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Test Drive: PRS P22

June 19, 2012
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At the PRS press conference at this year’s NAMM show (which was the best press conference I attended for the third year running), the big new release was the P22, the company’s first solidbody to feature a piezo bridge for amplified acoustic tones. I put the P22 through its paces with a 1-watt Marshall JCM800, a Fryette Sig:X, and a Mesa/Boogie Electra Dyne and ran the piezo into a Genz/Benz Shenandoah acoustic amp.

Because there are several things about the P22 that might surprise you, let’s dispense with the stuff that won’t. The build quality is absolutely impeccable. The finish is flawless, the setup is totally spot-on, it arrived perfectly in tune, and the flame maple top is as good as I’ve ever seen. The guitar is lightweight and comfortable to play and has a delicious, ringing acoustic quality when strummed unplugged. In other words, it’s a PRS.

Now for the new or at least newish stuff. The Uncovered 53/10 humbuckers feature a new bobbin design that’s actually arced to follow the radius of the strings. What they deliver sonically is an incredibly clear, articulate voice that has many of the best qualities of humbuckers and single-coils. The 53/10 coil wire is made on the very same machine that made wire for classic ’50s pickups, using a special process reserved for a single-coil bridge pickup circa 1953. According to Paul Smith, “There are single-coil guitars from that era that are beautifully big, fat-sounding guitars.” Whatever the explanation, one thing is certain: The neck humbucker on this guitar seems to have more treble and a sweeter top end than I am used to getting out of that position and it’s positively gorgeous. Onstage with a two-guitar band, I was amazed at the P22’s ability to speak clearly and eloquently, with an authoritative yet sweet midrange throatiness. In addition to each humbucker on its own, the other settings on the 5-way selector include bridge humbucker and neck single- coil in parallel, both humbuckers, and inside coils of the bridge and neck pickups in parallel. All are useful and musical, with the bridge humbucker plus neck single-coil setting being particularly snappy and funky. Because there’s only one volume control you can’t alter the blend of the two-pickup sounds, but if it’s blending you want…

The big news on the P22 is, of course, the piezo bridge. You may remember the piezo system that adorns the PRS Hollowbody II. This is the same system sonically, but upgrades to the design allow it to take up far less space in the control cavity. You access those tones in a couple of ways. Use the discrete Piezo jack if you’re running a separate acoustic amp or sending the signal to a P.A. Use the Mix/ Mag jack if you intend to send the humbuckers and the piezo output to the same amp. Both setups have their advantages. It’s tough to beat the stereo spread of using two amps, and the piezo tones add a really nice shimmer and sparkle when paired with overdriven electric sounds. Running the humbuckers to a clean amp and dialing in a bit of the simulated acoustic sound provided incredible clarity and presence to arpeggios. When I ran all the sounds through the same amp, I still got great results, although the way the controls operate changes in this mode. The Piezo Volume control is now a Blend knob, and the Magnetic Volume control functions as a master volume. It took me a second to get used to it, but it actually works great and provides loads of cool tonal shades that are easy to switch between on the fly.

In summary, the P22 is a beautiful looking, beautiful sounding instrument. It plays like a dream and the 53/10 pickups strike a glorious balance between humbucker punch and single-coil zing. Piezo bridges aren’t for everyone, but any player that truly exploits the huge range of tones this guitar produces will have a tremendous amount of sonic power and flexibility.

Specifications

CONTACT PRS Guitars; prsguitars.com

P22

PRICE (as reviewed with 10 top) $6,092 retail/$3,630 street; (base model) $5,320 retail

NUT WIDTH 1 21/32"

SCALE LENGTH 25"

NECK Mahogany, Pattern Regular shape

FRETBOARD Rosewood

FRETS 22 jumbo

TUNERS PRS Phase III Locking

BODY Carved figured maple 10 top, mahogany back

BRIDGE PRS Piezo Adjustable Stoptail

PICKUPS Uncovered 53/10 Treble and Uncovered 53/10 Bass humbuckers, LR Baggs/PRS Piezo

CONTROLS Magnetic Volume, Blend/Piezo Volume, Tone, piezo mini-toggle, 5-way blade pickup selector

FACTORY STRINGS PRS, .010-.046

WEIGHT 7.5 lbs

BUILT USA

KUDOS Gorgeous cosmetics. Impeccable build quality. Huge range of tones.

CONCERNS None.

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