PRS: Starla

MANY WORDS HAVE BEEN USED TO DESCRIBE Paul Reed Smith guitars—magnificent, gorgeous, flawless—but “funky” has rarely been one of them. Until recently, an instrument from PRS tended to be more akin to a Rolls Royce Silver Cloud than a Mini-Cooper. However, with the Mira series, and now the Starla, PRS has been expanding its outreach to players seeking something more suited to a ranch house playroom than a mansion’s study.

Featuring a beautiful one-piece mahogany body and a flawless finish (there’s that word again), the Starla still speaks pure PRS. But with its Bigsby tailpiece and sweeping black/ white/black pickguard, this new model conjures up a ’50s attitude that’s more Gretsch Corvette than Gibson ’burst. Keystone Kluson-style tuners continue the vintage vibe, and the rosewood fretboard on our test model sports abalone dots that add class without disturbing the elemental design. (Bird inlays are available for an upcharge of $480 if you feel that it’s just not a PRS without them.)

The company calls the mahogany neck “wide fat,” but 1y" at the nut is not unusually wide, and though the neck has some heft, I’d call it voluptuous rather than fat. Either way, I found the shape sat quite comfortably in my mitt. The Bigsby is a first for PRS, and through a combination of minimal string wraps on the tuner posts, a perfectly cut nut, and properly slotted bridge saddles, they have managed to make it stay surprisingly in tune. Other details, such as the fret finishing, setup, and intonation are of the high order we tend to take for granted from production PRS guitars.

The Starla’s pickups are another departure from the PRS norm. Rather than standard Gibson-style humbuckers or P-90s, the twin hum-canceling pickups on this baby are voiced more in the Gretsch Filter ’Tron vein. A lone Volume knob controls both, and you pull the Tone knob to put the pickups in coilsplit mode. Plugging the Starla into a Reverend Hellhound set to a clean American voicing quickly revealed the chiming charms of this offbeat guitar. With both pickups engaged, the sound was perfectly balanced and ripe for pop jangle. Splitting the pickups in this position offered plenty of funky spank. In full humbucking mode, the bridge pickup managed to provide an amazing combination of twang and girth. I found it unnecessary to use the split mode for Tele-style excursions, and through an Orange Tiny Terror with a little gain, the tone plain rocked. In split mode, some amp or pedal boost was needed to compensate for a drop in output, but the tones remained full and balanced. Both coils engaged on the neck pickup evidenced that classic combination of heft and definition associated with Filter ’Trons, and when split, the neck position yielded some surprisingly Strat-like sounds.

The Starla is a joy to play, and it offers a wide array of terrific tones—from chickenpickin’ to rockabilly, from pop chime to metal roar. Though its look could appeal to the Pawnshop Prize crowd, the Starla remains a top-flight U.S.-made guitar with a price that adheres to the “pay for what you get” philosophy. Time will tell how many lovers of shabby chic are ready to shell out two grand for such a funky treasure, but the Starla’s bloodline certainly makes the investment a worthy one.

SPECS | PRS Guitars, (410) 643-9970;
PRICE- $3,025 retail/$2,000 street
NECK- Mahogany
FRETBOARD- Rosewood, 24.5" scale
FRETS- 22 PRS Standard
BODY- Mahogany
PICKUPS- Proprietary Starla alnico
CONTROLS- Volume and Tone, 3-way pickup selector, coil-split function
BRIDGE- Bigsby B5 Tailpiece with Grover Tune-o-Matic bridge
TUNERS- Vintage-nickel Kluson-style
KUDOS- Excellent quality. A PRS with chime and jangle.