Price paid: $ 1599
Purchased from: Online retailers
Features — 9
The EX-SS is basically a thin archtop guitar, essentially a hollowbody electric with an arched top (and back). This instrument is equipped with PAF style Kent Armstrong Humbuckers - I believe the same ones that D'Angelico puts in their chambered solidbody, the EX-SD. There is a volume and tone control for each pickup, with beautiful knobs crafted from ebony wood, and a 3-way pickup selector. This model also sports the 5-ply stairstep pickguard and the beautiful binding that is on every model in this series, which runs around the body as well as along the neck.
There is also a wrap-around trapeze style tailpiece. The top and back of the instrument are flamed maple, this specific one with a vintage sunburst finish. The neck scale length is a little bit odd at 25" but it grew on me quick, and the fretboard is made out of a gorgeous piece of rosewood. The guitar is also rocking a 3 piece maple neck with a walnut core. The fret inlays are mother-of-pearl block inlays, which match the very stylized "Excel" inlay on D'Angelico's unique headstock, which also includes the stairstep shaped truss rod cover in silver. The tuners are closed Grover Super Rotomatics with stairstep designed tuning keys. The hardware is all gold-plated, including the pickup covers.
Sound — 9
The Kent Armstrong Humbuckers on this instrument are a new discovery for me; as I've been reviewing these D'Angelico instruments the pickups have been consistently impressive. These pickups are PAF style humbuckers, and with the hollowbody and high quality potentiometers for volume and tone it gives you a pretty diverse palette of sounds to work with. I personally have started to think of this guitar as a jack-of-all-trades as I've played it these past few weeks - it can cover a lot of ground convincingly. I love these pickups, which are warm and thick voiced, and it easily covers country, jazz, pop, blues and most rock music. Even with the hollowbody design, this instrument seemed pretty resistant to unwanted feedback and the tone stayed pretty controllable even with some higher gain tones.
Action, Fit & Finish — 8
This instrument arrived via FedEx, boxed and in its included deluxe hardshell case, and was ready to play after tweaking the tuning. The action was what it needed to be on this instrument, and there were no flaws that I could find. The finish and binding are beautiful on this instrument, but that could be said for any of D'Angelico's instruments. This instrument boasts special violin-inspired post-bracing which helps this guitar be even more lightweight than other similar designs.
The 25" scale length, mixed with the trapeze tailpiece, makes bends supremely easy with ideal string tension for comfortable bending acrobatics. The specific instrument I received to review is vintage sunburst, but this guitar is also available in white, natural and gray black. There is a left-handed model offered in either vintage sunburst or natural. Honestly, the vintage sunburst is my favorite finish on this model - it has a blackburst edge on the front and back which really pulls it together.
Reliability & Durability — 9
Like the other D'Angelico instruments I've recently had the pleasure of familiarizing myself with, this instrument is very well-crafted and there is nothing to complain about. The included deluxe hardshell case is very nice and provides great protection for this guitar. D'Angelico has been making quality and long-lasting instruments for over half a century which speaks volumes.
Overall Impression — 8
D'Angelico sent me 4 different models of their EX series as loaners to review, and honestly as I spent time with each one I would think "yep, this one is my favorite" - I realized over the weeks that each of their instruments are made with a purpose in mind and they excel at what they're designed for. The EX-SS is a very compact and lightweight guitar that is made to be versatile and comfortable to play for long periods of time, essentially. Or that is how I feel about this model, anyway. The ease and comfort that goes along with extreme string bending thanks to the scale length and the trapeze tailpiece was one of the outstanding features on this model for me. This guitar is well suited to cover everything from country, reggae and blues up to anything short of hard rock and metal.