3 New PRS SE Models

At this point in time, only a wooly mammoth who has been encased in an ice flow for a millennia or so wouldn’t be aware that Paul Reed Smith makes exquisite guitars. They’re often expensive beauties, and yet few seem to argue that they aren’t worth every penny. But the good news for players on a budget is that the company’s affordable SE line—which offers models in the street price range of $500 to $700—has been typically reaching a level of quality that can also be rated as “exquisite.”
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In GP’s May 2007 roundup of solidbodies under $500, the SE Soapbar II nabbed an Editors’ Pick Award, and all the editors marveled at how amazing the guitar sounded, and how well it played. The guitar that kicked everything off—the Santana SE—was given an inexpensive price tag at Carlos Santana’s personal request, and it won an Editors’ Pick Award in August 2001, as did Mark Tremonti’s SE model in June 2003. The SE EG and SE Soapbar were well-reviewed in August 2004, and narrowly missed out on making the SE line a 100 percent GP Editors’ Pick Award winner. This is an impressive run.

The three new SE models debuted at the January 2007 Winter NAMM show uphold the line’s superb build quality, attention to detail, player-friendly ergonomics, and inspired tonal chops. They also hold the line on pricing, and continue to deliver maximum value for working musicians who crave an inexpensive instrument that can snarl, roar, and rumble along with the guitar industry’s top dogs.

Custom Semi-Hollow

The Custom Semi-Hollow is so light, it’s almost like wrapping a ghost around your neck. That lightness is echoed in the guitar’s airy unplugged tone, which shimmers and snaps with excellent articulation. In fact, during an overdub session, I was inspired to mic it sans amplification—with an AKG C414 angled near the 12th fret—to record a faux acoustic-guitar part under a phalanx of distorted electrics. The Semi-Hollow aped a conventional acoustic quite nicely, adding sparkle to the layered electrics without also bringing on the woofy low-end I might have encountered had I miked a dreadnought or a jumbo.

As an amplified beast, the Semi-Hollow retains much of the zingy personality of its unplugged tone. Through an Orange Tiny Terror head and Mesa/Boogie 1x12 cabinet, I was able to coax acoustic-like clean sounds out of the instrument by notching back the guitar’s Volume knob and switching to the bridge pickup. There are three beautifully distinct tonal colors between the bridge-, combined-, and neck-pickup settings, but, regardless of the relative thickness or thinness of the fundamental sound, some high-end sting and snap is always present. This isn’t a bad thing at all—and it provides the Semi-Hollow with a truly individual timbre—but the tight and bright attack does make it a bit of a challenge to get a ballsy, round sound (a la Duane Eddy) or a muted, smooth jazz tone.

The crystalline jangle imposes itself on overdrive sounds, as well. Even if I ran the Tiny Terror (or a Mesa/Boogie Stiletto) in full-saturation mode, and added an MXR GT-OD distortion pedal to the signal chain, the Semi-Hollow presented clear, coherent notes with a woody bite. Chords involving open and fretted notes rang clean, arpeggios spoke clearly, and note flurries did not
collapse into an indistinct saturation stew. The Semi-Hollow doesn’t really embrace the fat or blues-rude tones you can pull out of, say, a Gibson ES-137 or ES-335, but it’s no wimp. It simply delivers a vicious slap more than a body punch.

From an ergonomic standpoint, the Semi-Hollow is a total joy to play. Obviously, the near absence of heft is a benefit, and the smooth and flat neck inspires almost effortless fretboard gymnastics. In addition, the Volume knob is perfectly situated for pinky-controlled volume swells. The workmanship is everything you’d expect from a PRS—nicely dressed frets, a beautiful and flawless finish, and sturdy hardware. My only minor cosmetic quibbles are some splinters peeking out from the f-hole—which is actually a “slash” hole—and the view of natural, unfinished wood it reveals. (The Blue Matteo finish is so super sexy that I wanted to take a black Sharpie, and darken that hole up for a better color match.)

I loved the unique, snappy timbre of the Semi-Hollow, and it would be a fabulous addition to an armory already rich with another semi-hollowbody and/or hollowbody. For one session, I played two clean rhythm lines—one with the Semi-Hollow, and the other with a Guild X-160 rockabilly box—and panned each guitar hard right and left to craft a tonal spread that went from an airy shimmer to a meaty punch. I didn’t feel the Semi-Hollow’s thud-lite personality worked well with heavier rock or blues material, but it was an excellent choice for ringing single-note lines, jangly parts, and distorted passages where some openness and air was desired.


Simple. Gorgeous. Meaner than a rabid chupacabra who has been up all night drinking bad bourbon and losing at the Vegas blackjack tables. That’s really all you need to know about the One. This is a rock monster. Pure and simple. Thanks for reading.

Well, you probably want a little more information than that.

The One evokes the vibey, single-pickup guitars of the past, while simultaneously maintaining an air of sophisticated modernism. The vintage cherry finish is absolutely stunning, and the workmanship—from the polished frets to the wraparound bridge and tuners—is flawless. It feels good to hold, it feels good to play—it just feels so good on all levels.

