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This article was originally published in issue #48
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To round things up the Santana SE is everything you would expect from PRS. A visually beautiful instrument, constructed from premium woods, with a high build and sound quality.
An affordable, accurate version of the PRS Santana signature guitar
Good sounding, well balanced instrument.
For the non-Santana fan the lack of coil tapping could be an issue
New for 2017, PRS has revised its SE Santana model taking it to the third generation. Jamie Humphries samples the most authentic and affordable Santana SE yet.
Carlos Santana has always been known for his exquisite tone and over the years he has used several guitars to get it, notable among them Gibson SGs and his elaborately decorated Yamaha solids. In the early 1980s, however, Santana began using PRS guitars, being one of the first major players to use the young luthier's custom made guitars, following a meeting back stage at a show when Paul Reed Smith presented Carlos with one. The relationship with Smith grew and resulted in the first signature model being released in the late '80s. Over the years Santana and PRS have enjoyed a very long and successful relationship resulting a variety of variations of the Santana model. In 2009 PRS introduced the 25th Anniversary Santana model, celebrating 25 years of their creative partnership with a beautiful and collectable guitar.
Sadly, guitars as special as the US-made 25th Anniversary don't come cheap but fortunately, due to the popularity of the Santana guitar, the company recognised the importance of introducing a more affordable version, which resulted in the release of the Santana SE in 2001. Originally made in Japan, these more affordable versions of the original Santana model featured a stripped down look; a mahogany body minus the flame top. Later, the SE II was released, now built in Korea and featuring some visual enhancement including sparkle finishes, uncovered pickups and a small scratch plate. And now there's a new version for 2017, which more closely resembles the US made Santana model.
Visually this guitar is the nearest out of the three models to what we see Santana play. Before, the SE featured a non-symmetrical body shape, which has been replaced with a symmetrical one to the exact specifications of its bigger brother. The lower horn features a cutaway aiding easy access to the upper frets.
The top of the body is constructed from maple with a flame maple veneer, available in orange or classic Santana yellow. The back of the body is mahogany. The glued on mahogany neck features a fat/wide profile with a rosewood fingerboard. It boasts a 24.5” scale length, and includes 24 frets. The styling of the guitar has been improved greatly with the inclusion of the trademark bird inlays. The hardware includes six PRS designed tuners, as well as a PRS patented vintage style tremolo; all the hardware features a nickel finish. The guitar features a very simple electronics layout and includes a pair of SE Santana pickups in the neck and bridge in black and crème zebra style. The pickups are controlled with a single volume and tone control as well as a three-way toggle switch.
The finish of this guitar is perfect, just what you would expect from such a revered guitar company, and is visually striking with it beautiful figured maple veneer top. The beautiful dark rosewood neck is a striking contrast to the bird inlays making them really stand out, and add the PRS class to this surprisingly affordable guitar.
Holding the guitar it balances perfectly when held in a playing position; no heavy headstock here! The guitar is a great weight and won’t break your back on those lengthy jam sessions. Acoustically the guitar is rich and loud, and a good insight of what’s to come when plugged in. My only slight complaint was that for my tastes the string gauge was a little light, and would have felt tighter and sturdier with a slightly heavier gauge of strings.
Plugged in, and this guitar really comes to life, and a wide variety of tones is available. I used a Mesa Boogie Kingsnake Santana model amp for the demo as I was also recording the Santana Tech Session for this issue and wanted to get as close to the perfect sound as possible. Set to a clean tone, the SE produced very rich warm woody tones in the neck position, and in the bridge a brighter tone, but not thin. There’s plenty of clean headroom from the guitar, as the pickups are not too hot, so cleans are achievable in the bridge position without clipping and breaking up. Check out the full video review.
For a dirty tone I pushed the amp harder and added a Dunlop Shin-juku drive. The bridge pickup has a rich bite, with plenty of harmonic overtones at your fingertips; ideal for those long spine tingling Santana style sustaining notes. The neck and middle position produce beautiful classic tones, and with some tone rolled of you can produce that vocal vowel like Santana tone; perfect for expressive lead melodies. With a smooth curve on the volume control it’s possible to roll back to a cleaner tone, and then up to a searing lead tone, just by turning the volume knob. The tone control was also very effective, and used in conjunction with the various pickup selections, and different volume settings help produce some beautiful soulful tones. Although not to Santana’s spec, I can’t help but think that the SE would have benefited from a coil tap. But saying that there are plenty of tones to be had from this fine instrument.
To round things up the Santana SE is everything you would expect from PRS. A visually beautiful instrument, constructed from premium woods, with a high build and sound quality. This guitar delivers on all levels, and is ideal for both the Santana fans and the guitar player looking for a versatile high quality instrument at a good price. My only complaint with this instrument was a couple of minor set-up issues, namely the slightly lighter strings, which need a good stretching in. But after that the guitar performed well. You can also hear it in action on my Santana Tech Session. Pairing this guitar with the Kingsnake Boogie was a winning combination and helped me nail that classic Santana tone. A fantastic guitar for a very attractive price. Highly recommended!