Paul Reed Smith Semi CE24 Reclaimed Wood Review
I'm lucky enough to have come into possession of a PRS limited edition semi hollow ce 24 made from ~100 year old reclaimed wood from Brazil. Here's my take on this guitar:
1.) First thoughts
Gorgeous. The inconsistency of the reclaimed wood is cool, and I'm lucky to have landed one with a gorgeous grain and unique reddish-brown hue. The satin nitro finish really is thin, and you can feel all the imperfections in the ~100 year old wood.
This is definitely not a strat. I've played strats exclusively, by choice, for over 10 years now. PRS made their name trying to bridge the gap between strats and Les Pauls, and this guitar is certainly neither. The body is just slightly smaller, and positioning my right arm will require a bit of mindfulness, but no big deal.
The 25" scale is magical. Just a hair noticeable in the upper register, but by and large, difficult chords are much more comfortable. The neck is quite a bit different from the standard vintage strat radius which I've grown to love over the years. It's a bit wider, narrower, and the radius is quite a bit more flat than what I'm used to. Again, no deal breaker, just different.
I'm very excited to explore the upper register of this instrument. I'm used to 21 frets, so having 24 (a full 4 octaves!) is exciting. There is a bit of a mental hurdle to get over with the neck meeting the body at fret 22. Fenders and Gibsons meet at around fret 17 or so, so it looks like I'm playing in a lower area than where I actually am. It's purely mental, and will disappear in a few weeks, I'm sure.
The tone of this instrument is amazing. Every frequency is so clear. Strats have a bass deficiency, Les Pauls have a treble deficiency. I hear bass, mids, and treble equally with this guitar. This axe can truly be a workhorse for any type of gig. More on that below.
What sold me on this instrument was a semi hollow, 24 fret guitar with a strat-like vibrato bar for under 2k. The limited edition, reclaimed wood stuff is not of any importance to me. After playing it a few days, I felt the action was a tad too high for my tastes, and lowering the saddles was not an issue for me. Just like doing it on a strat. The PRS 'low mass tuners' look a bit daunting, but I figured out how to efficiently restring a guitar with vintage Klusons, so it can't be that hard, right? Famous last words.
Two humbucking pickups with coil taps offer a huge variety of sounds. The official PRS promotional material describes the sound of the peroba rosa (the top wood) as 'punchier' than your typical semi hollow. I would agree, but add a few more descriptors. It has a very unique 'quack' or 'spank' to it. Having preferred strats for the past 10 years or so, this quack, or spank, is not that of a strat. It's certainly unique, and rolling off the tone knobs can coax the instrument into some familiar tones.
3.) Neck Pickup
Rolling off the tone knob down to around 4 or so, there are some very convincing jazz box tones. Not exact, but this will certainly be my go to guitar for any sort of swinging affair. Playing through a high end solid state amp at a jam session, I was also able to nail the Rosenwinkel tone. I've read he uses a Twin. Feel free to write a blog on how wrong I am for thinking I can get his tone through a solid state amp. If you knew what a tube snob I am, you'd understand the loftiness of me saying there have been some pretty good solid state amps to come out in the past few years.
Coming back to around 7 or so on the tone knob brightens the sound where this could easily be used on rock tunes and gutbucket blues as well.
In the past, I'd never been a fan of coil taps because the drop in volume was a huge turnoff. Perhaps I've matured as a player, or maybe PRS has really nailed it with these pickups. But, coming back up on the tone knob upon engaging the pull aspect of the push-pull pot brightens the sound significantly enough where the volume loss is negligible. I'm going to take responsibility here and blame my previous distaste for push-pull pots on being a ~19 year old kid and not full understanding the importance of using your tone knobs (you need to be using your tone knobs).
4.) Both Pickups Engaged
I'm going to start with the single coil setting because this spot is fairly unique, tone-wise. It sounds to me like when the single coils are engaged, that the coil closest to the neck is on, and that the coil closest to the bridge is engaged. With both on there's a very unique out of phase sound where I would hesitate to use the word telecaster, but what other guitar is known for that type of sound? There's video of Guthrie Govan playing 'Donna Lee' at some conference (NAMM, I assume), and at one point he gets a similar tone on his Suhr.
As unique as the out of phase setting is, it does leave me with little to say about both humbuckers engaged. It's great, and usable, I personally have just never dug the sound of two humbucking pickups on at the same time. Feel free to write your own blog about how wrong I am for feeling that way.
5.) Bridge Pickup
Magic. I'm a big fan of the fat (or is it phat?) neck pickup tones of a strat. Bell tones, whatever people refer to them as, where the words 'fat' and 'juicy' are common descriptors. The bridge pickup (remember you're dealing with a long term strat guy) can get a little too 'icepick to the forehead' for me; however modding my strats so there's tone control on the bridge pickup was a godsend (that only took me 20 years to start doing).
So these 85/15 pickups by PRS really do things. And one of those things is balance. The bridge pickup gets just as fat and juicy as the neck pickup can, and rolling off the tone knob gets some very, very Scofield-esque tones. Think the 'Steady Groovin' blue note compilation or 'Hammock Soliloquy' from the 'En Route' album. There's no bass deficiency on the bridge setting either, it's very full sounding with a unique growl whether it's got both coils activated or just one.
6.) Overall thoughts
This guitar is perfect for me because of the diversity of tones. Whether I'm playing a gig doing standards, my original music, or as a hired gun; there is nothing lacking in the sound or playability.
Living in New York, I have to carry everything I plan on using on a gig with me on the subway. The last thing I want is to carry 2 guitars with me, and that won't be an issue. It can faithfully reproduce tones you know, love, and need (if you're working as a sideman); but there are many possibilities to carve out something new that hasn't been heard yet either. I'm really looking forward to the tones this guitar will provide me with.
Adam Douglass has been playing guitar for 25 years and teaching for a good 20. He currently resides in Brooklyn, New York where he is an instructor; and plays with his band doing his original music, jazz standards, or whatever other gigs might come his way. His guitar of choice is the Fender Stratocaster, though if money were no object he'd have 3 or 4 of everything. He prefers tube screamer-like overdrives and clean boosts, with touch of analog delay. Hit him up at firstname.lastname@example.org, as he is always happy to discuss interesting topics.