Review: PRS SE Starla Stoptail

This terrific guitar compares favorably with plenty of electrics twice its price, and can paste several of them.
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The original Starla model of 2008 won Paul Reed Smith a lot of new fans. Its retro-inspired looks appealed to many alt-country, garage-rock, roots-rock and indie artists who just couldn’t hang with the traditional PRS body shape. The Starla’s semi-slab, beveled-edge single-cut design had a unique, yet somehow universally approachable look, all in a guitar that exhibited the build quality and consistency for which the Maryland-based maker had long been known. 

The fact that it was delivered at a pocket-friendly price point only helped to make the model a modern-classic workhorse for weekend warriors and touring artists alike.

As a result, the Starla has been a mainstay of the company’s USA-made Core lineup for several years. With the new SE Starla Stoptail, PRS now brings the same style and feature set to the acclaimed and even more affordable offshore-made SE line. The guitar is one of a bevy of new SE models for 2020.

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Scope out the SE Starla Stoptail from the tip of its headstock downward and you’ll see that it’s PRS through and through - until you hit the body. Here, the guitar departs elegantly from that iconic asymmetrical double-cutaway shape, while still hitting several classic touchstones for electric guitar design. 

The rounded horn of the single cutaway retains the maker’s characteristically deep contour for easy upper-fret access. Aside from that, however, there is no obvious predecessor to the original Starla body shape, yet it is somehow familiar. Perhaps there’s something a little Gibson SG or Gretsch Corvette–like in the body - those beveled edges in particular - but I’ve always felt that it just works really well.

Like the original Core model, the SE has a mahogany body and neck, the latter of which has the company’s comfortably rounded wide/fat profile and an unbound rosewood fretboard with bird inlays. These are one of PRS’s aesthetic calling cards, of course, but I imagine some players would enjoy an option for dot inlays. 

The neck heel is minimal and contoured to curve into the cutaway, so playing high up the neck is about as unfettered as it gets for a single-cut. A ribcage contour in the upper waist of the back and a gentle roll of the body’s edge and top beneath the player’s right forearm enhance comfort even further.

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Our review sample was cloaked in a tasty Metallic Green and featured a mint pickguard. The metallic finish was gorgeous and exhibited a lot more motion and depth than can possibly be conveyed in the accompanying photographs. The guitar also comes in a slightly more sedate Antique White with tortoise pickguard, which looks appealingly elegant. 

Our example was superbly sprayed and buffed, and the more I explored the guitar in general, the more impressed I became with the quality control which PRS is managing to exert out of the Cor-Tek facility in Indonesia, where this model is manufactured. The hardware complement includes the Tune-o-matic-style bridge and stopbar tailpiece that help give this SE model its name, along with enclosed tuners.

For pickups, the guitar sports an SE rendition of the units originally designed for the Starla, a humbucker that I always felt blended characteristics of the original PAF-inspired humbuckers and tighter, brighter Gretsch Filter’Trons. This pair reads 7.16k ohms in the bridge position and 7.20k ohms in the neck, and they’re wired through a three-way blade switch and master volume and tone controls. 

PRS uses resistors inline with the ground taps from the push-pull pot to retain some of the output of the coil that is otherwise silenced. This yields a thicker and more realistic faux single-coil sound (call it “coil-and-a-half” sound). The design is perhaps best known for its use on the DGT model from several years ago and is a boon to coil-split enthusiasts everywhere.

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Between its relatively thin body, light weight, comfort contours and easy-to-love neck shape, the SE Starla Stoptail feels immediately at home when hoisted into playing position. This one arrived in its included SE gig bag with medium-low action, a confident setup and faultless fret prep. Played unplugged, it rang out loud and clear, with a lively resonance throughout the neck and body, which promised good things when plugged in.

Tested with a variety of overdrive pedals through a modified tweed Deluxe-style 1x12 combo and a Friedman Small Box head and 2x12 cab, the SE Starla proved to be well balanced sonically, with bags of clarity from its pickups, yet just a little grit and granularity in the voice to deliver an edge to the attack, heard as bite and character in the overall tone.

There’s some punchy bark when you hit it hard, but just enough compression in the response to avoid any harshness. The neck pickup is surprisingly warm and rich for the format, while the bridge unit is capable of tight, bouncy twang riffs even before you split it (and both split very well). If anything, it might have been fun to overwind the bridge pickup a little to give that position a tad more grind when needed and to beef it up in relation to the neck pickup. But not to worry - it sounds great just as it is.

In a nutshell, the playing experience is much like that of strapping on a good SG, except with better neck stability, better balance on the strap and a more consistently in-tune performance.

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Otherwise, the thin, light body manages to stay out of your way in the same manner as that iconic all-mahogany double-cut, and the guitar’s core tone emphasizes upper mids in a similar way, rather than the lower-midrange push of, say, a typical Les Paul Standard.

Through the Friedman’s lead channel or a JHS Angry Charlie or TS9 Tube Screamer, the SE Starla Stoptail sang out with a tasty blend of aggression and refinement. It also proved that it’s not just an indie/alt/roots-rock warrior, diving into classic-rock and blues riffs with gusto, and always with impressive note articulation amid the dirt.

Ultimately, this is one of the most satisfying sub-$1,000 guitars I’ve played since I can’t remember when. It compares favorably with plenty of electrics twice its price, and would paste several of them. 

In my experience, PRS’s Core models consistently deliver something extra in personality and quality, which you expect from a USA-made guitar. But I haven’t a doubt that PRS could have handed me this SE Starla Stoptail and said, “This is the new Core Starla model,” and I wouldn’t have blinked an eye. It earns a well-deserved Editors’ Pick Award for the effort. Well done!

SPECIFICATIONS

SE Starla Stoptail
CONTACT
prsguitars.com
PRICE $699 street

NECK Mahogany, wide/fat profile
NUT WIDTH 1 11/16", synthetic
FRETBOARD Rosewood, 25" scale, 10" radius
FRETS 22 medium-jumbo
TUNERS Enclosed PRS designed
BODY Solid mahogany
BRIDGE Grover two-piece (Tune-o-matic style, with stopbar tailpiece)
PICKUPS PRS-designed DS-02 Treble and Bass humbuckers
CONTROLS Master volume and tone, push-pull switch on tone control for coil splitting, three-way blade switch
FACTORY STRINGS PRS .009–.042
WEIGHT 7.3 lbs
BUILT Indonesia

KUDOS Creative design and quality construction come together to deliver a superbly playable guitar with lots of personality, at an impressive price
CONCERNS None

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