Tested By Art Thompson
Featuring many of the attributes that make high-end PRS guitars so desirable to such a broad range of players, the Korean-made SE series instruments are excellent choices for players on tight budgets. Now the SE line has expanded to include a pair of new single-coil guitars: the EG and Soapbar. These models provide very different tones than have previously been available from the SE line.
Paul Reed Smith’s revolutionary guitars were originally designed to fill a niche between Fender and Gibson, and the EG—with its trio of single-coil pickups and set-neck mahogany construction—comes about as close as it gets to a cross-breeding of a Strat and a Les Paul Junior. At nearly 8 lbs, the EG feels substantial, and its beefy neck fills your hand like the thick stick of a PRS McCarty. The heel block is also chunky, but its front curve fits nicely around the web of your hand, and the body’s deeply beveled cutaway makes it easy to reach the 22nd fret. The workmanship is very good overall—the lightly polished jumbo frets are consistently crowned and tightly seated, and their ends are beveled for a smooth feel. There’s no gloppiness around the neck joint, and the polyurethane finish on the body and neck is glassy and free of dimpling.
Beefs? The synthetic nut is properly slotted, but it doesn’t quite match the width of the fretboard, and it has painfully sharp corners. Also, the pickguard reveals less-than-perfect beveling around some of its curves, as well as a small gap where it fits around the treble side of the neck. The pearl “crescent moon” position markers are nice looking and cleanly set, however, the rosewood fretboard is completely peppered with funky looking white filler.
The EG’s hardware is first rate. The PRS logo tuners work precisely, and the trem functions well and has no protruding screws to dig into your palm. Set to “float” with its rear edge about 1/8" off the body, the bridge provides a full step of upward pitch bend. In usual PRS fashion, the trem arm pushes into a snug-fitting synthetic bushing, which allows the arm to move easily while remaining in place wherever you position it. Thanks to the trem’s silky action (as well as the slick nut material), it was possible to work the bar to its stops in either direction without knocking the guitar out of tune (that is, once the strings were broken in). Some trem gargle is noticeable when bending strings, and players who find that bothersome might want to consider the stoptail option.
The EG plays super easy, thanks to its beefy neck, low action, and stock .009-.042 gauge strings. Notes ring out clearly despite some fret buzz—mostly above the 12th fret—and the intonation is excellent when comparing fingered 12th fret notes to their harmonics. Chords also sound musical in all positions.
With its single-coil pickups and 5-way selector, the EG definitely sounds more Strat-like than anything PRS has previously offered. The EG sounds louder and thicker, however, than the typical Stratocaster, while still delivering much of the ringiness and sparkle. The EG’s stronger output is great for heavier rock tones, but you still get enough bright cluckiness in positions 2 and 4 to wail in the Robert Cray zone. Played through a Dr. Z Mazerati, a Marshall 50-watt, and a ’64 Fender Super Reverb, the EG delivered a wide spectrum of sounds—from zingy bridge-pickup tones to meaty neck-position textures to clear, ballsy middle-pickup colors. The Volume control preserves the highs when you turn down, which is nice, and the Tone knob is useful both for making bridge position distortion tones sound more buttery or obtaining just the right touch of woody mellowness for neck-position jazz sounds. For players who mainly use humbuckers, but who could appreciate having more tonal range under their fingers, the EG’s blend of Fender, Gibson, and decidedly PRS elements makes it a mighty compelling guitar for an incredibly cool price.
Offering many of the same attributes that make the EG so delightful to play, the Soapbar puts a different spin on the single-coil theme by using a pair of P-90-style pickups. This guitar shares the same neck shape and body style as the EG. It also features similarly excellent fret and inlay work, though its fretboard is almost completely free of white speckles. There are no flaws in the finish, the neck joint is super crisp, and the routing for the pickups is precise. In spite of its fixed stoptail bridge, the Soapbar intonates as well as the EG. Tuner deflection between 12th fret notes and their harmonics was negligible. My ’61 Gibson Les Paul Junior (which also has a stoptail bridge) couldn’t come close to the Soapbar in that regard. Paul Reed Smith deserves a lot of credit for making fixed bridge production guitars that play so in tune, and the Soapbar never makes you cringe when you compare open chords to their “up-scale” neighbors. Though set up with similarly low action, the Soapbar exhibited less fret buzz than the EG. And while its neck is just as big, some players may prefer the Soap’s more compact heel.
Tested with a Fender Super Reverb, a Dr. Z Mazerati, a Ken Fischer-designed 50-watt Komet head (which sounds like a plexi Marshall), and a ’66 Fender Twin Reverb, the Soapbar kicked out bright, squawky tones that offered a good balance of clarity and low-end richness. Here, too, the Volume control preserves highs when turned down, and the Tone circuit delivers useful treble roll off throughout most of its range. The Soapbar’s bright, fat sounds are reminiscent of classic Gibson P-90 solidbody guitars, though I must say the old “dog ear” pickup in the LP Junior produced tones that were a little more defined and vibey—
particularly when using lots of distortion. That said, the Soapbar takes the Junior formula to a new level in terms of playability and ability to play in tune. If you’re looking for a low-cost blues-rock guitar that celebrates the spirit of some of America’s most popular budget guitars of the ’50s and early ’60s, you should definitely have a go with this cherry-red bomb.