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This article was originally published in issue #46
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whichever you buy isn't going to disappoint and is going to represent fantastic value for money
PRS Guitars need no introduction. As a high end manufacturer a PRS is on the wish list of many a guitarist but this is a particularly exciting review as we are looking at the brand new for 2017 SE Custom 24 and Custom 22. PRS has always been renowned for its high quality finish and attention to detail. Every guitar is hand checked before it leaves the factory and this shows as I, for one, have never picked up a PRS with a poor set-up, even straight out of the box.
PRS has a very high standard to maintain, where nothing but perfect will do, especially in the high end market where the company is faced with stiff competition, but also down among the more affordable ranges, where the SEs live. The SEs may not be manufactured in the USA but they are set-up there and we at GI find it hard to see any difference in set-up quality between the 'everyday' SE models and the full blown expensive PRS guitars. That's not to say there aren't other differences, just to establish that PRS's SE versions are set up every bit as well as you could hope for.
The SE 24 and 22 are famous models that most guitarists will be familiar with and possibly have played one at some point in their lives. The SE was always designed to be used by everyone from hard hitting riffers, to gentle Blues players, the guitars transitioning between a variety of styles with ease. With them being so popular, seeing them wearing a 'new for 2017' logo may make some people nervous as, let's face it, new doesn’t always mean better. So has PRS improved on an already great model, or will it be a case of 'if it ain’t broke don’t fix it'? And, anyway, why the two? Which should you choose? Be sure to have a look at the video where you can hear the guitars for yourself.
Guitar Interactive star rating: Four and a half stars
Finished in Scarlet Red, the 24 looks beautiful, sporting a new headstock logo and stunning finish throughout! But it's not just the headstock logo that's different as the 2017 models now have new pickups. PRS set out to engineer new pickups that better align with their flagship USA pickups, the Maryland company says. What it came up with are the new PRS 85/15 “S” pickups, designed to offer clarity and extended high and low end. These pickups are now offered on most of the SE range. The Custom 24 also has a coil tap, complete with three way blade switch. I'm a big fan of coil splitting. Having said that, while, theoretically, it should give you all the tonal options you ever need, in practice that's not always the case. It's inevitable when you split the coil that you also reduce the pickup's output, making the split coil sound far weaker than the humbucker, so there is a noticeable difference in volume. The good news is that this isn't the case with these two great new designs!
The new pickups on the 24 are fantastic sounding humbuckers, delivering just enough high output not to start sounding too muddy, nor becoming hard to tame. The bridge had plenty of bite but never sounded 'ice picky', making it great for cutting riffs through the mix, while the neck pickup offers plenty of bottom end with no loss of clarity, maintaining all the warmth. As I say, the split sound is also really top notch, yielding all those Strat like out-of-phase qualities that straight ahead humbuckers fail to deliver, and with the PRS set-up there wasn’t a noticeable difference in volume when splitting, which is great news as it means the split function is genuinely useable, when so often it isn't.
Moving on, the PRS designed tremolo with pop-in whammy bar worked very well with a smooth action. It was set-up to float slightly, and has an easy to access allen key screw to adjust the amount of play in the bar, all kept tightly in tune thanks to PRS's own tuners, which are also excellent.
This is a mahogany back and neck guitar, with a carved figured maple top, a set neck and an asymmetric bevel cut, making access to the higher end of the fretboard a breeze. The 24 fret and rosewood fingerboard was set up with a perfect action. The neck is very thin and comfortable to play, coupled with a set-up quality that makes this a very 'fast' player.
Mahogany combined with a maple top gives a very specific tone and when coupled with these new 85/15 S pickups everything you could hope for is there from, rich warm lows, bell like highs and scooped mids, meaning you can play most styles convincingly from twangy Country, through to hard Rock, which reinforces that quality guitarists have come to know and love from their SEs – that they are clearly meant for real players who will use them hard and take advantage of their huge versatility. I'm also happy to report that this guitar comes in at a shoulder friendly weight, meaning it naturally resonates well too.
As we have come to expect from PRS, the finish and attention to detail throughout was exceptional, right down to the company's trademark bird inlays everything was top end and you get a sense that this was designed and made with the serious player in mind.
Guitar Interactive star rating: Four and a half stars
Maybe we shouldn't have been surprised but when you come down to it, there really isn’t very much difference between these two newcomers, other than the number of frets they bear. The quality which we keep going on about was high enough to keep us going on about it (!), our sample 22 being finished in a gorgeous Whale Blue. PRS finishes really are a work of art and this was no exception.
So, what is the difference? Well, it's the lack of two frets, and it's important to say that two extra frets don’t make for a better guitar! This is just one of those areas, and there are plenty of them with guitars, where it's all a matter of personal taste and style. Many players prefer 22 fret instruments or even 21, as it gives a shorter scale length, and it can often be quite disorientating swapping from 22 to 24. Equally many players love the extra range and upper fret access that a 24 fret guitar can offer, so it really is a matter of personal taste.
The same woods are used in both guitars as, importantly, are the really very impressive new PRS 85/15 'S' pickups. They also share the excellent PRS designed tremolo. However, there are a couple of apparently small differences which might swing your mind one way or another, beside the question of how many frets they have. One is that the 22 lacks a coil tap. This is a shame as the PRS implementation works so well on the Custom 24 that we feel it would have been nice to see it on the 22, too. Also, the pickup selector switch on the Custom 22 is a toggle rather than a blade, and for some reason PRS has chosen to set it slightly behind the bridge, which makes fast pick up changes on the fly a bit tricky. These may seem like mere details but they are the kinds of things that can grow to bother you (or not) over time and for that reason we would really advise you to check out both these guitars and give them a good, long audition, assuming that the number of frets alone doesn't make one the automatic choice.
Playability, tone and set-up was just like the 24 - absolutely world class.
Straight out of the box both the 24 and 22 really were 'tune once, plug in and play with nothing to adjust' guitars - which is exactly what we have come to expect from PRS. These SE models may be made in South Korea and so arguably don't have the special 'magic' that a US-made guitar is thought by some to have, but if you didn't know, could you tell? And, if you couldn't, would you care? Again, these are matters of personal opinion. What we can say, however, is that great tones and sustain are at your finger tips with both these new SEs.
As for that big difference, the number of frets, it's indescribable in words. You just have to get out to a dealer and try these two for yourself. For some, that extra full two octave reach is going to be important, for others it won't be. They share the same neck type (the PRS Wide Thin design) and the same scale length (25”) so in the end it's all about the feel of having those two extra frets. If we were forced to describe a difference we'd have to go along with the manufacturer which describes the 22 as having a more 'vintage voice'. That's probably about as close as you can get. What really matters though is that whichever you buy isn't going to disappoint and is going to represent fantastic value for money. Put a gun to our collective heads and we'd opt for the 24 on account of the pickup selector placement and the inclusion of a coil tap – but it's close. Very, very close...