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When Paul Reed Smith introduced the Starla back in 2008, it was a departure for the company. Its sexy, retro-leaning design was stark contrast to the super-flamed maple tops and violin-like curves of the company’s best-known models. It also delivered an array of tones that deviated from the classic PRS sound. The bummer is that the company stopped producing them for their retail product line.
Thankfully, the Starla lives on in the form of the S2 Starla, part of PRS’s new, more affordable, USA-made S2 line. Each guitar is completely built, finished and inspected at PRS’s factory in Stevensville, Maryland with the same care and standards applied to the company’s higher-priced models. By making a few labor-saving alterations to the Starla’s original formula—such as a less sculpted top carve—PRS delivers an S2 that more folks can afford without sacrificing tone or playability.
The Core and S2 Starla models look similar at a glance, but there are a few significant differences. The S2 features a 25" scale and Pattern Regular profile instead of the Core Starla's shorter 24 1/2" scale and Pattern carve. The deep-brown, 22-fret rosewood fretboard is peppered with faux ivory acrylic and expertly dressed jumbo fretwire, and its matching painted headstock is loaded with PRS's new impressively stable S2 Series locking tuners. The tuning stability of the guitar's Bigsby B50 and Tune-O-Matic-style bridge is equally remarkable.
The Starla's new S2 Treble and Bass pickups are controlled via three-way switching and a pair of volume and tone controls. Pulling out the latter engages the guitar’s coil tap. The controls have an easy, secure, and satisfying feel, which is nice for players who ride the volume and tone knobs a lot. An easier-to-grip control surface would be nice, though, especially for coil tapping.
Pairing the S2 Starla with an original ’63 Fender Vibroverb produced smooth, detailed clean tones and ample sustain. In humbucking mode, the bridge pickup was very balanced, with a bubbly low end that responded naturally to changes in pick attack. The neck position was equally well balanced, delivering deeply resonant lows, defined highs, and full, throaty midrange. The S2 pickups are missing some of the magical Filter’Tron-like jangle that the original Starla conjured so readily, but the strong low-midrange presence works well for darker jazz tones and subtle blues leads. What’s more, the added 1/2" in the scale length gives the attack a little more snap, and made chording a touch easier.
The guitar’s bridge pickup really comes to life after dialing up a bit of power-tube overdrive from the amplifier. The midrange opens up and the highs take on a more aggressive flavor, allowing me coax smooth mid-gain tones with a little more bite. Both pickups respond changes in pick attack and clean up without significant loss of high end when I roll the volume control back. I did miss the original Starla pickups’ tendency to soften a bit when used with overdrive—a great quality that S2 Treble and Bass pickups lack.
PRS’s fantastic S2 Starla gives players a second chance to check out a very underrated PRS instrument. Most of the essential ingredients that made the Core version of the Starla so enticing are here, and the rock-solid build and tempting price make it a winner for tone hounds with tight budgets. Despite some minor tonal trade-offs, it’s one of the best values in PRS’s S2 line.