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PRS Modern Eagle II Review

PRS''s Modern Eagle II, though pretty, is more than a pretty face when plugged in

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Bridge pickup being rolled up to show taper and gain as it goes to 10.
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The typical rolled off tone and neck pickup.
Download Example 3
Some single note stuff on the bridge pickup showcasing the gorgeous bloom and color of those killer 1957/2008 pickups.
The clips were all played through a '65 Marshall JTM 45 into an early seventies Orange 4x12 with blackback 25s. Mic'd up with a 57 and a Neumann M149 in omni.
I believe in honesty and full disclosure, so it should be known that though I’ve been aware of PRS for as long as they’ve been around, I’ve only played a few of them, and it was nothing more than a strum or lick at the local guitar store or NAMM. You see, my idea of an instrument begins with utility, and everything else comes after that. It needs to feel and sound good first, and then look good. For the most part I’ve always seen PRS guitars as high end pieces of art… the kind of instruments that get bragging rights because of the 10 top, the bird inlays, the colors, etc. That said, it would be foolish to be closed-minded and think a PRS guitar is just a pretty face, especially considering their roster of artists, their incredibly loyal following, and of course the man behind the guitars himself.

Knowing that the Modern Eagle II was going to be showing up to review, I wanted to do some research and get a feel for what to expect. What started as a quick trip to the PRS website, several discussion forums and YouTube turned into a multi-day, in-depth lesson on all things PRS. This included watching and reading interviews with Paul, following discussions on the history of PRS guitars, checking out video of the 2008 Experience PRS event and a lot more. It became apparent that for all these years I was missing out on something very special. The heart, commitment and dedication to pushing forward and creating an instrument that exceeds the sum of the parts was both humbling and exhilarating to learn about. By the time the Modern Eagle II arrived, I was ready and excited to check it out.

The reviewed MEII features a highly figured curly maple top with mahogany back and a high gloss nitro finish in what PRS calls “Faded Blue Jean.” It sports a 25” scale length (right in between Gibson and Fender) with a black rosewood 22-fret neck and fingerboard that is decorated with green abalone bird inlays and iridescent paua heart centers. The neck profile is both wide and fat, giving the neck substance and comfort with easy access all the way up to the 22nd fret. The bridge is PRS’s own stoptail that allows for individual string intonation adjustments, as well as two screws for overall adjustment. Tuners are 14:1 Phase II low mass locking grommet style, and the pickups are the newly introduced 1957/2008 treble and bass pickups, which are wound at PRS with original pickup wire used in 1957 on our favorite humbucker from that era. Finally, there is a volume and tone control with 3-way toggle pickup selector and nickel hardware. This is a nicely appointed guitar.

If first impressions count, PRS made sure they hit a home run. Right out of the shipping box, I was blown away when an ultra-sexy, tan suede guitar case revealed itself. There are guitar cases and there is art, and this case is a work of art. I mean, it could be the perfect companion to a nice tan suede jacket I have in my closet! The inside was no less impressive with a crushed red velvet interior and snug fit for the MEII. Pulling the guitar out of the case I was struck by the impeccable quality and beauty, right down to the last detail. Everything was tight and balanced. Though the MEII has a rosewood neck and fingerboard (yes, a rosewood neck!), the balance is dead-on. Usually with a wood as heavy as rosewood I’d expect a neck-heavy instrument that didn’t hang properly on a strap or continuously dropped when sitting down to play. That was certainly not the case on this one.

First Play
The build quality of the MEII was the highest I’ve ever encountered in a guitar—there wasn’t a flaw to be found anywhere. From the perfectly cut nut to the fret installation and dressing to the design of the bridge, everything has a feeling of solid quality. It’s clear that every part of this guitar was planned and tested to create the ultimate instrument. With a rosewood neck, rather than the typical mahogany or maple, I expected a neck-heavy and dark sounding guitar. Nothing could be further from the truth, but I’ll get to that in just a minute. The finish was impeccable and revealed all the beautiful figuring in the curly maple top just like I’d seen before in other PRS guitars. The only thing that was different this time around is that I had time to hang out with the guitar and admire the workmanship and killer finishing.

I had a chance to run the MEII through its paces in a variety of settings, including the studio I’ve used for the past several years on all of the Guitar Hero sessions (Crush Recording). At this point, I know that room, the cabs and the amps and how they respond to guitars very well. It was evident from the first note that the MEII is a winner. The first amp I plugged into was a 1965 Marshall JTM 45 with EL34s and a late-sixties Marshall 4x12 cab with original GH12-30 speakers. This is my starting point for all my tests these days because I can always get a reliable and killer tone out of it. Compared to the more pronounced midrange bite of a Les Paul, the MEII has a very evenly voiced sound that can swing widely in tone just by working with the three basic components (volume, tone and pickup selection). I actually found myself rolling back the volume and tone to settings I’d never dream of normally choosing because they were so reactive. The classic “woman tone,” achieved by rolling the tone off and using the neck pickup, still had a clarity on the lowest notes (that seemed impossible), and with the tone and volume on full in the bridge position, even the highest notes on the neck didn’t bite my head off.

Something very special is going on with the 1957/2008 pickups. They offer the classic PAF tone with just a bit more beef and fullness while still retaining great clarity and string-to-string definition. It was scary to admit that these pickups sounded better than the real ’58 PAF that was in my Les Paul. Sure, they were in a different guitar, but it was clear that they offered every bit as much of that elusive silkiness and fire, but with just more of everything that is good. PRS actually has a machine that made wire for PAFs back in the day (note: the machine that made the wire is not the same machine that wound the pickups). They also have the same material and wire with enough to make these pickups for decades! No doubt when word gets out about the 1957/2008’s there will be a secret society of those who were able to find a loose one pulled from one of these guitars. One could only be so lucky.

The neck feel was perfect for me. It had the familiar thickness of a late-fifties Les Paul but with a flatter radius that felt very comfortable in just about every position. The intonation was also dead on—in fact, the guitar was in tune when it arrived! I particularly admired the stoptail bridge, another work of art that was functional and toneful. Most of the time with that style of bridge, I find there are areas that just aren’t in tune; no matter how you adjust them, they don’t work for everything. The one thing I noticed that was a little odd was that the volume pot seemed looser than the tone pot. It had an easiness to it that felt too slick, while the tone pot had just the right amount of resistance, making it feel solid. I wonder if that had anything to do with the type of pot they used for both, or if it was just an anomaly with this guitar. Either way, it had no effect on the sound or taper, so it’s not a big deal.

With a list price of $7000 this guitar does not come cheap. That said, you get what you pay for, and I think this may be the first time I’ve felt that a guitar was worthy of a price tag in that range. Because of the incredible attention to detail, flawless construction, killer tone and a case that should be on display, it’s hard for me to find anything but good in the MEII. For those who have been awaiting this updated Modern Eagle, start saving your money, because this will most certainly fulfill your expectations and desires.
Buy if...
you want beauty, top-notch construction and killer tone.
Skip if...
you need to start putting money away for a new car.

MSRP $7080 - PRS -

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