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PRS 30 Amp Review

PRS 30 Amp Review

The PRS 30 has a classic English EL84 sound that has many applications.

Download Example 1
British - Bright on, Volume 5 o'clock, Reverb off, Treble 2 o'clock, Middle 1 o'clock, Bass 4 o'clock, Master 10 o'clock. PRS Starla X.
Download Example 2
Country Rock - Bright off, Volume 2 o'clock, Reverb off, Treble 3 o'clock, Middle 2 o'clock, Bass 10 o'clock, Master 9 o'clock. Fender Strat with pickup settings.
Download Example 3
Heavy Rock - Bright on, Volume 3 o'clock, Reverb off, Treble 3 o'clock, Middle 8 o'clock, Bass 3 o'clock, Master 10 o'clock. Peavey PXD Tomb II with EMG 60/81s.
Download Example 4
Increasing Guitar Volume - Bright off, Volume 12 o'clock, Reverb 10 o'clock, Treble 1 o'clock, Middle 7 o'clock, Bass 10 o'clock, Master 9 o'clock. PRS Mira X, switching pickups.
All clips recorded with a Shure SM57 into Digidesign Pro Tools.
Many guitar manufacturers try their hand at making amplifiers, to varying degrees of success. Perhaps many believe that since their guitars are a big hit, they can easily branch out and manufacture amps that will be just as successful; some guitar companies do okay, while others fail miserably. It’s a rare and difficult task to create guitars and amps of equally high quality, and then to be able to maintain those high standards and good reputation. Paul Reed Smith seems to be headed in that direction. The company known for making amazing looking and sounding guitars is quickly gaining a reputation for making high-quality amps as well.

Paul Reed Smith joined forces with master amp designer Doug Sewell and collaborated for nearly four years before unveiling the highly anticipated PRS tube amp line in early 2009. With a tip of the hat to both classic American as well as British amps, PRS produced a line of amps that catered to the needs of varied playing styles and served up some distinct and unique tonal possibilities. PRS released the Blue Sierra, the Dallas, and the Original Sewell tube amps to rave reviews. Now, Paul Reed Smith is rolling out a series of lower wattage amps, including the 16-watt Sweet 16 and a new 30-watt cathode biased amp called the PRS 30.

Described as “an English sound with an American twist,” the PRS 30 features a quartet of EL84 tubes and a control layout similar to the PRS Dallas amp. The preamp section includes two 12AX7 tubes and two 12AT7 tubes. It also features a 3-spring Reverb with medium decay, and a special Master Volume that is dialed out of the circuit as the amp volume reaches the maximum setting. The amps are handmade in Stevensville, MD, and are available in head and combo versions.

The front panel of the PRS 30 includes controls for Volume, Reverb, Treble, Middle, Bass and Master Volume as well as a bright switch, a power switch and one input jack. The rear panel stays simple with an impedance selector, a fuse compartment, and an extension jack included in parallel with the speaker out jack. For those guitarists who weren’t crazy about the paisley look of the original PRS amps, they will be happy to know that the PRS 30 amps, along with the Sweet 16 and the accompanying new speaker cabinets, come in the new PRS tuxedo (black and white) tolex, which makes for a very classy look.

Plugging In
I received a PRS 30 head for review along with a 1x12 PRS speaker cabinet. I wasted no time in setting everything up and plugging in. I naturally chose a PRS Mira X guitar with humbucking pickups for the initial test drive. When some people test-drive a new car, they immediately want to see how fast the thing goes. My first instinct was to dial in my favorite distortion setting on a tube amp—Treble and Middle up half way, Bass and Volume (gain) cranked, with the Master Volume up a couple of notches. I quickly discovered that those general settings don’t really work on this amp! First of all, with the 1x12 closed-back PRS speaker cabinet, the bass response was rumbling and plentiful, so there was no need to crank the Bass up all the way. The distortion was pretty fuzzy and grungy with those settings, so I decided to start from scratch and dial all of the parameters to neutral, 12 o’clock positions. I then got an instant British/ classic rock tone with thick, creamy distortion. I only had to adjust the Treble to brighten up the tone slightly, but otherwise it was a ballsy overdriven tone with plenty of low end.

I also plugged in my Slash Les Paul with Seymour Duncan Alnico Pro-II humbuckers and got more of the same warm overdriven sound. It’s a great classic rock tone: punchy with a strong attack. The midrange is very rich and reminds me of a VOX tone, which has a lot to do with the EL84 tubes used in the amp. Playing around with the Volume knob on the amp, you can find your sweet spot at different locations of the sweep, depending on your pickups. There is a point in which the actual volume stops increasing, while the tone becomes thicker and more compressed. It seemed to be different with every guitar, so it’s best to experiment a bit to find your favorite setting.

For a clean sound, I dialed the volume to about 8 o’clock on the amp, and set the other parameters to 12 o’clock. I flipped on the Bright switch and put both humbuckers on, and the clean tone was immediately well balanced and full. I didn’t feel the need to adjust the parameters at all. The bass frequencies were deep but not too boomy, while the highs were glistening and bell-like. With both pickups on, it was a nice balance of the entire tonal spectrum. I stayed with those settings when I plugged in my Strat. The clean tone was a little more chimey and sparkling, but again I didn’t feel the need to adjust the EQ knobs from their 12 o’clock positions. This clean sound is great for playing soul and funk. Playing 9th chord funky rhythms, the tone is clear and tight with no breakup. With single coils, I could really hear the difference the Bright switch makes. With the pickup in the bridge position, I preferred to have the bright switch off for a warmer sound. Adding distortion, I tweaked the EQ slightly by bringing the middle and bass up. This setting was perfect for country rock, and I had a nice mix of twang and distortion.

I also tried the amp with a PRS Starla X guitar with soapbar pickups. I brought the Volume and Middle controls up and got a nice classic ‘60s distortion. With the soapbar pickups, the high notes were fat with a lot of bite to cut through the mix. Switching to the neck pickup, the overdrive was low and buzzy. With Drop-D tuning, I played some heavy single-note lines that would satisfy any grunge fan.

I also played around with the 3-spring reverb in the clean setting. It’s great for playing ‘50s-style rhythms, James Bond-style spy movie riffs or surf music. The mix and balance was good between dry and wet. The effect didn’t overpower the signal at all, and even when I turned it up all the way it was full without the guitar getting lost and drowning in too much reverb.

With every guitar I played, the PRS 30 was very touch sensitive. It had a lot of response depending on how hard or soft I played. It cleaned up nicely when rolling off the volume of the guitar. I was able to play rhythms with a clean sound and then give my leads a boost by turning the guitar volume all the way up for a semi-overdriven tone. The amp offers a variety of different tones just based on the velocity of your playing and the volume position on your guitar.

The Final Mojo
The PRS 30 is a good amp for many musical styles, such as classic rock, blues, funk, R&B, and country. As a standalone amp, it doesn’t venture into high-gain modern metal territory, so it probably wouldn’t be the first choice for heavy metal guitarists. Also, some guitarists may think there aren’t enough additional features on the PRS 30 to make it their ultimate main amp. Besides not having a high-gain option, there is no channel switching for an instant change of sounds, and there isn’t an effects loop. Overall, the PRS 30 succeeds in producing an English sound with an American twist. It offers classic EL84 tones with some adjustments and tweaks to the EQ section to give it a unique character and a sound all its own.
Buy if...
you’re a fan of the classic English EL84 sound.
Skip if...
you’re looking for an amp with high gain or channel switching.

Street $1899 - PRS Guitars -