Paul Reed Smith’s own vision for the ultimate guitar comes in at an incredibly affordable price.
PRS SE Paul's Guitar, played through a Fractal AX8 direct to Pro Tools, via a Universal Audio Apollo Twin Duo.
The first segment is a "Plexi Crunch" patch on the AX8, played on the guitar's bridge pickup in full humbucker mode first, then switched to the neck pickup. The following jangly segments are into an edge-of-breakup "Boutique DC30" patch, as follows: bridge full humbucking, then split-coil; neck full humbucking, then split-coil; both pickups together in split-coil mode; then finished off with a quick run with the bridge pickup back in full-humbucking mode.
Easy playing feel. Rich, versatile tones. Performs beyond expectations for its price range.
Some might find pickups to be too hot. Tuner buttons feel downscale.
PRS’s imported SE guitars have always been built to a very high standard. And the fact that the Maryland outfit now entrusts its Indonesian facility with building a faithful, affordable rendition of “Paul’s Guitar”—an instrument built to reflect the sum of founder Paul Reed Smith’s experience and evolving personal preferences—says a lot about the company’s confidence in its manufacturing partner. That the result achieves this level of performance and quality—all at a price south of $1,000—is probably something few players would have imagined when the company first set up shop.
Super Student Edition
The fundamentals of the SE Paul’s Guitar design will be familiar to anyone remotely acquainted with archetypal PRS models: a solid mahogany body (4-piece, in this case) is topped with a highly flamed, carved-maple cap finished in a luscious vintage amber, all cut in the distinctive PRS shape. The glued-in mahogany neck sports a chunky heel, while the unbound rosewood fretboard features impressive abalone bird inlays. The 22 jumbo frets are immaculately dressed and polished at both the crowns and ends, and the forward-facing edges of the synthetic/bronze-blend nut are free of sharp corners, both of which set this guitar apart from many affordable imports.The guitar’s 25" scale and 10" fretboard radius are also pretty common PRS specs, as is the Wide Fat neck shape, which is a rounded, ergonomic “C” profile that sits comfortably in the hand and measures somewhere just on the slim-ish side of a ’59 Les Paul carve. Nut width is a traditional 1 11/16".
Mounted to the body with brass studs is PRS’s clever and efficient 1-piece compensated aluminum Stoptail bridge, while the Kluson-style tuners, with their rather lightweight plastic buttons, represent one of the few obvious hardware downgrades on the SE. The PRS TCI “S” bass and treble humbuckers are said to be wound to vintage specifications, although their 11k ohm resistance seems hotter than what most would consider “vintage”. The hotter specs do, however, enable what PRS calls a “true single-coil split” via the individual mini-switches, delivering the approximate output of a vintage-wound Stratocaster pickup. The control set is simple: a single volume and tone control, and a 3-way switch.
Full, Familiar Sounds
Unplugged, the SE Paul delivered the familiar, easy feel of a great PRS and a lively, ringing quality that you can hear without an amplifier. Amped up through a Friedman Small Box head and 2x12, a Mesa/Boogie Mark Five: 35 with a 1x12 cab, and a Fractal AX8 into a rehearsal-sized PA, the SE dished tones that would make anyone familiar with a PRS Core model feel right at home.
Great PRS guitars tend to compel you to play and play, rather than forcing you to stop and wonder how it all works. This SE is similarly graceful and intuitive, beckoning me to riff through indie-rock chestnuts, gnarly Americana-twang, and fired-up blues leads without stopping to consider that I was handling an unfamiliar instrument. The humbuckers nail that Les Paul-with-extra-snap sound typical of many PRSes, which works equally well for classic rock, grunge, or contemporary indie and pop. The pickups certainly feel hot, but even in humbucker mode they are capable of great clarity and sparkle, and the single-coil tones are extremely impressive. With the split switching option, Paul’s SE is a remarkably versatile guitar.
No one will be surprised by a well-built, smooth-playing PRS guitar—even in SE guise. But the level of quality and consistency offered here for a cool grand is noteworthy nonetheless. The import version of Paul’s Guitar delivers a big dollop of the sort of looks you get from a high-end PRS, and the sound and playability make it feel much more expensive than it is. That’s a praise-worthy feat, and one we expect Mr. Smith looks upon with considerable satisfaction.
Watch the First Look: