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This article was originally published in issue #31
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Paul Reed Smith released the original PRS Standard 24 guitar at the NAMM show way back in 1985 and it has since become as classic and revered as any of the most famous guitar models out there, with a roster of users populated by an impressive array of guitar heroes. As a custom US-made guitar it has always had a boutique level price tag, putting it out of reach for the average player - that is, until PRS released its Korean made SE models, allowing the average, non-professional guitarist to obtain a surprisingly generous and well made slice of the full fat PRS pie.
The SE models have been wildly successful since release with an amazing level of quality considering the price but, where Paul Reed Smith is concerned, you can be sure he’s always looking one step ahead. For 2015, PRS is releasing the SE Standard range, made in Indonesia, selling at an all new low price but claimed to offer build quality and hardware as close as possible to the company's more expensive guitars. We’ve reviewed, and been impressed by, a lot of guitars from Indonesian factories over our 31 issues of GI magazine so we had high hopes for these new SE versions. The question is: can they possibly do justice to such an illustrious name?
Essentially the SE Standard 24 is a stripped back version of the original US made guitars we all know and love. You’ll find no flame or quilt tops here but rather a classic PRS mahogany body and neck finished in a range of colours including Tobacco Sunburst, Opaque Black and Translucent Blue and Cherry, plus the opaque, metallic ‘Platinum’ finish, extending up the back of the neck and with a matching headstock, which graced our review sample.
The neck features a rosewood fretboard complete with the familiar, intricate PRS bird inlays and the equivalent of a PRS Wide Thin neck profile. In order to keep production costs as low as possible the body shape is a simplified version of the more expensive USA models but retains the core visual appeal and is still a highly attractive design that looks every bit as cool as its more expensive siblings. The guitar features very solid hardware for this price point in the form of two PRS SE humbuckers, an HFS Treble in the bridge and an SE Vintage Bass in the neck, an official PRS tremolo, volume and tone controls with a 3-way switch and, impressively for the price, a coil tap offering single coil tones. PRS is even throwing in a decent quality SE gig bag for free that is more than adequate for the average user and attractive enough to be worn with pride!
Compared to the Korean made SE’s you might fear that the Indonesian made guitars will suffer from some production and construction shortcuts in order to achieve the impressive price point. But despite a thorough inspection we could find no signs of it. In fact our sample was pretty much flawless in every respect thanks to superb body/neck construction and finishing, great fretwork and a clever selection of hardware, producing an overall package that represents amazing value for money.
The playability is also remarkable for a guitar of this price, with a very comfortable neck shape matched very nicely to the 25” scale length. Upper fret access is no issue thanks to the contoured lower cutaway and both chordal and lead parts feel super comfortable throughout the guitar's range. Tuning stability is also very good, matched with accurate intonation and a bridge that might be the best I've ever tried for a guitar that is considered a budget friendly option. Tremolo action is as smooth as butter with both downward and upward operation thanks to the floating setup and a trem arm that is exactly the right length and height to allow comfortable playing whilst holding onto the bar.
Tonally the SE Standard 24 is punching way above its weight thanks to the pair of high quality SE humbuckers. The bridge HFS offers chimey clean tones with a real punch to them without being too high output for subtle dynamics and volume changes. For overdriven tone the HFS is superb at both crunchy sounds and high gain Rock or lead, with a focused sound that will really cut through a mix well. The HFS also feels great to play with a lovely response that gives this guitar a far more expensive feel than the price suggests. The SE Vintage in the neck offers impressively warm tones thanks to the all mahogany construction but with enough high end to cut through with thick, creamy lead tones. Thanks to the coil tap there are a total of six sounds on offer here, making the SE Standard 24 a very versatile guitar with tones that far out perform its price tag.
This is one of those few scenarios where the value for money is so great in a product that it’s very hard to find any negatives to speak of at all. This Indonesian PRS is so good in fact that it could mean quite a few companies having to reconsider their budget ranges to match this quality level. It’s certainly going to turn a few heads and could be one of the best starter/budget guitars ever produced - so good that it should be considered even by pros as a backup guitar for use on the road. Considering that PRS is throwing a quality gig bag into the deal you’d be mad not to check these out and PRS are definitely onto a winner for 2015.
We tried as hard as we could to curb our enthusiasm, but there was no escaping the conclusion this is one of a tiny handful of products we have ever reviewed that we genuinely feel deserves a full five stars - especially when you see the street prices! Though no official US MSRP had been announced as we closed to press, our spies suggest they will be under $799. And that's just amazing. Congratulations, PRS.