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Review: PRS S2 Custom 24, S2 Mira, and S2 Starla Electric Guitars

November 5, 2013
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THE RECENT INTRODUCTION OF THE S2 SERIES guitars from PRS reveals the company’s desire to offer more affordable alternatives to its “core” instruments, while still building them in same Stevensville, Maryland factory. Starting at $1,179 for the Mira and topping out at $1,399 for the Custom 24 (with a stop at $1,249 for the S2 Starla), these new S2s are the results of some very dedicated efforts by PRS to find ways of lowering production costs without compromising on quality, sound, or playability. For example, PRS uses the same aged tonewoods on the S2s, but in less costly selections that are well suited for the primarily solid colors that the S2s come in. In fact, the only the model in the S2 line with a figured maple cap is the Custom 24.

The S2s’ Pattern Regular necks are similar to those made by PRS in late ’80s, however, by making them with a scarf joint for the headstock and a splice joint for the heel, less costly mahogany blanks of smaller dimensions can be used. The S2s wear a high-gloss finish comprised of a polyester basecoat and an acrylic topcoat. It’s essentially the same one PRS used before switching to its new V12 finish, though the process has been improved to allow for a thinner topcoat that quickens curing time and also enhances resonance.

The fretwire, nut, knobs, and jack assembly are all shared between the core and S2 lines, and while you might think some liberties could be taken with the hardware, that’s hardly the case. The locking S2 tuners are basically identical to PRS’s Phase II type, and the S2 Mira uses the same PRS Stoptail bridge/tailpiece found on the core models. The Starla sports a Tune-o-matic bridge and a Bigsby B50 vibrato, and only the Custom 24 borrows its PRS tremolo bridge from the imported SE line. The S2 pickups used in these guitars are proprietary designs made to PRS specifications, and each pair is optimized for the particular S2 model they’re installed in.

The S2 guitars on review here are excellent playing, toneful instruments that look great and certainly land at very attractive prices for all they offer. Each has something that will appeal to certain players, and we were impressed enough to give them each an Editors’ Pick Award. —ART THOMPSON

S2 CUSTOM 24

MY MAIN GUITAR IS A PRS CUSTOM 24 BRAZILIAN, AND I PLAYED ANOTHER Custom 24 before that, so it is a model I am quite familiar with. When the Korean-manufactured SE Custom 24 was introduced a few years back, those for whom the real thing was out of reach were suddenly able to purchase a good-quality instrument offering a touch of the Custom 24 magic for about $700 street—but there was, of course, a substantial gap in playability, sound, and overall construction quality between the two. Now, the American-made S2 Custom 24 offers an attractive option that’s still priced far below the real deal, but gets you much closer to it in several respects.

My first impression upon removing the S2 Custom 24 from its classy gig bag was very positive. Although not as fancy as its higher-priced sibling, it exuded a very similar vibe, and the nicely finished three-piece mahogany neck, with its medium-thick Pattern Regular carve, instantly felt good in my hand. A closer examination confirmed the level of craftsmanship one expects from the crew in PRS’ Maryland shop, from the superb woodwork and finishing to the super-precise fret and bird inlay work on the rosewood fretboard to the clean installation of the hardware.

To control costs, the S2 Custom 24 was designed with streamlined manufacturing in mind, including going with an “asymmetric beveled edge” on the maple cap rather than a more difficult and time-consuming hand carve, as well as using more modest woods, some cast hardware, and outsourced pickups (S2 versions of PRS’ classic HFS Treble and Vintage Bass models, designed in the U.S.A., but manufactured in Korea).

The above notwithstanding, the tops are still bookmatched figured maple, the tremolo bridge and locking tuners are very similar to their pricier machined counterparts both cosmetically and functionally, and the pickups sound really good. Also, although there’s a 3-position pickup selector rather than the Custom 24’s 5-position blade, a push-pull coilsplit switch in the Tone control adds lots of tonal flexibility.

The S2 pickups don’t deliver quite as much richness and detail as the genuine HFS Treble and Vintage Bass models—the former’s high end isn’t as sweet or transparent, and the latter’s bottom is slightly less focused—but overall the S2s sound surprisingly similar to the originals. The Tone control is also nicely voiced—from very bright to very dark—and engaging the coil-split switch infuses the humbucker sounds with spankiness and sparkle. The instrument played beautifully, and although the action was set fairly low, I encountered no dead spots, fret-outs, or fret buzzes. My only quibble was an intermittent hardware buzz that could be easily remedied.

