, with harmonics leaping out just as easily as when using the bridge. The middle selection (both pickups together) is a little more limited as it isn't quite as smooth as the neck and not quite as precise as the bridge, but especially when going for classic rock tones it works very well with the tone control rolled back just a touch. The volume and tone controls are great in their own right. They are the smoothest I've found on any guitar and unlike many volume and tone controls, they have a constant, even effect as you turn them down. Lots of guitars have control pots which sound great at 10, make a big difference at 0 and have maybe one other tone somewhere in the middle, but for most of their sweep they do nothing. That isn't the case with these controls. The volume control lowers the guitar's output very smoothly and evenly and unlike with passive pickups, the active pickups ensure that you don't lose treble as you turn the volume down, you get the same tone and response all the way through the control's range, only the output changes. The tone control is much the same, it very cleanly rolls off the higher treble frequencies with no sudden 'jumps' in tone. Neither control crackles or pops and both are stiff enough that you can't accidentally knock them far out of position but at the same time they are just loose enough that you can casually turn them with a single finger. The Earvana compensated nut deserves a special mention. This genius invention ensures your guitar is better intonated along the whole length of the neck, meaning each note, especially towards the first few frets, will be more accurately in-tune than on a guitar with a regular nut. It actually took a while to get used to, as having used guitars with regular nuts for so long I found the new, more accurate notes to sound almost wrong, but once I got past that it really became a joy to work with. Chords in particular ring out clearer and more accurately than I've experienced with any other guitar. If you're a hardcore blues or classic rock player then you would want to look elsewhere, but for any metal or modern rock tone this guitar is perfect and it is just about usable for more Vintage tones if you just want to dabble.
Overall Impression — 8
In terms of the feel and sound I am blown away by this guitar. I play a fairly unusual range of music as I said before and I own a range of guitars to match, including custom-built Warmoth Telecasters and a Gibson Custom Shop Les Paul. This one LTD H-1001 manages to out-perform every other guitar I have ever owned or tried in regard to feel and tone, at least in terms of what is suitable for me. I have been playing guitar for a little under five years now, though I've spent much more of that time researching guitars, woods, pickups, amps, trying different gear out and so on, far more than I've spent actually playing. Out of all the gear I've tried, if you close your eyes this H-1001 is the overall best pick. It's just such a shame that when you inspect it up close, it looks a bit of a mess. Still, although it has many cosmetic flaws I can't stress enough how wonderfully it plays and sounds regardless. Before settling on this guitar, I tried out a Mayones Regius (retails at around 2100, handmade), the ESP Standard Horizons (both the 6-string and 7-string models) and more Standard series LTD models than I care to remember. Although this was the most cosmetically flawed, it sounds and feels as good as either of the ESP Standard series guitars did and cost much less (even at normal store prices, the H-1001 is a touch under 1000 while an ESP Standard Horizon is usually around 1500). It was also significantly better in terms of both feel and tone than the Standard LTD models. I won't lie, the Mayones Regius was definitely a superior instrument to this, but then that stands to reason as that costs mover than twice as much and is a hand made instrument with a four month waiting list. Considering the price and easy availability, this H-1001 was by far and away the best choice. If this was to be lost or damaged beyond repair then I would most definitely buy another one, wouldn't even think twice. I'm already tempted to buy a second one as a backup. To sum up, I wish it had been finished better, I wish the volume knob was placed slightly more out of the way and I would prefer to have two tone controls rather than a master tone, but I can happily live with the guitar as it is. Is it worth the 1000 it will cost you in a brick-and-mortar shop? Yes. If you can buy it online for less, even better. I would just stres that you need to inspect the guitar closely before you buy it if you care about the finish quality. That is the only real gripe I have with this guitar. Otherwise, it is very close to flawless.
Reliability & Durability — 9
I've yet to use this guitar in a live situation but I have absolute Faith it would hold up to whatever the road could throw at it. For all of its cosmetic flaws, ultimately this guitar is built very solidly. Each piece of hardware and every element of the electronics are fitted perfectly and show no signs of giving out. The tuners are really fantastic, I didn't know what to expect from ESP's own brand tuners but these seem as good as any after market major brand of tuner. The strap buttons in particular are great. I had bought my usual Schaller straplocks to install, however having lived with the stock strap buttons for a couple of weeks now I see no need to replace them. They're fitted solidly and they're pretty big. Considering how hard it was just to get the strap on them, I'd be amazed if the strap ever came close to falling off. Of course I'd never use it without a backup, you should never play without a backup. Additionally because it uses active pickups, you need to pay attention to your battery level. Although one 9v battery will last quite a long time (EMG claim around 3000 hours for a guitar with two active pickups), if you are playing with a lot of distortion it can be hard to tell when the battery starts to run low. Basic care and just paying attention to your gear takes care of this problem though. The finish, as sloppy as it is, is at least very thick. For a really organic tone with passive pickups I greatly prefer a thin nitro finish, but with active pickups the thick poly finish that this guitar has is fine and really seems like it will last. I've alreayd accidentally knocked it a couple of times and it's not showing any scratches or dents.
