This is quite possibly the best electric guitar ever. Seriously. As in, “since the dawn of time” ever. I have always like Strats. I even own a Strat. A lot of my favorite players are (or were) Strat guys. Guys like Eric Johnson, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Jimi Hendrix, Lincoln Brewster… all phenomenal players and all Strat guys. They also have a lot more skill than I will ever have on the guitar so they also have great tone. Tone is more than just the gear — it’s how you play, it’s your phrasing, your attack, your fingers… everything. So since I’ll never be as good as these guys, but I can still hear their tone in my head, my quest to produce that tone through gear is almost never ending. Until now…
The Paul Reed Smith Swamp Ash Special model has never really had a strong appeal to me. It’s a cool guitar, with a maple neck (which I like) and has decent split coil tones to draw out the Stratness that I like, almost to a fault. Even though I like Strat tone, I could never get the tone in my head to come out with a Strat or any other single coil/split coil configuration. So to end my pain, PRS has created a new pickup for the 25th year anniversary models called “narrowfields.” They are basically underwound 57/08s with the pole pieces squeezed closer together so they pick up a “narrower” portion of the string as they vibrate. They are humbuckers so they have no hum (obvious, I know), they have more windings than a single coil so they are hotter output and the tone is extremely Strat-like. One guy describes them as “Strat on crack.” All I know is they are the epitome of Stratness that I’ve always heard in my head. The overall tone is “thicker” with nice highs like a single coil but better bass response that’s clear and not muddy like typical humbuckers.
So… what follows are my thoughts on my 2010 PRS SASNF in Scarlett Smokeburst (aka… red ‘burst). I’ve had it about 3 months now and it’s absolutely my #1 guitar. I’ll play others based on what we’re doing, but for 90% of what we play, this is the guitar I use now. First up is the case:
Yeah, it’s really that white. I think the 25th anniversary cases look cool and all, but after hauling that along with another guitar, floorboard, etc. to my weekly practice and gig for a couple of weeks resulted in the purchase of a new gig bag and a parking spot on the top of a shelf in the master bedroom closet for the case. Cases are great protection, but not at the expense of being a dirt magnet and throwing my back out. I can imagine guys rating the cleanliness of these cases after a few years.
In terms of tone, I figured I’d just let some sound clips do the talking. I play 3 different phrases and each phrase is played with the 5-way in each different position, starting at the bridge pickup and going to the neck. It’s pretty obvious when I’m changing the switch.
These were all recorded direct into my X3 Live and then into Ableton Live and then converted to 128Kbit MP3s.
The build quality is awesome. It’s a bolt on maple neck (like my 24CE, and most Strat style guitars) that has great flame to it. The knobs are easy to get to and the 5-way is immediately familiar. As always, PRS finishes are top notch. While mine is a two piece top, there are quite a few of these out there with 3 piece tops. As such, there’s quite a bit of variety. If you’re shopping for one of these, and you have to pre-order, make sure you have the option of seeing it before taking delivery to make sure you like the top.
PRS trems are always floating, and do a great job of staying in tune. But if you’re used to a Strat’s non-floating trem setup, this may not be what you’re looking for. As with all floating trems, when you do string bends, all the strings will go slightly out of tune so if you’re bending against open strings (think the open E followed by the bends in the intro of “Cliffs of Dover”), it’s something you have to “plan for.” The good news is these pickups are on a couple of other models (the ME3 and the McNF — the McCarty narrowfield). Both of these are stoptail designs and also maple tops instead of swamp ash. The ME3 would be a nice to have because it’s got 3 pickups, but the Modern Eagles are always priced at a premium.
I’m sufficiently enamored with the narrowfield pickups that I plan on getting a McCarty Narrowfield as well. The thicker body and maple top should provide some tonal variety and the stoptail bridge will be nice to have for quick alt tuning changes. Prior to getting this guitar, I was considering getting a 513 or a 305 to fill my desire for PRS constructed Stratness. Unfortunately for PRS, this one guitar takes care of that for me. But fortunately for them, I see other narrowfield guitars in my future.
So, in short, if you’re a Strat guy, you really should try one of these out. If you can work a deal to get one on approval for a couple of weeks or borrow one, do it. While this is a 25th anniversary model, I asked PRS himself at this year’s Dallas International Guitar festival about this model and he said they’d be continuing this one post 25th. That good, and also not surprising since I’m sure it’s pretty expensive to tool up for a new pickup configuration like these. It’s different rings, different routing, the whole deal. I doubt they’d go to that effort for one year’s batch. Here’s one last “art” shot:
I’m hoping they do some Customs with Narrowfields, kind of like their
soapbar Customs — 3 pickups, maple top, trem and a wide thin neck
option. Then I’ll be done buying guitars.