After nearly 30 years in the business Paul Reed Smith has created some undeniably classic guitars. But few are revered as much as the mighty Custom 24, which for many players represents the best of what PRS has to offer.
The Custom 24 has been the company’s flagship model since 1985, and has enjoyed enduring popularity throughout its run. Unfortunately the high price has kept the 24 out of the reach of many cash-strapped guitarists.
PRS made the new S2 Custom 24 more accessibly priced by doing away with the Core Custom 24’s most labor-intensive features. But it’s still built, assembled, and finished at the company’s Stevensville, Maryland, factory, with the same attention to detail as pricier PRS models. It costs a fraction of the price of a Core Custom 24, yet it dishes tones very much in the same league as the company’s flagship axe.
Skin Deep The S2 Custom 24 has a solid mahogany body with an asymmetrically beveled, two-piece flame maple top. The beveling gives the top a sharper, more SG-like profile than the standard Custom 24’s curvy, violin-carved top. The controls sit flat against the body, rather than recessed into it as on the standard Custom 24. The lovely finish is free of imperfections, and the transparent black poly/acrylic finish of our review model provides a subtly luxurious look.
The S2 comes loaded with a pair of newly designed ceramic humbuckers based on the company’s HFS Treble and Vintage Bass models. They can be combined or selected individually from the guitar’s three-way switch, or coil-tapped by pulling on the tone control. The guitar’s two-point vibrato is the same one that’s loaded in PRS’s SE guitars. It’s a smooth and stable unit, though not as refined as the vibratos found on the Core guitars. Still, they’re damn close for the price.The three-piece set neck uses PRS’s wide and meaty “pattern regular” profile and is capped by a 24-fret rosewood fretboard. Bird inlays give the guitar an upmarket look, though the solid ivory look isn’t quite as luxurious as the abalone used on PRS’s flagship Custom 24s. But the S2 Custom 24’s neck feels a lot like those used on the upscale models, and it features the same fretwire, dual-action truss rod, gold leaf headstock signature inlay, and self-lubricating, brass-permeated nut. The S2 Series locking tuners seem to hold their tuning just as well as those used on PRS’s leading models.
Cousin To A Classic The S2 Custom 24’s stripped-down appointments and streamlined features make it an ideal guitar for budget-minded PRS fans who tend to be a bit hard on their guitars. The guitar’s polyurethane and acrylic-blended finish doesn’t feel as silky as the company’s super-thin V12 finish, but the combination makes the S2 more resilient to sweat, grime, and moisture. The poly/acrylic finish doesn’t seem to harm the guitar’s resonance either. It sounds full and rich even before you plug it in.
Through a Mesa/Boogie Dual Rectifier, the ceramic-magnet S2 HFS bridge humbucker produces smooth clean tones, with clear, refined highs and tight, substantial lows. Compared to PRS’s standard HFS Treble pickup, the S2 has a little less midrange presence, and it isn’t quite as sensitive or responsive.There’s also a slightly sharp edge to the pick attack, but that’s easily reigned in by rolling back the tone control slightly. The bridge pickup is more aggressive than the neck’s lower output S2 Vintage Bass pickup, which has a warmer tone across the board and a slightly wider dynamic range.
The bridge pickup really comes alive with a bit of overdrive grit and does a bang-up job of delivering smoky blues-lead sounds that jump in the lower midrange. Light overdrive tones clean up nicely when rolling back the volume knob too, allowing for natural transitions from raw, AC/DC-style grit to more soaring classic rock and blues leads.
Switching to the neck position delivers tones with fat, raunchy midrange reminiscent of Brian May’s Jazz-era tones, but with a boomier low-end presence. Coil-tapping enhances the pickup’s already strong lows and highs and brings the pick attack to the forefront for SRV-style rhythmic blues romps. Regrettably, though, the guitar’s wiring doesn’t permit combining a pickup in normal mode with another in coil-tapped mode.
Using both the bridge and neck pickups with the Boogie’s overdriven orange channel delivers the sustain and molten rhythm tones that helped define ’90s hard rock and metal. There’s less detail in the midrange than you’d hear from a Core Custom 24, but the overall tone is thick, punchy, and quiet under extreme amounts of gain. Unfortunately, the lows don’t have the rubbery snap and recoil of PRS’s HFS Treble or exceptional 57/08 pickups, but their depth and spread put the tones squarely in the same ballpark.
For cash-strapped players longing for the refined tones and exceptional build quality of a true USA-made Custom 24, the S2 Custom 24 is the best option on the market. PRS’s cost-cutting efforts are smart, thoughtful, and probably invisible to casual observers. There’s little loss of tone quality—this guitar sounds like a PRS. While it might not have the super-silky feel or vibrant looks of a true Custom 24, the quality lives up to what you’d expect from a Maryland-built PRS, and is far beyond what you’ll find in most imitators.