THE CUSTOM 24 WAS WHAT GOT IT ALL STARTED FOR A YOUNG GUITAR builder named Paul Smith, who brought his creation to a NAMM show in 1985. It’s no overstatement to say that people lost their freaking minds over the look, feel, sound, and build quality of Mr. PRS’ baby. The guitar here is the SE version —Paul Reed Smith’s more affordable import line—of that seminal instrument. As we’ll see, it sports many of the qualities that have made this company such a success.
The SE arrived in a sturdy gig bag that exudes quality before you even unzip it: good handles, high-quality zippers, and comfortable shoulder straps. That might seem like a minor point but I think it shows PRS’ attention to detail and goes to the overall level of workmanship. Opening the bag revealed a gorgeous, whale blue finish over a sumptuous maple top. This is so common for PRS that we take it for granted by now, but it bears repeating: This is a great looking guitar. The frets are very clean and smooth and the setup features a low, shred-friendly action. For my hands it’s actually a little too low and some high-E-string bends start to fret out acoustically, although they sing fine through an amp. The SE has a lively unplugged sound and its super-slick, “dipped in glass” feel makes it a blast play. The whammy system is really smooth and floats with approximately one half-step of up-trem range—just the way I like it. As with any floating system, you have to get to know it to find its equilibrium point—the little move that will bring it back in tune after bending or dive bombing. This one had a tendency to pull sharp on the D and G strings. Some pencil lead in the nut slots made it easier to get back in tune.
The SE’s amplified tones were instantly happening, with no nonsense, humbucker goodness. The bridge position is crunchy and lively, occupying that perfect middle ground between Strat and Les Paul that Paul Reed Smith pretty much owns. The neck tones are incredibly musical and remind me why I love 24-fret PRS models. On 21- or 22-fret guitars, the neck pickup resides directly under a harmonic node, and that’s a huge reason why, say, the neck single-coil on a Strat sounds the way it does. A 24-fret neck necessitates moving the neck pickup closer to the bridge and, while I don’t care for that with single-coils, I think humbuckers can benefit from that extra bit of brightness. This one is clear and vocal and blends with the bridge pickup beautifully. Like every PRS, the SE cleans up like nobody’s business when you turn down, making it a breeze to dial up a high-gain sound and just ride the volume control for a multitude of cleaner tones.
PRS has cranked out quality with incredible consistency for decades now. A guitar like this at such a price would scarcely have been possible in the past, and the fact that the bar has been raised so high is probably because of Paul Reed Smith. Nicely done.
Paul Reed Smith Guitars (410) 643-9970; prsguitars.com
MODEL SE Custom 24
PRICE $995 retail/ $665 street
NECK Maple with Wide/Thin profile
FRETBOARD Rosewood with Moon inlays
FRETS, 24 mediumjumbo
BODY Mahogany with maple top and flame maple veneer
PICKUPS PRS Designed Treble and Bass humbuckers with zebra bobbins
CONTROLS Master Volume and Tone with 3- way toggle
BRIDGE PRS Designed Tremolo
FACTORY STRINGS .009-.042
WEIGHT 8.08 lbs
KUDOS Incredible quality. Great tones. Slick playability.
CONCERNS Whammy system took a while to settle in.