Paul Reed Smith chases the offset crowd with an expressive and dynamic solidbody.
While they’re treasured or coveted by countless players, PRS guitars can be polarizing, particularly to those who align with the Leo Fender school of solidbody design. But the recently released S2 Vela and its curvaceous offset body might be the battering ram that breaks down such notions. It’s more than just a new body shape for PRS—the Vela also boasts a host of new sounds. With its cool combination of coil-tap humbucker and single-coil neck pickup, it has the potential to satisfy many players across myriad styles.
While it’s accessibly priced (at least relative to most PRS axes), the S2 line is made at PRS’s Stevensville, Maryland factory. While the Vela doesn’t boast one of the flashy “10 tops” that define PRS for many, it exudes the quality and craft that mark the company’s other USA-built models. The McCarty tobacco sunburst finish on our test guitar is striking yet understated. The asymmetrical mahogany body, with its bevel cut and stylized pickguard, lends the Vela a hip “Fender offset meets Gibson SG” profile that still looks quintessentially PRS.
Stylistic departures aside, many Vela specs are classically Paul Reed Smith. It’s built around a 25" scale, a “pattern regular” profile mahogany set neck, and a rosewood fretboard with a 10" radius. You can choose dot or bird inlays and S2 locking tuners.
The pickups are a bridge PRS Starla humbucker (which can be coil tapped via a push/pull pot on the tone control) and a DeArmond-inspired PRS Type-D single-coil in the neck position.
One surprising twist is the Vela’s T-style, top-loading aluminum plate bridge. The strings pass over two brass barrel saddles. Each saddle holds three strings, with intonation adjustable via four spring-and-post assemblies. While Paul Reed Smith used a similar bridge on some of his early, “pre-factory” guitars (he holds a 1976 patent on the design), the Vela is the first production PRS guitar to feature this bridge.
Viva la Vela
Right out of the gig bag the Vela’s factory setup was fantastic. Intonation was spot-on, and the medium/low action felt comfortable and fast. The real fun began when I plugged into a silverface Princeton Reverb (along with a Radial Tonebone Classic and a ProCo Rat pedals for a little dirt.)
The single-coil Type-D pickup is a new design for PRS. PRS’s Judith Schaefer says it was conceived as “sort of a cross between a ’54 Stratocaster and a DeArmond,” adding that “it took a month or so to get that pickup right.” It seems to me that they got it very right. It has a nice vintage vibe and an exceptionally lively and dynamic feel. Its inherent snappiness makes double-stops and Chili Peppers-style funky riffs sound sharp and complex with clean or dirty tones. The Type D’s vintage-output design provides great note-to-note detail and separation in chords. Even when I rolled the tone control back to a point that would sound like mud on other guitars, the Type-D remained nuanced, clear, and fantastically touch-sensitive. Playing fingerpicked blues leads with this much expressive range was a revelation.
Switching to the bridge pickup and dialing in low-to-medium gain generates killer rootsy tones that beg for grinding Stones and Tom Petty riffage. Even with the Rat pedal and higher gain, the humbucker rang clearly. Unisons and double stops that might have sounded mushy on some of my other humbucker-equipped guitars stayed dagger-sharp.
The ability to split the bridge pickup adds further tone possibilities. With the coil tap engaged, the Starla humbucker sounds open and robust. Volume discrepancies between the split pickup and full-on humbucker aren’t drastic, and the subtle differences enable cool contrasts between song sections. I admit it was tricky at first to pull up the tone control knob to split the coil while performing, but I soon got the hang of it. The relative levels of the coil-tapped bridge and neck single-coil are also fairly balanced, enhancing the expressive range of the pickup set.
While I found the Vela best suited for roots and alternative rock, it’s versatile enough to cover nearly any style. It displays the craftsmanship and attention to detail typical of PRS guitars that sell for far more. Best of all, it’s an incredibly responsive instrument. If you’ve previously balked at trying a PRS because you’d didn’t dig the styling, this beautiful machine—and its beautiful tones—might flip that notion on its head.
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