From an operational standpoint, this is about as close to plug-in-and-play as you can get. There’s one soapbar pickup and a Volume knob. But that doesn’t mean the One has to be a one-trick pony. You definitely have to work harder to pull varied tones from a one-pickup machine, but, to me, that just meant getting more familiar with the “lost arts” of subtle Volume-knob manipulations, picking-position changes, and picking dynamics. And when you get busy caressing, pummeling, stroking, and slapping the One, it really delivers the sonic goods. This is one of the most responsive guitars I’ve played in a long time. Plug into a good amp, and it seems as if your every touch is translated directly to sound. Pick hard, and the One barks. Fingerpick a line with the fleshy part of your fingertips, and you can almost hear the strings scrape against your calluses.

During band rehearsals, I plugged the One into my usual Orange Tiny Terror and Mesa/Boogie 1x12 rig, and I was transported back to the classic-rock era. With the guitar volume cranked—and nothing between the guitar and amp but a guitar cord—it was simply a matter of adjusting the amp’s gain to ricochet between vintage AC/DC, Mott the Hoople, Bad Company, Kiss, Sweet, and Thin Lizzy tones. For a couple of sessions, I upped the saturation quotient by plugging into a Mesa/Boogie Stiletto and a Marshall JCM 900, and was rewarded with some ferocious heavy-metal sounds. I also ran directly into the board through a Radial JD1 direct box, and marveled at the One’s stout and punchy clean sounds. Finally, I went for some skank by running a clean, but slightly gritty tone through a Fender Hot Rod Deluxe. In all cases, I could easily get meaner—or more courtly—by merely adjusting my pick attack, or bringing down the guitar’s volume.

It’s obvious that most guitarists play differently depending on the guitar they’re wielding. (Check out the Gary Moore interview in this issue where he states he got himself out of an Eric Clapton “Beano” album mindset by simply switching from a Les Paul to an ES-335.) This is one reason why guitarists tend to own so many guitars. The One could be the mother of “style changers,” as its responsiveness and simplicity either force you into rethinking the subtleties of your attack, or seduces you into just plugging in and blasting away like a blissed-out, 16-year-old basher. And whichever path you’re bidden to follow, the One has got your back, because there are absolutely no bad sounds in this bad boy. This is a truly brilliant instrument, and it deserves an Editors’ Pick Award.

Paul Allender Model

In an edgy partnering with the ghoulish guitarist of Britain’s glammy black-metal band Cradle of Filth, PRS has developed one of its most aggressively striking guitars. If you dig the Bela Lugosi side of life, the Allender’s stunning purple-black burst, gold hardware, and bat inlays should drive you into spasms of vampiric ecstasy. In fact, it’s pretty hard to believe that this magnificent signature model streets for around $650.

Although the cosmetics are quite lush, it doesn’t seem as if any shortcuts were taken with quality control. The Allender is just as brilliantly rendered as the One and Semi-Hollow, or any other SE model. Look for sloppy fill marks in the rather intricate inlays, and you won’t find any. I had to put myself in extremely bitchy-picky-particular mode to admit that maybe one or two of the fret ends were a tad rougher than I’d like. Beyond that, this wraith is downright flawless.

Of course, as this guitar has his name on it, it can’t just look Goth—it also has to deliver Allender’s punishing tone, handle his speed-of-light riffing, and accommodate his ungodly whammy abuse. This is where the PRS/Allender collaboration really bears fruit, because the team developed an aggressive hard-rock guitar that plays great and sounds tough in almost anyone’s hands. The wide neck feels good, and it’s perfectly suited for shred lines, heavy riffs, and complex chording, while also inviting harder blues and blues-rock approaches. The PRS-designed Vintage Bass (neck) and HFS High Output (bridge) pickups are just wild. This guitar screams. It hit the front ends of my Orange Tiny Terror, Mesa/Boogie Stiletto, and Marshall JCM 900 like a werewolf at a full gallop, immediately eliciting creamy, sustained tones. And yet, if I turned down the guitar’s Volume, or switched to the neck pickup, I could still fire off some clean rockabilly-like lines or jazzy chord runs. This is a situation where you can’t simply evaluate this guitar with your eyes, because it looks evil, but it can deliver music of light—everything from funk to reggae to Muzak pop. I threw every style I could play at this sucker, and it just said, “Yeah, I can do that. Just tweak your amp or my Tone and Volume controls a bit. No problem.” But when I wanted to venture to the dark side, and launch massively distorted, sustain-crazed riffs of doom, the Allender loved it—egged me on, in fact. The PRS tremolo is pretty dreamy, too. It allows rather radical dive bombs without knocking the strings too far out of tune, and I could do a song’s-worth of subtle vibrato moves without having to retune until the next song. Looks aside, this is a versatile—and fun—guitar that’s dripping with vibe. Whoa! Don’t put a stake in this dark beauty’s heart, because it’s an Editors’ Pick Award winner.