Paul Reed Smith guitars are typically thought of as primarily a premium guitar brand. Up until the last 17 years or so, they only made the kind of guitars that cost about the same as an alright used car, and were all droolworthy pieces of art. Lucky for the loaded among us, they still make those, and they’re still gorgeous – but for the typical guitarist, $3-5000 just isn’t going to happen. Luckily for us, they introduced the SE line in 2000, offering affordable import versions of their guitars for the masses.
While there have been many incarnations and versions of the SE models, the one we’re looking at today is the SE Custom 24, 2017 edition. There have been several updates and upgrades from the previous versions, the majority of which are cosmetic. My general impressions of the guitar are all positive as hell – we had this guitar at the house for a couple months, and it got a lot more play time than a lot of the high-end guitars we have kicking around (and we’ve got a lot of those). First of all, PRS seems intent on making their cheaper guitars look enough like their expensive ones to make the cosmetic factor less important in your purchase decision. The SE Custom 24 I played had a gorgeous, if extremely thin, flamed maple top in a nice Whale Blue (didn’t look like any whale I’ve ever seen). It’s not going to impart any of the tonal characteristics of the maple at that thickness, but all the visual appeal is there, and it doesn’t cost them (and therefore you) a ton of money.
The black pickups and pickup rings of the previous model have been replaced with cream and zebra, a definite improvement, although the ultimate upgrade would be to ditch the pickup rings altogether. The bird inlays are present and looking good, and the headstock label has received a huge update, shrinking the SE logo down and bringing in the PRS autograph, while the word Custom moves to the truss rod cover.
The most important component upgrade is the pickups – these new pickups are based on the 30th Anniversary pickups found in the high-end PRS models from last year, and they sound good – nice and bright, if a bit scoop-y for my tastes. They are high output enough for metal, but also made for some good mid-gain rock tones and cleans. They are inoffensive, all-around solid pickups that don’t stray too far in any direction. Also included is a handy coil-tap hidden in the tone knob’s push-pull pot.
The guitar came set up ready to kill – this is a rarity for off-the-shelf imports, so that impressed me. For standard tuning, the 25″ scale is pretty awesome feeling, although I recorded the demo in D standard so it lost a bit of the snappiness that I liked. It’s not an ideal scale length for tuning down, but that’s a topic for another post.
My main complaints about the guitar were about the trem. The whammy bar that’s included feels very flimsy (this could be a standard issue PRS bar, it’s possible they’re all like this – I haven’t actually tried one of their trem bars before) and the tremolo wasn’t particularly stable. Perhaps with some further setup it could be, but I found myself tuning it a lot more than I would have liked.
Overall, it’s one of the very best import guitars I’ve played in my day, and although it’s priced slightly higher than some similar guitars from the same factory, the PRS SE Custom 24 has the pedigree, looks, and build to make it well worth what they’re asking. Pick one up here or for more info, check out the PRS website.