The notion of a Paul Reed Smith hollowbody first crossed my path in the mid ’90s, before such a model existed, when British guitarist and early PRS adopter Brinsley Schwarz — a gifted guitar and amp tech in his own right — showed me an Artist model that he’d modified with f-holes and a chambered interior. Crazy, right? The results were enticing, and they were even more so just a couple years later, in 1998, when PRS released its Hollowbody model, later called the McCarty Hollowbody.
Since then, the McCarty Hollowbody has become a prized upper-echelon model of sorts, pushing Paul Reed Smith’s ethos of precision construction and high-quality components and adornments into the realms of traditional jazz, blues and fusion tone. It’s also proven to be a reliable and great-sounding alternative to more traditional ES-335-style guitars. This year’s Winter NAMM show saw PRS update the formula with the McCarty 594 Hollowbody II, marrying the further refinements found in the McCarty 594 solidbody’s evolution with hollow construction. The results are stunning, and they remain so from several angles.
Although PRS refers to the McCarty 594 as “a fully hollowbody guitar,” there is a substantial block of wood running from the point beneath the bridge to the end pin — otherwise, of course, no post-mounted Tune-o-matic-style bridge or stop-bar tailpiece would hold — while the neck block extends past the underside of the neck pickup. But let’s not split hairs. The significant air space between the carved, solid-maple top and back and the mahogany sides enhances a lively acoustic resonance and an all-body vibrational response more akin to the carved-top Gibson archtop electrics of the late ’50s and early ’60s than to the laminated-maple ES-335. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves, and of course this PRS is entirely its own thing, no matter how you slice it.
Contributing to the “II” in the name are several refinements that have taken the model further toward a familiarly vintage feel and sound. Whereas the Hollowbody had mahogany back and sides and a maple top, the II has a maple top and back. The lightweight two-piece bridge and tailpiece is PRS’s reworking of the classic from Kalamazoo. In addition, the 58/15 humbuckers have been given fewer turns of coil wire for more vintage-spec readings of 7.46kΩ in the bridge and 7.81kΩ in the neck, while their splits retain a little more gusto thanks to PRS’s DGT-inspired trick of inserting resistors between the cut coil and ground, as also used on the solid McCarty 594s and SC. (PRS adds, “This stemmed from mods that the Artist Relations department was making to all artist guitars they were sending out at the time. It did indeed sound better that way to us, so we adapted the change across the line on all split-coil models.”) Feel-wise, the rounded, ’50s-inspired Pattern Vintage neck profile, 24.594-inch scale length and 10-inch fingerboard radius sporting flawless fret work combine superb playability, too.
Of course, for many players these details will take a back seat to the cosmetics, and the McCarty 594 Hollowbody II is a looker. Our review sample features the 10 Top option, which includes not only the highly figured maple top and back beneath a thin nitrocellulose finish in Trampas Green but also the hybrid hardware for a custom look that blends nickel and gold throughout. From the open-grain rosewood headstock facing to the old-style abalone bird fretboard inlays and faux bone binding on the neck and pickup rings, this guitar exudes class.
Tested through a tweed Deluxe-style combo and a Mesa/Boogie Mark Five:35 head and 2x12 cab, the McCarty 594 Hollowbody II quickly revealed the sort of solidbody-meets-archtop versatility you might expect, yet with a voice and character that’s very much its own thing. It’s better to withhold any preconceptions about what this guitar is likely to achieve for you sonically, and just plug it in and go for it.
Yes, clean tones exhibit a high level of refinement, richness and sweetness, aided by the low-wind humbuckers and construction that hearkens to the great solid-wood semis and hollowbody-electrics of the past. But click the Boogie’s second channel into Xtreme mode and wail away, and this guitar gallops right along with you, responding with the kind of attitude and aggression that quickly belie its pretty exterior. The sound is extremely well balanced, with impressive string-to-string clarity, plenty of girth and snarl, and outstanding dynamics throughout. Ultimately, the McCarty 594 Hollowbody II proved a delight for crunchy classic rock, high-gain metal and grunge, and singing mid-gain blues. It quickly became a guitar I didn’t want to put down. Feedback was easily controllable — more a creative boon than a burden — and while the split-coil sounds might not do straight-on Tele or Strat, they do offer usefully jangly voices.
All in all, the McCarty 594 Hollowbody II is an extremely good-looking, great-playing and excellent-sounding guitar, an achievement fully worthy of PRS’s place in the industry and an easy choice for our Editor’s Pick Award.
McCarty 594 Hollowbody II
PRICE $5,550 street as reviewed with 10 Top (starts at $4,350)
NUT WIDTH 1 11/16", bone
NECK Mahogany, Pattern Vintage profile
FRETBOARD Rosewood, 24.594" scale, 10" radius
FRETS 22 medium-jumbo
TUNERS “Tweaked” Phase III locking
BODY Semi-hollow archtop design with carved figured maple top and back and mahogany middle/sides
BRIDGE PRS Two-Piece Tune-o-matic-style with stopbar tailpiece
PICKUPS PRS 58/15 LT (low-turn) Treble and Bass humbuckers
CONTROLS Independent volume and tone for each pickup, push-pull switches on tone controls for coil splitting, three-way selector
FACTORY STRINGS PRS .010–.046
WEIGHT 6.5 lbs
KUDOS A superbly built, finished and appointed guitar that’s extremely playable and sonically versatile