Reviewed: PRS 30th Anniversary Custom 24 and McCarty

Having been producing fine guitars for three decades now, PRS is celebrating its legacy with the release of the 30th Anniversary Custom 24. This instrument follows on the lines of the 24-fret carved top solidbody that was so highly acclaimed when it debuted back in 1985, but is now equipped with new 85/15 pickups—uncovered humbuckers that offer extended high- and low-end response to better suit modern players—and a lovely cosmetic treatment that includes purfling on the fretboard and headstock and “30th Anniversary” mother-of-pearl Birds inlays. And while we’re on the subject of PRS’s past achievements, why not include the new McCarty? This classic revisits the model from 1994 that Smith designed in honor of Ted McCarty, the electric guitar pioneer who was Gibson’s president during the company’s “golden era” of 1950-1966.
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Having been producing fine guitars for three decades now, PRS is celebrating its legacy with the release of the 30th Anniversary Custom 24. This instrument follows on the lines of the 24-fret carved top solidbody that was so highly acclaimed when it debuted back in 1985, but is now equipped with new 85/15 pickups—uncovered humbuckers that offer extended high- and low-end response to better suit modern players—and a lovely cosmetic treatment that includes purfling on the fretboard and headstock and “30th Anniversary” mother-of-pearl Birds inlays. And while we’re on the subject of PRS’s past achievements, why not include the new McCarty? This classic revisits the model from 1994 that Smith designed in honor of Ted McCarty, the electric guitar pioneer who was Gibson’s president during the company’s “golden era” of 1950-1966.
I spoke with Paul Smith during the course of this review, and asked him about his ongoing pursuit of tone and what drives him to continue refining the PRS guitar line. “If I didn’t always try to make them better I’d be a dead man,” he replied. “If a guy’s at a session or he’s waiting to go onstage, and there’s a bunch of instruments in the rack, which ones do they go for? If they don’t go for mine then I haven’t done my job. But we only change the things that we think will make a difference to our artists. The basic neck shape that we started with hasn’t changed because it works. The body shape has always worked, and the tremolo bridge is just a modification of an old thing that had grace, but it had a few problems: The saddles would move and the bridge wouldn’t return to same spot. The bars would also break off in the block. I just solved the problems and continued on with it. It’s pretty much the exact same bridge from 1985. Of course, while I’m sitting here talking to you, I’m playing with a new bridge that has a locking saddle. So yeah, I have thought about changing it.”
One of the things that Smith has poured a ton of work into over the last several years is his PAF-style humbuckers, which were originally introduced as the 57/08 and 59/09 units, and have now morphed into the 85/15 and 58/15 model that are optimized for enhanced clarity and midrange focus. “We’ve got a whole bunch of magic pickups from history here, and we think the 58/15 beats them all,” says Smith. “We finally found out what Seth Lover was thinking when he made the PAF. It took a long time to figure that out because all PAFs are a little different.”
The need to stay ahead of the curve in the guitar business is essential to Smith, who routinely evaluates the performance of his company and makes improvements where he and his team see fit. “I think we’re more nimble now than we were three years ago, because the R&D department jumps on things like a dog on meat. I got lapped once. I thought everything was fine, and then I saw somebody pass me and I didn’t like it very much. You put your head down and run a little harder after that. When it comes to making sales and keeping people employed, we pay an extraordinary amount of attention to those things. If I can’t pay for my people’s salaries I don’t have a company. What’s hot now—8-strings? And things are changing at an alarming rate. People are trying to expand the instrument and they keep trying to push it out. Eddie Van Halen shows up with a Floyd Rose and life changes. It’s just the way it goes. I don’t know how Jazzmasters and Jaguars got so hot. We couldn’t stand them when we were kids because they didn’t sound good. Now you can buy a Jazzmaster with a Tune-o-matic bridge and humbucking pickups. You want to explain that one to me?”
30th Anniversary Custom 24
This is the model that made PRS a heavyweight contender in the mid ’80s, and it certainly upped the stakes in the guitar market for quality, playability, and tone. The 30th Anniversary edition celebrates the tradition of this erstwhile “production custom,” which immediately captures the eye with its beautiful Azul Blue top and exposed edge “binding” that’s long been a signature element of PRS guitars. The bridge is a super smooth PRS Tremolo with gold anodized saddles on a nickel-plated base, and at the opposite end are PRS Phase III locking tuners with gold buttons. The slim mahogany neck is topped with a rosewood ’board that’s adorned with pearl Birds inlays and white purfling—an inlaid strip that runs along the entire top surface of the fretboard. The headstock has a matching rosewood overlay with purfling and a “30th Anniversary” scripted trussrod cover.
As usual, the workmanship is excellent in all areas and the playability rules thanks to finely finished frets and a first-rate setup. All components work well together to give the 30th Anniversary Custom 24 a sound that’s kind of a mix between carved-top solidarity and the airier character of a vibrato-equipped guitar. The 85/15 pickups’ enhanced brightness is balanced by firm lows and a bold midrange presence. Tested with a Dr. Z Z-Lux, a Kendrick 25th Anniversary 4210 combo, and a BluGuitar Amp 1 through an Alessandro 1x12 cabinet, the Custom 24 delivered tones that ranged from fat and bluesy in the neck setting to slimmer/funkier in the split-coil settings (positions 2 and 4) to big and open with both pickups active to tight and grinding in the bridge position. This guitar sustains well and it really sang when driving into the Amp 1’s high-gain channel or a good distortion pedal like the Alairex HALO. In all, it’s easy to see why so many high-profile players have made the Custom 24 their go-to guitar, and why it remains a “modern classic” in the truest form.