The S2 Custom 24 would be an excellent value even if there were no Custom 24 to compare it to—but considering how much of the latter’s look, feel, and sound you get for the guitar’s relatively modest price, it is a remarkable achievement. —BARRY CLEVELAND

MODEL

S2 CUSTOM 24

CONTACT prsguitars.com
PRICE $1,399 street

SPECIFICATIONS

NUT WIDTH 1 21/32"
NECK Mahogany
FRETBOARD Rosewood, 25" scale
FRETS 24
TUNERS S2 Locking
BODY Mahogany with maple top
BRIDGE PRS Tremolo
PICKUPS S2 HFS Treble, S2 Vintage Bass
CONTROLS Volume, Tone (with push-pull coil-split switch), 3-way blade selector
FACTORY STRINGS PRS, .010-.046
WEIGHT 7.3 lbs
BUILT U.S.A.
KUDOS Excellent build quality. Versatile. Sounds wonderful.
CONCERNS Slight hardware buzz.

S2 MIRA

IN A 2011 VIDEO ON THE PRS SITE, PAUL SMITH REVEALED THAT PRS TESTED every amp they built with the Mira model. It makes perfect sense when you think about it: With her solid mahogany body and dual humbuckers, Mira embodies everything great about throaty classic rock and blues tones. And with the ability to split the pickups’ coils, Mira covers a tremendous amount of sparkly, funky, poppy, chimey territory as well.

Now that guitar’s awesome versatility is available to the masses with the more affordable, but still USA-made, S2 Mira. If you’re wondering if PRS cut any corners when it comes to quality, tone, playability, or fit and finish to reach this lower price point, don’t. This guitar has everything you’ve come to expect from a Paul Reed Smith instrument.

The first thing everyone noticed about this guitar is how amazingly lightweight it is. At just over six pounds, it feels comfortable, fast, and nimble, kind of like a Lotus sports car. The acoustic ring is loud and punchy. PRS has maximized resonance with the single-piece bridge—no moving parts— and the brass studs are not only more musical according to Paul Smith, but they also look great against the cherry red finish. The Pattern Regular neck shape is substantial without being clunky, adding up to a smooth and solid playing experience.

I plugged the S2 Mira into a PRS 2 Channel and a dozen different profiles in the new Kemper PowerHead, which was feeding a Bad Cat 4x12. The bridge humbucker is raucous and in-your-face, with a lot of PRS neck pickups: amazing top end. Anyone who has ever had trouble balancing neck and bridge humbuckers—i.e. when the bridge is right the neck is muddy—needs to try this guitar. These tones are warm and full, but incredibly articulate. Putting the selector in the middle provides excellent two-pickup squawk. Pulling up on the Tone knob lets you split the coils in any of these positions, and those tones all sound great as well.

So, that’s a lot of sounds, right? Right, and if that was all you got, this would still be an awesome guitar. But as we’ve come to expect from PRS, the Volume knob is voiced in such a way that as you turn down, you don’t lose any brightness, and that gives rise to a zillion different tonal colors. Ditto for the Tone knob. I plugged into a Marshall JVM profile on the Kemper, which was set to OD1 Orange for a huge, distorted rock tone. By manipulating the Volume knob, the pickup selector, and the coil split, I could take that tone from massive power chords to semi-dirty arpeggios to SRV blues to skinny Nile Rodgers funk to wooly neck-pickup sustain to squeaky-clean strumming—all on the fly, in real time, without ever touching the amp. Sure, plenty of guitars can do this, the Mira just does it better.

