Despite being a much more refined instrument than your typical "superstrat" style guitar, the DR1 from California-based Esoterik Guitars still screams “SHRED!!” in no uncertain terms. Unlike a lot of off-the-shelf shredders, however, its design, build quality, and feature set are a distinct notch above the rest. It's a perfect match for the mature metalhead with a few spare pazoozles in the bank and a desire for a more sophisticated, unique instrument than what's available at the local GC.
Esoterik Guitars is a San Luis Obispo based manufacturer of high-end instruments helmed by master luthier Ryan Cook. Cook launched Esoterik in 2010 after years of experience working for other builders, including Ernie Ball, National Resophonic, and KB Custom Guitars. With a hankering to build the best, most functional guitars possible, Esoterik has produced its DR line of neck-through, natural finish instruments featuring gorgeous woods, thoughtful design, and faultless build quality.
The basic features of all the guitars in Esoterik’s lineup are the same; 5-piece neck-through design with distinctive body contours, 16” radius ebony fretboard, ebony fretboard binding, luminescent side dots, 24 jumbo frets, 25.5” scale length, dual easy-access truss rods, thin poly satin finish, dual active humbuckers, and independent volume and tone controls with 3-way switching. A custom-fit TKL hard case is also included with every guitar. Beyond these basic features (and depending on what model you get) there are other options available for pickups, body and neck woods, volume knob placement, hardware, etc. Our review DR1 was constructed with a walnut/maple neck, mahogany body, TonePros string-through-body hardtail bridge setup, GraphTech nut and saddles, Gotoh 510 tuners, Seymour Duncan Blackouts active humbuckers, and “Out Of The Way” knob placement. Moving the volume knob up to facilitate volume swells is also an option on some Esoterik models.
The Esoterik DR1 cuts a striking figure in person. The quality of the materials, hardware and workmanship is immediately evident upon opening the case. The woods used are uniformly gorgeous, and the thin satin poly finish shows them off nicely. Picking up the DR1, you’ll notice that it’s a lot lighter than you might expect (average weight is 7.6lbs), and that the overall balance is ideal. The light weight and excellent balance of this guitar, combined with the body contours, make it one of the most comfortable guitars I’ve ever strapped on. My shoulders and ribs were delighted. Setup and intonation on our test model was spot-on, and strumming it unplugged revealed a nice acoustic resonance. The neck-through construction of the DR1 has a lot to do with its resonant qualities, and the deliciously thin finish probably plays a big part as well. Playability is excellent, provided wide, flat necks are your thing. The DR1’s neck is somewhat meatier than, say, the Ibanez Wizard necks, but not by a whole lot. Thin and flat are where it's at. The two-octave ebony fretboard is a shredder's dream, and the luxurious sculpted neck contours provide complete access all the way up to those extra weedle-y notes only your dog can hear (I usually avoid those notes, but the DR1 made it too easy!). The dual truss rod design is one of the cooler features of the Esoterik product line. In addition to letting you make complex, minute adjustments to both sides of the neck, the design also allows you to make said adjustments very easily, as the two little adjuster wheels are in an easy-to-access location right at the end of the fretboard, just before the neck pickup. It’s a great feature for players who like to experiment with different tunings and string gauges, or for touring players that may encounter a variety of environmental conditions that could alter the playability of the instrument from one night to the next.
Plugging in the Esoterik DR1 unleashed a variety of tones, some I expected, and others I was somewhat taken aback by. Our test guitar came with Seymour Duncan Blackout pickups (Esoterik also offers EMG's as an option), and as expected, the bridge humbucker was an uncompromisingly raging metal monstrosity. Tons of output and some seriously cutting mid and high end bite make it excellent for maintaining clarity and attack in high-gain and dropped tuning situations. Sustain is copious, naturally. Turning the gain down and flicking the 3-way switch to the middle and neck positions, however, I was surprised to find a variety of more mellow sounds, from hi-fi, almost acoustic-sounding cleans with both pickups engaged, to some warm jazz and blues tones in the neck position. For players that need to cover a lot of sonic terrain with one guitar, you could certainly do a lot worse. And of course, the Duncan Blackouts are extremely quiet and noise-free pickups, which is invaluable when you’re plugged into your 10,000 Watt Octuple Rectumfire Full Stack set on "Immolate".
The Esoterik DR1 is a winner for the shred-inclined guitarist looking for a unique alternative to the mass produced, off-the-rack axe. The materials, design concepts, and construction quality of this guitar are very impressive, and the variety of tones on board makes it a highly versatile metal guitar. At $3670 street price, the DR1 will set you back a few shekels, but you're definitely getting what you pay for in this case, and compared to other similarly appointed high-end instruments from ESP, Jackson, Parker, and other major manufacturers, the Esoterik proves itself to be a very solid buy.
What We Like: Flawless construction, clever design, beautiful woods, top-notch hardware, great metal tones. SHRED!!!
Concerns: If you don't play metal you probably won't be into this guitar, but that's okay.