Last year saw the reintroduction of the venerable McCarty model guitar into the PRS line. Originally introduced in 1994, the instrument was a tribute to the legendary Ted McCarty, who presided over the Gibson Guitar Corporation between 1950 and 1966, and was responsible for numerous core innovations that continue to shape electric guitar design to this day. McCarty mentored Paul Smith, and the two also became close friends. (McCarty passed away in 2001.)
The new McCarty 594 differs in several key respects even from the standard McCarty model. For starters, the “594” in the guitar’s name refers to its 24.594" scale length, which is just a hair shorter than the standard McCarty’s 25" scale length, but the same as that of a 1959 Les Paul Standard. Other fresh nods to Gibson’s Golden Era instruments include a slightly deeper body with a slightly thicker maple top, and a new Pattern Vintage neck carve that is a tad thicker front to back than the original McCarty’s Pattern carve, and also very slightly asymmetrical, with just a bit less thickness on the treble side.
The 594’s 58/15 LT pickups, too, are somewhat different. They are basically Smith’s 58/15 PAFstyle humbuckers, but with lower turns, intended to give them an especially warm and clear tone. And the same pickup is used in both positions, which is a major departure from Smith’s previous modus operandi. The guitar also has separate Volume and Tone controls for each pickup, aligned so that they can be turned up or down two at a time—and the Tone controls also function as push/pull coil-tap switches.
The 594 also sports the latest version of Smith’s Phase III tuners, which have an added set screw that pulls the tuner’s worm and gear together to increase the direct flow of string energy to the guitar for increased tone and sustain. The tuners were tweaked to work in tandem with the PRS 2-Piece Stoptail bridge, which is basically a Tune-o-matic-style bridge with a stud tailpiece. If you’re thinking this overview of the McCarty 594 is starting to sound a lot like I’m describing a Les Paul 59, you aren’t imagining things. Although it is a double-cut instrument, the 594 embodies so much of the design philosophy of a 1959 Les Paul Standard that it might easily be seen as a modern-day take on that classic, but with new twists that would likely make Ted McCarty smile.
Of course, there’s still a lot of obvious PRS vibe in the guitar, from the sculpted body to the gorgeous 10-Top flame finish and bird inlays to ultra-consistent workmanship that practically eliminates variations from one instrument to another. I don’t have a ’59 Les Paul Standard to compare this guitar to, but I do have a ’69 Custom with ’59 PAFs (removed from an ES-355), which is at least in the ballpark.
Played through several good tube amps and my custom presets in a Fractal Audio Axe-Fx, the tonal resemblances are striking. Beyond that, the 594 has a range of tones that are all its own, thanks in large part to having two sets of Volume and Tone controls in addition to coiltap switches. For example, with both pickups engaged, you can roll back the Tone control on just the neck pickup and adjust the two Volumes to get quite a few nice variations on the classic “woman tone.” Then, pulling up the switches on one or both of the Tone controls gives you even more tonal territory to take advantage of. I could go on and on about how fabulous this thing sounds, how beautifully it plays and intonates, the exquisite workmanship, etc.
Instead, let me just say that I’ve played a lot of guitars in general and PRS guitars in particular (my main instrument is a Custom 24 Brazilian), and this is one of the finest instruments I have ever encountered. Paul Reed Smith clearly poured immense amounts of love into making the 594—and it shows.
PRICE $4,200 street (with optional 10-Top)
NUT WIDTH 1.69", bone
NECK Mahogany with Pattern Vintage profile, 24.594" scale
FRETBOARD Bound rosewood, 10" radius
TUNERS PRS Phase III Locking with modified collars and set screws
BODY Mahogany with figured flame maple top
BRIDGE PRS 2-Piece Stoptail
PICKUPS PRS 58/15 LT humbuckers
CONTROLS Two Volume, two Tone (with push/pull coil taps), 3-way selector
FACTORY STRINGS PRS, .010-.046
WEIGHT 7.4 lbs
KUDOS This is one of the finest instruments I have ever encountered.