Tested by Paul “TFO” Allen
I’VE BEEN IRRITATED WITH PRS guitars for the last couple of years, the reason being that about every four to five months I pick up their latest model and it feels and sounds better than the last one I had. They just don’t allow enough time for me to get bored with what I already have before they release something better. The PRS Signature is no exception to this trend. Co-developed by Paul Smith, Howard Leese, Davy Knowles, and Tom Wheeler, the Signature is a gorgeous Private Stock guitar that features a stunning curly maple top in a Tiger Eye finish, a polished rosewood fretboard with snazzy abalone/ mammoth-tusk inlays, and classy-looking Robson tuners—the same type that PRS uses on its acoustic guitars, except these have gleaming, polished aluminum covers.
Among the many cool aspects of this guitar—including superb playability and a vibrant acoustic sound—are its pickups, which are called 408s in reference to the pair having four coils and yielding eight tonal configurations. Featuring a slightly elongated shape, the 408s differ in size from standard humbuckers (the bridge unit is slightly larger, and the neck pickup slightly smaller), but the big deal is their ability to maintain a consistent volume when switched from humbucking to single- coil mode. This is due to an additional 1,500 winds of wire on each pickup that is engaged when you activate the single-coil switch. It makes the “split” output effectively the same as the full humbucker’s, but without affecting the single-coil response. Played through a Fender Twin Reverb, the neck pickup instantly reminded me of the rhythm sounds on Stevie Ray Vaughan’s, “Couldn’t Stand the Weather.” And running both pickups split yielded a great clean sound that got me carried away playing through old funk songs like “Fun Fun Fun” and “Dance Floor.”
At the flip of a switch, I could shift from a chanky single-coil vibe to full blast rock ‘n’ roll humbucker tones. The bridge pickup’s more modern-style voicing worked beautifully for detuned riffs and leads through a Mesa/Boogie Dual Rectifier, while the neck humbucker provided a clarity and tight bass response that made it ideal for everything from jazz comping to fat, singing solos. The neck pickup is also well suited for playing clean open chords with an aggressive rhythm hand. Many neck pickups become woofy and lack individual string definition, but the 408 translated every string distinctly.
If Mercedes and the makers of the Swiss Army knife joined forces to build a guitar, the PRS Signature would be the result. A perfect marriage of tonal luxury, visual elegance, and functional diversity, the Signature is a unique animal in the PRS line. Only 100 pieces are slated to be made—and all were sold within the first hour of the 2011 Winter NAMM show—so hopefully, the company will soon offer a production version of the Signature for the rest of us who continue to be “irritated” by PRS’ never-ending quest to build a better guitar.
CONTACT PRS Guitars, prsguitars.com
PRICE $7,999 street
NUT WIDTH 111/16"
NECK Mahogany, one piece, glued-in
FRETBOARD East Indian Rosewood, 25" scale
BODY African mahogany with figured maple top
BRIDGE PRS Stop-Tail
PICKUPS Two PRS 408 humbuckers
CONTROLS Single Volume and Tone, 2-way mini-toggle for each pickup (selects single-coil/humbucking), 3-way pickup selector.
FACTORY STRINGS PRS, .010-.046 set
WEIGHT 7.5 lbs
KUDOS Superb playability. Pickups maintain consistent output between humbucking and single-coil modes.
The Signature’s beautiful fretboard inlays are made from abalone and mammoth tusk.