Action, Fit & Finish — 4
This is where the guitar really loses marks. The actual construction is fine; everything is in the right place, everything has been accurately drilled, routed and fitted. The nut is very, very fractionately off to one side, but it can't be off by more than dare I say .20mm (checking it against a .50mm pick, the pick was easily more than twice the size of the nut's misplacement). The set-up (performed by ESP) is perfect in every regard; string height, pickup height, neck relief, bridge height, nothing needed to be adjusted. The actual finish, however, leaves a lot to be desired. You would think that they would take more care over the details of an instrument that carries the name 'Deluxe'. As it is, there are flaws everywhere. The multi-ply binding, which is one of the features exclusive to the LTD Deluxe series, is in a very sorry state. I have never seen binding smudged before, but there it is - the cream layers in particular are clearly damaged in several areas, bleeding into the black layers at times and discoloured in other parts. The clear coat of the finish is the worst offender. On the top edges of the headstock, the clear top coat hasn't been smoothed properly; on the side of the neck (top side closest to the player) there is a small dip in the clear coat where the finish wasn't sprayed on evenly; at the end of the fretboard the finish is built up too thickly on one corner. On the other corner of the fretboard's end there's no finish at all, just the bare wood. At first I assumed this was a chip that had happened after the guitar was finished, however on closer inspection the wood is covered by the clear top coat, so this isn't a chip, this is just a sloppy finish. There also seems to be some left over masking tape caught under the nut. None of these problems effect the tone or feel of the guitar in terms of regular play, but it is still annoying that they're there. For a guitar from a so-called 'Deluxe' series and that carries a price tag around 1000, I expected a much, much tighter, cleaner finish. Worth mentioning too are the controls. The volume control is placed right in the natural path of the player's hand, meaning any even slightly aggressive strum will result in you smacking the bottom of your hand or your little or ring fingers against the volume control. This isn't a problem with this particular guitar, this is more of a general flaw with ESP's entire Horizon design. The tip of the 3-way Switch also kept coming loose the first few times I played this guitar. This was fixed by simply taking the tip off, rotating it 180 degrees and putting it back on - it's now stuck on nice and tightly. These sorts of things seem to be a very common problem with guitars from Korea, Mexico, China, etc, so I'm not going to mark it down too harshly for that. The other finish problems though, it definitely needs to be marked harshly for. Sure they don't have any bearing on the sound or playability but this is a 1000 guitar we're talking about, they should at least be able to get the top coat right.
Features — 8
The version I'm reviewing is the 2010 version of the H-1001 (hardtail model). I bought mine through some special contacts but in the interest of fairness I shall review this as if I had paid around a thousand pounds, the average price for one of the older H-1000s in a store. I've had this guitar for two weeks now so I believe I have experienced almost everything that it is capable of. This guitar was made in Korea, sometime in the last two months of 2009. It is part of the ESP-LTD Deluxe line. It has ESP/LTD's Horizon body style (super-Strat) with a new headstock design for 2010. The Horizon body has a carved top and a very deep rear body contour, much deeper than the contours I have seen on any type of Strat or super-Strat before. That is the main difference between this and the MH-1000 models; the MH has a much shallower, more traditional Strat style rear body contour than this H model has. The neck on this guitar has the ESP 'thin u' neck contour, which is thicker and rounder than a super-thin Ibanez Wizard neck but still slimmer than an average Fender or '60s Gibson neck. It has a mahogany body, maple neck and a rosewood fretboard. The neck is ESP's 'set-through' design, meaning it is a set neck but has most of the neck heel carved away, providing the full fret access that a neck-through design gives while keeping the warmer tone of a set neck. This guitar is 25.5" scale with 24 frets, which ESP list as being 'XJ' (extra jumbo). The fretwire feels about as high as you get on modern Fender American guitars but about as wide as the fretwire on most Gibson guitars; overall it is slightly smaller than the truely 'jumbo' fretwire used by companies such as Ibanez but it is still slightly bigger than most medium sizes. The neck also features a tilt-back headstock for better tuning stability, ESP's own locking tuners and an Earvana compensated nut, ensuring every note is perfectly in tune. The body features two EMG active humbucking pickups, an 81 (ceramic) in the bridge and an 85 model (Alnico V I believe) in the neck. There is a battery box in the back of the guitar. Controls consist of a 3-way blade style switch, a master volume control and a master tone control. The bridge is a locking TonePros tune-o-matic with a string-through design. Large strap buttons complete the hardware. The finish on this one is solid gloss black polyurethane all over with black plastic parts, black nickel hardware and the usual black/cream/black/abalone/cream binding that most of the LTD Deluxe range have. Fretboard inlays consist of small offset abalone squares, a large mother of pearl block with the model name ('H-1001') at the 12th fret and the usual white dots on the side. The poly finish is quite thick. No additional accessories of any kind came with my guitar, although it did come with a fresh battery, new strings and a decent set-up courtesy of ESP. Overall, everything you would expect from a heavy metal-orientated super-Strat: flawless fret access, powerful active pickups, a fairly simple control layout and overall design with a fast neck. Premium features like the compensated nut, locking tuners and TonePros bridge really make this guitar stand out above other super-Strats in the same sort of price bracket. It doesn't have any really fancy tricks up its sleeve but it has all the essentuals. Don't forget there is also a model with a Floyd Rose. For around the 1000 mark, you can't ask for much more, even if it is a touch predictable.