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McCarty

As the original Les Paul challenger in the PRS line of the mid ’90s, the McCarty owed its genesis to the time Smith was able to spend with ex-Gibson president Ted McCarty, who passed away in 2001. “I interviewed him until he started repeating stories,” says Smith. “I wanted to know everything that happened in that old factory, and I went over it and over it with him.” The result of all this was a different kind of PRS that featured a slightly thicker mahogany back, a wide-fat mahogany neck with 22 frets, an aluminum Stoptail bridge, vintage-style tuners, and set of vintage voiced Dragon—and soon renamed McCarty—humbuckers. Along with a 3-way pickup selector, the McCarty had a push-pull Tone pot that split the coils for brighter single-coil sounds. With a foundation of carved-top sustain and humbucker girth, the McCarty series expanded in 1998 with Archtop, Hollowbody, and Soapbar versions, and in 2010 it received new 57/08 pickups, a “Pattern” neck, and other upgrades. Limited runs in korina or with Brazilian rosewood necks were also available until the model was discontinued in 2013.
So why did PRS stop making the McCarty? “People quit buying them,” says Smith. “They went, ‘okay, we got a McCarty, what else you got?’ This market gets really bored fast. I used to think it was just the times, but if you remember Gibson changed the Les Paul every year: Trapeze tailpiece the first year, stop tailpiece the second year, neck angle the third year, Tune-o-matic the fourth year. Then came humbucking pickups, then they made it sunburst, and then they turned it into the SG and put on the sideways Vibrola. If you knew how many times we’ve put our hearts and souls into something, shipped about 200 of them, and then we get a call from someone going, ‘yeah that’s great, you got something new’?”
But the McCarty is back, and what a jewel of a reissue it is. The Black Gold Burst finish reveals stunning golden highlights in the figured maple of its “10” top, while the ivoroid-bound fretboard wears nine “birds in flight” inlays of pearl and abalone. The rosewood-faced headstock sports a “McCarty” inlay on its ebony trussrod cover and on the flip side are a set nickel-plated Phase III locking tuners with exposed brass gears.
Among the McCarty’s updates is a more refined Pattern neck shape, which rides in the hand about as nicely as one could imagine. “The neck shape is a little more sophisticated because we have a better program doing it,” says Smith. “The nut material is also new. I just think the guitar sounds a little more open now. I believe you can judge a guitar by how long it rings. A guitar that rings for 10 seconds is not as good as a guitar that rings for 40. Recently, at Chicago Music Exchange, I compared the McCarty with a ’58 Les Paul and a ’57 Strat. The Strat rang for 51 seconds, the Les Paul for 38 seconds, and the PRS went for 52 seconds.”

Played into a Marshall 25/50 Silver Jubilee reissue, a Kendrick 25th 4210 combo, and a BluGuitar Amp 1, the McCarty sounded stringy and complex. The covered 58/15 pickups have the modest output of a good PAF, and they deliver a top end that’s bright but not at all shrill. Balanced by deep lows and piano-like sustain, these pickups worked great though all of these amps, and depending on how you deploy the coil-split function on the Tone knob, the McCarty delivers the slinkiest of cleans all the way to the super sustaining neck- or bridge-position distortion tones that embody all that is great about carved-top solids with 22 frets. In all, the McCarty is a badass guitar and a superb choice for a lot of different styles. A welcome return indeed, and it earns an Editors’ Pick Award.

CONTACT prsguitars.com
MODEL 30th Anniversary Custom 24
PRICE $3,299 street
NUT WIDTH 1.69"
NECK Mahogany, Pattern Thin (Pattern Regular also available)
FRETBOARD Rosewood, 25" scale
FRETS 24
TUNERS PRS Phase III Locking
BODY Mahogany with carved figured maple top
BRIDGE PRS Tremolo
PICKUPS 85/15 Bass and Treble humbuckers
CONTROLS Volume, Tone, 5-way pickup selector
FACTORY STRINGS PRS, .010-.046
WEIGHT 7.54 lbs
BUILT USA
KUDOS Excellent tone and playability. Beautiful appearance.
CONCERNS None.

CONTACT prsguitars.com
MODEL McCarty
PRICE $3,899 street, as tested with optional “10” top
NUT WIDTH 1.69"
NECK Mahogany, Pattern profile
FRETBOARD Rosewood, 25" scale
FRETS 22
TUNERS PRS Phase III Locking
BODY Mahogany with carved figured maple top
BRIDGE PRS Stoptail
PICKUPS 58/15 Bass and Treble humbuckers
CONTROLS Volume, Tone (push-pull), 3-way pickup selector
FACTORY STRINGS PRS, .010-.046
WEIGHT 7.28 lbs
BUILT USA
KUDOS A killer sounding guitar with great pickups and to-die-for playability.
CONCERNS None. 

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