PRS Tremonti SE

June 1, 2003

By Art Thompson

There’s no arguing that PRS makes superb guitars, but the high cost of these beauts has traditionally kept them well out of reach of younger players. Heck, even a PRS signature model such as the Tremonti—which is clearly aimed at young dudes— goes for a staggering $3,400! A few years ago, however, PRS launched its Korean-made SE series with the blessing of Carlos Santana. These guitars offer many of the endearing aspects of high-end PRSs, but are priced hundreds—oops, make that thousands—of dollars less. The SE line has moved into signature territory once again with the introduction of the Tremonti SE ($598 retail/$499 street), and now a lot more Creed-lovin’ kids might soon be rocking out with PRS guitars.

Like its big brother, the Tremonti SE features all-mahogany construction and a set neck. The top is mildly arched, and the back and cutaway are contoured. The glossy black finish (platinum is also available) is mirror smooth, and the nicely rendered binding accents the appearance without looking overly glitzy. The control cavity is shielded on one surface with nickel paint, and the wire routing and soldering are neat.

The 22 medium-jumbo frets are lightly polished and carefully crowned and seated. Their smooth, tapered ends are set snugly into the binding, and, while some slight length inconsistencies were noticed, the fret leveling was quite respectable. The chunky nut could have been set a little more neatly—and its sharp corners removed—but you can’t fault the Tremonti SE’s setup, which provides for low, buzz-free action in all positions. Despite its cast-aluminum bridge/tailpiece (which has two end screws for intonation), the Tremonti SE sounded in tune and displayed surprisingly consistent readings when comparing the open strings to their 12th-fret counterparts using a Sabine MT9000 tuner.

Playability and Tones
The lightweight Tremonti SE has an excellent neck that’s nice and wide and almost vintage-Gibson thick. It feels great in your hands, and it offers consistently superb playability right up to the end of the fretboard. Tested through a mid-’70s Marshall half-stack, the Tremonti SE kicked out thick, meaty distortion tones that were balanced in the bass and mids, and not at all too high-endy. The treble rolls off slightly when you turn down the volume, and the tone controls are well voiced to provide increasingly creamier shades. Even when they’re turned to zero, the sound is more “womany” than muddy.

Plugged into a Fender Vibro-King, the Tremonti SE assumed a bluesy attitude, delivering bright, fat tones on the bridge pickup and lots of upper-midrange bite. The dual-pickup setting yielded a cool spectrum of rhythm and lead tones (thanks to the two volume controls), and the neck pickup sounded warm and articulate. Through a Matchless Chieftain combo, the Tremonti SE kicked out massive grind with shimmering highs and deep, thick bottom. The guitar’s lively resonance allows for great feedback at even modest volumes, yet you can stick the Korean-made, PRS-designed pickups right up to a cranked speaker without hearing any nasty squeals.

End Zone
I think it would be difficult to find a guitarist who couldn’t appreciate what the Tremonti SE has to offer. This is an insanely fun guitar to play, it looks sharp, and it can field anything from mammoth modern-rock tones to low-down bluesy grind. The term “budget guitar” hardly comes to mind when you strap this thing on. Though it might be interesting to pit the U.S. and Korean versions against each other, the Tremonti SE would likely stand its ground as a professional ax that just happens to be a hellacious bargain.    

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