One of the most coveted—and classic—PRS models finally arrives in affordable SE form.
Excellent build. Incredible value. Great dynamic range. Cool range of single-coil and humbucker sounds. Fast playability.
PRS SE McCarty 594
The recent PRS SE model releases make up what any guitar company would call an enviable winning streak. The very popular SE Silver Sky model, released in 2018, remains a huge seller, and this year’s SE DGT model is among the most talked-about electric guitars in recent memory. Both are killer axes that reliably deliver incredible bang for the buck. And at their best, they will get you close to a much more expensive premium core model for just under $1,000.
Released at the same time as the SE DGT, the SE McCarty 594, which is offered as a double-cutaway and a less expensive single-cutaway model, is another phenomenal value. It costs just $950. For comparison’s sake, a USA-built S2 version of the McCarty 594 will set you back around $1,999, while a premium, USA-made, Core McCarty 594 will cost, well, serious bucks.
That McCarty Magic
In the mid 1990s, Paul Reed Smith worked with guitar industry icon Ted McCarty, who was Gibson’s president from 1950–1966. During that time, he had a hand in the design and development of the PAF humbucker pickup, Tune-o-matic bridge, and guitars including the ES-335, Explorer, Firebird, Flying V, and SG. In 1994, PRS introduced several models that were products of the McCarty collaboration, including the McCarty 594. The quality and performance of those guitars suggested the meeting of the minds was much more than simple marketing.
The SE McCarty 594 captures the essence of a premium McCarty with its drop-dead gorgeous flame-maple veneer top over mahogany body, with a gloss polyurethane finish. The 22-fret set neck is mahogany, and the 10"-radius rosewood fretboard looks sharp and upscale adorned with trademark PRS bird inlays. The closed-back tuners look attractively vintage and hold tuning exceptionally well. At the other end of the strings, a zinc and brass adjustable, two-piece bridge is both stable and another hint to the guitar’s Gibson influence.
Workmanship on the SE McCarty 594 is very clean, both cosmetically and functionally. Volume-knob swells revealed not one trace of static, and the knobs and push-pull pots are all dead quiet when switched. In terms of playability, the SE McCarty 594’s neck feels a little chunky, at least for my tastes. But even though I prefer thinner necks, there is no questioning how natural and comfortable it feels in hand. The 24.594" scale length (reflected in the guitar’s 594 name) is slightly shorter than conventional PRS and Gibson scale lengths. But that tiny difference also helps make string bending feel extra easy. Our particular guitar came with a great setup at medium-low action. It also came in a very nice gig bag with additional foam padding inserts. If our guitar is any indication, you’ll be able to take one out of a shipping box and go straight to a gig or recording studio with total confidence.
To put the SE 594 through its paces, I hooked it up with Fender Super-Sonic and Mesa/Boogie Mark IV amps and dirt pedals including a Hermida Distortion and Wampler Pinnacle. The two low-output 58/15 LT “S” humbucking pickups, unsurprisingly, have an old-school PAF-vibe and are rich with clarity and vintage soul. The two tone knobs feature push-pull functionality and switch between humbucker and single-coil sounds. The volume difference between humbucker and single-coils is subtle. You’ll hear it, but it won’t be nearly as jarring as it is on many other guitars with the same feature. In both pickup configurations, the dynamic range is incredibly wide. Played clean and set up bright, I could play spaghetti Western ideas when I picked close to the bridge. But depending on my attack, I could also generate anything from whisper-quiet notes to all-out aggression. Add reverb, delay, and a few double-stop 10ths, and the PRS sounded positively angelic.
If our guitar is any indication, you’ll be able to take one out of a shipping box and go straight to a gig or recording studio with total confidence.
With added dirt, the neck pickup was incredibly warm and creamy without sounding woofy, even with the tone rolled back quite a bit. The bridge pickup, meanwhile, flirted with near-infinite sustain when I paired it with the Mesa/Boogie Mark IV, generating killer fusion sounds that made shredding feel effortless. Rolling the tone knob back up on the bridge pickup yields an exemplary lead sound. And with less dirt, it makes beautiful, jangly rhythm sounds.
The SE 594 proves, as so many PRS SE guitars have before, that affordable doesn’t require sacrifice of quality or sound. For anyone who’s lusted after a McCarty 594 but hasn't had the money, or who fears nicking up a guitar that precious, the SE McCarty 594 is an accessible gem. It can sound mellow, fat, clear, or beastly. And the sub-$1K price tag makes it a steal for a guitar that looks more expensive and has the tonal range, stability, and quality to make it a gigging workhorse. There’s just not much out there in the electric guitar universe that can beat the value of this extraordinary instrument.