Interestingly, the S2 Mira might just be the gateway drug for players who don’t own a PRS. It’s not too fancy, too perfect, or too pricey. It’s a rock and roll machine that can do a bunch of other things at a very fair price. PRS says that Mira is named after a star. I’ve always heard it in Spanish, as in, “Look at this!” ¡Mira! —MATT BLACKETT

MODEL

S2 MIRA

CONTACT prsguitars.com
PRICE $1,179 street street

SPECIFICATIONS

NUT WIDTH 1 21/32"
NECK Mahogany
FRETBOARD Rosewood, 25" scale
FRETS 22
TUNERS PRS S2 locking
BODY Mahogany
BRIDGE PRS Stoptail
PICKUPS S2 Mira Treble (bridge), S2 Mira Bass (neck)
CONTROLS Master Volume, Master Tone with push/pull coil split, 3-way blade selector.
FACTORY STRINGS PRS, .010-.046
WEIGHT 6.38 lbs
BUILT USA
KUDOS Beautiful construction. Super comfortable. Impressive range of tones.
CONCERNS None.

S2 STARLA

THIS SINGLE-CUTAWAY GUITAR VENTURES DEEPER INTO RETRO TERRITORY courtesy of its Bigsby vibrato and pair of stylish S2 humbuckers, each of which has adjustable poles on one side of the polished cover and exposed alnico slugs on the other. The chrome-on-black theme of our test guitar is a classy as a tux, and the attire is completed via a swoopy, 2-layer pickguard that surrounds the pickups, Volume and Tone controls (the latter pulls to split the pickups’ coils), and the blade-style pickup selector. Weighing in at a nimble 7.6 lbs, the S2 Starla features all-mahogany construction with a glued-in Pattern Regular neck that carries 22 polished, evenly crowned frets on a rosewood fingerboard with simple dot inlays. The neck’s medium-thick profile is extremely comfortable, and a superb setup with low action gives the S2 Starla an inspiring playing feel. I detected only minimal fret buzz, and the intonation is well adjusted, allowing chords to sound tuneful in all regions of the fretboard.

The Bigsby tailpiece has a smooth, positive action and it stayed in tune quite well as I embellished chords and melodic lines with cool sounding vibrato inflections. You don’t want to pull upward on a Bigsby too much at the risk of knocking its mainspring out of position (or send it shooting across the room!), but this classic piece of hardware adds some interesting resonance of its own, which is another aspect that makes the Starla a different animal than its S2 siblings.

Plugged into several different amps, including a PRS 2-Channel combo and a Kemper PowerHead driving a Bad Cat 4x12 cabinet, the Starla delivered everything from sparkling clean tones with the excellent note detail to heavy humbucker chunk. The guitar has a natural liveliness that makes it feel very expressive, and the PAF-level output of the pickups lets it respond very organically to picking dynamics. The Starla’s neck unit has a great blend of depth and clarity that allows for everything from sweet jazz vibes to wailing blues tones, while the bridge pickup offers plenty of fatness and bite, and has the energized presence to ensure that solos and gritty rhythm parts stand tall in the mix.

The single Volume control doesn’t afford much tonal variance when running both pickups, but the two-pickup sound is clear and balanced, with juicy top end, broad lows, and a midrange sweetness that makes it a go-to setting for clean chording or pushing into a distortion pedal or gained-up amp channel for a soulful lead tone. The Tone control deserves praise too for its wide range of useable timbres. Everything from bright Tele-like twang tones to buttery overdriven textures to dark-but-defined jazz textures is within its sweep, and pulling the knob up instantly takes things in a skinnier, crispier direction without excessive loss of output.

Nailing all the key points that U.S.-made PRS guitars offer in terms of playability, construction, and tone, the S2 Starla could be the answer for anyone who has been previously unable to get down with a PRS due to the price of admission. —ART THOMPSON

MODEL

S2 STARLA

CONTACT prsguitars.com
PRICE $1,249 street

SPECIFICATIONS

NUT WIDTH 1 21/32"
NECK Mahogany, set
FRETBOARD Rosewood, 25" scale
FRETS 22 medium
TUNERS PRS S2 Locking
BODY Mahogany
BRIDGE Tune-o-matic with Bigsby B50 vibrato tailpiece
PICKUPS PRS S2 Starla humbuckers
CONTROLS Volume and Tone, 3-way blade switch, push/ pull Tone pot for coil splitting
FACTORY
STRINGS PRS, .010-.046
WEIGHT 7.6 lbs
BUILT USA
KUDOS Killer look. Plays great. Impressive tones.
CONCERNS Bigsby arm can get in the way of the pickup selector.

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