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Most guitarists can remember the moment that inspired them to pick up the instrument. For my father, seeing Roy Rogers on television when he was 4 years old planted the seed, and seeing the Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show watered, fertilized, and provided sunshine for that seed to grow. The combination of how cool Roy Rogers looked and the beautiful sounds the Fab Four made nurtured a love of guitar and music that has never left him. For me, what really got my blood pumping was seeing a power-chord riff being beaten into a cherry-red Gibson Explorer by Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails. Not only did it sound great, but he also just looked so cool with that guitar. For me, that shape instantly became associated with razor-sharp tone. Over the years, my musical tastes have spread much, much further than ’90s industrial, but the image and the sound of that guitar have been stuck in my head ever since.
Don Bell of Bell Custom Guitars obviously has the same fascination with that body style, as evidenced by his SS-E and SS-ER guitars. His instruments have already attracted the attention of such players as Steve Stevens, who currently has his Bell Custom Jazzblaster with him on the Billy Idol European tour. I got the chance to give Bell’s SS-ER, one of his coolest-looking creations, a rundown recently. From the time that I spent with it, I came away very impressed.
Working in Wood and Acrylic
The defining feature in Bell’s striking production line is obviously his use of acrylic body wings. His original creations sported bodies made entirely of acrylic, but he wasn’t satisfied because he felt they sounded thin. He thought he’d make the acrylic sound better by adding a wood core (the SS-ER’s is mahogany, but certain Bell models use maple), but he says the acrylic actually made the wood sound better.
“Mahogany is normally dark sounding,” Don explains, “and the acrylic helps take that muddiness out of it without losing the essential tone. The highs become clearer and less brittle sounding, and the lows become tighter—almost like putting a compressor on a bass drum so it doesn’t have that flab in it.” The 24.75"-scale SS-ER’s mahogany core is stained a deep cherry, and it connects to the 22-fret neck with a traditional glued-in joint rather than the neck-through construction you might expect. But the rest of the setup—stop tailpiece, Tune-o-matic bridge, two volumes and a tone knob—is pretty by-the-book. Pickup-wise, the SS-ER is outfitted with a set of Amalfitano PAF-style humbuckers, which have been potted to reduce feedback.