As guitarists, our obsession with the great players, sounds and gear from yesteryear means that new instrument design is invariably referenced from the past. Another Strat with a wonky headstock... a reverse Jaguar with a Floyd Rose? In a word, guitar design is in the doldrums.
Enter Rob O'Reilly. Unable to find a guitar that was remotely forward-looking, he created one himself, raising cash via Ireland's Dragon's Den and topping that up with Kickstarter fundraising.
The BE's bolt-on design centres around a hollow body/frame, made from laminated wood. Looking like half a pair of glasses fit for a pantomime giant, the body features a thick clear acrylic centre. The strings anchor from the rear through small recessed holes; the tune-o-matic-style bridge is set directly into the clear centre along with the twin Wilkinson WVSB and WVSM single coils.
An easily removable rear plastic plate allows you to personalise your guitar by slipping a graphic insert behind the clear centre - three are provided with the guitar (although you can create your own picture or design to fit), along with a chequered strap, three plectrums and a polishing cloth - and in seconds, you have your own graphic finish guitar.
A mini toggle switch that's mounted on the top edge selects bridge, middle or both pickups, and you also get a roller-like volume control. The neck's white fingerboard suggests some kind of plastic, but it's just painted maple, like the neck itself. Meanwhile, the large - perhaps too large - headstock sports a simple white script logo plus a set of rear-locking tuners.
Finally, a metal 'balance bar', onto which you attach the top end of your strap, extends from the heel area and can be swung and locked into position for either standing or seated playing - it's a little unconventional, but surprisingly practical.
The BE might look hollow, but that 25mm thick acrylic centre is not a million miles away from Dan Armstrong's classic 'See Thru' guitar, beloved by rockers from Keith Richards to Joe Perry. It gives the guitar a solid weight of 3.25kg, like a good Strat or Tele, for example. The strapped-on feel takes a little getting used to, but balance it does - and even if the bar is a little intrusive past the 15th fret, it hardly ruins the fun.
Sound-wise, this is no huge, thick Les Paul, but the tight lows sit nicely in a mix with bass and drums, and there's a punky edge to the bridge voice, a good hollowed Strat-y mixed-pickup tone and a reasonably tough-sounding middle pickup. A neat rhythm 'n' lead Stones-y sound emerges with crunchy gain, and it's no slouch at slide, either.
The BE Guitar is undoubtedly one heck of a visual statement, but for the money, it plays well and the tones it produces are more than acceptable. Plus, you can put any image you want in that body - and few guitars can boast that.