Right out of the case, the SS-ER was set up perfectly and had spot-on intonation. The action was high enough to dig into the strings with minimal buzz, but low enough to facilitate quick runs up and down the neck. I really liked the feel of the neck taper, which was akin to the ’60s slim taper on my ’78 Les Paul Custom, but slightly thicker. As for other facets of playability, Explorers have never been known to be lightweight, and neither is the SS-ER. The added weight from the acrylic—which is heavier than mahogany—puts the guitar at 9.5 pounds. Luckily, unlike a lot of instruments with unusual body shapes, it balances well.

Flamboyant in All the Right Ways
So here comes the million-dollar question, “How does it sound?” I’m happy to report that not only does the SS-ER excel at the high-gain rocking that its flamboyant aesthetics practically demand, but it also offers some pretty unique tones. The addition of the acrylic wings seems to add high frequencies that are very noticeable and smooth sounding. Through a Friedman Naked 100-watt head and a 4x12 cab, I really dug how highs and upper mids sustained well without any ice-pick stabs. The materials compliment each other very well, with the mahogany balancing the bright acrylic tones with plenty of warmth and a lush, resonant midrange.

I was rather surprised to find that the moderate-output Amalfitano humbuckers pumped out such a punchy, powerful sound—especially with ratings of 8.5k (bridge) and 8k (neck). “With the acrylic added, the body is so much more resonant that it actually makes the pickups sound more powerful than they are,” explains Bell. Their balance and clean, crisp, detailed note definition all the way across the fretboard was one of the guitar’s best features. I love the sound of a great neck humbucker, in particular for clean tones, and the vintage-voiced neck pickup yielded some fantastic sounds with a nice, spongy feel. It was hard to get a bad sound out of the guitar, yet easy to achieve great traditional tones with impressive high-end response.

The Final Mojo

For lovers of this classic body style, the Bell Custom SS-ER is hard to beat. Some players might prefer the warmer, more conventional tones and feel of the original, but those looking for an added twist will find the SS-ER to be a great alternative—especially with its relatively affordable street price of $1199. Its weight might be a concern for some, but if you’re willing to overlook that in order to wield a well-built guitar with wonderfully unique tones, the Bell Custom SS-ER shouldn’t fly underneath your radar.
Buy if...
you’re looking for a vintage look and sound with a little more high-end bite and a visual twist.
Skip if...
you’re committed to single-coils or need a lightweight guitar.

Street $1199 - Bell Custom Guitars - bellcustomguitars.com