For those of you who are not familiar with the now 32-year-young Paul Reed Smith guitar company, hang on to your whammy bars…it’s about to get wild in here!
For a glimpse into the sweetness, let’s fade back in time a bit with me here to set the stage…
It was another jammin’ weekend in the early 2000s. I had my Jackson Dinky strat and was plowin’ through the set list once again and tryin’ to enjoy the moment. Unfortunately, this was hard due to the fact that my Dinky kept going out of tune way too often, even to the point where by the end of a song it’d be noticeably whacked. Didn’t matter how tight I put the locking tuners.
After the gig, my sound man says,”Dude. You gotta get a new guitar.” Now, as anyone who’s ever had serious G.A.S. before knows, those words are GOLDEN. It means, to anyone who asks, I’m not buying a new piece of gear because I simply want it; no. Oh no! No, no, NO – I NEED this axe!! The freakazoid sound man demanded it of me!! I submit!!
Being more than happy to oblige, we both went to our local Guitar Center to see if there were any hot deals. We walked in, and within two minutes…I saw it. Hanging high on the wall…out of reach, lit from above, glowing like the elusive grail for which I, the knight on mission, had quested my whole life…it’s cherry wood grain washing over me like waves of enchantment: the Paul Reed Smith CE24!
Now, they had quite a few PRS guitars, but THIS one was a recent trade-in and was significantly lower in price than all the new ones. They took it down for me and I played it. I gazed at it. I fell in love.
Thirteen hundred dollars later I went home with one of the best investments of my life. This beautiful soaring bird has flown solidly and without breakdown for over 15 years now, with never a repair and hardly a need for maintenance (tho’ I still give it one occasionally).
Come with me; let me tell you aaaaaaaall about it….
My own personal PRS axe is a “Black Cherry” 1997 Classic Electric, or CE, 24-fret, 25″ scale model. It features a beautifully carved solid mahogany body, hard maple neck, rosewood fingerboard, medium frets, a PRS Tremolo system, volume and tone knobs, and the PRS 5-position rotary knob for pickup configuration, and the awesome winged, locking PRS tuners that I can’t say enough about.
Truly a guitar worth all the pennies I broke my piggy bank for….and there were a lot!
They say the whole is bigger than the sum of its parts, and the PRS CE guitar is no exception. Beyond question, this is the most versatile, high quality, ‘fall-in-love-all-over-again-when-I-play-you’ guitar I’ve ever owned. And I’ve owned quite a few.
I’ll start with my favorite feature: the PRS TUNERS. Talk about advanced technology! I wish every single guitar EVER had these tuners. They are brilliantly designed and make changing strings so easy it’s unbelievable. Here’s the dealio: there is no hole on the posts. Instead, there’s a groove next to the post that you slip the string into. Then, when you start winding the peg, it catches the groove, starts moving it clockwise around the peg, and the string is instantly held securely on the post.
On top of that, you won’t even have to go one whole turn before the string is in tune!! No string winders needed here. Fast, secure, instant tuning. Changing electric strings has never been easier on any other guitar, AND the tuning is extremely stable, rarely going out.
If you start really whomping on the trem bar then (because it’s not a true locking system like the Floyd Rose) you’ll get some drift, but, again, not as much as you’d expect. I’ve played this in literally hundreds of gigs and never had an issue during performance with tuning. Rock, country, jazz, pop…it’s done it all, and kept me in lovely just intonation the whole time!
My next favorite thing has to be the PRS pickups and the 5-way Rotary Selection system. Lemme put it simply: I’ve not been able to get so many diverse, usable sounds out of one guitar ever. Each one of the five detente positions gives you a guitar sound that is, right out of the gate, just what’s needed for standard modern-day guitar expression. Here’s the breakdown:
The fifth position is the raunchiest. When I want to solo, I switch it there and immediately get so much beef and breadth and width – the sound is immense!! Spotlight find me NOW!!! The fourth position is an excellent choice for double-stop chording or palm-muted arpeggiating. The middle position is where I hang when I need standard chordal backing; the EQ there is just right – not too in your face but not scared to be noticed by the crowd. Second position is my go-to rhythm sound for funky rides in the pocket with the band – we’re talkin’ chicken-picking, see-saw Wah ridin’, staccato R&B, wacka-wacka….ladies & gentleman, the funk starts here! Finally, the first position, or “neck position” is a very clear, untainted sound that I use for all things clean but shimmery.
There. Can you believe you can get all that out of one guitar? Believe it! I was amazed. I still am. But I’m all smiles in wonder.
I also have to mention here the whammy. Now, I grew up with Eddie Van Halen as my hero, so the Floyd Rose and I go way back. And if I’m doing really outrageous whammy-driven music and solos, then, by all means, bring on my EVH Wolfie! But if not…I prefer this trem setup.
The coolest part of it is that it doesn’t flop around or let gravity drag it down so I have to reach for it – wherever I last leave it is where it stays, so it’s always within reach, such that I never even have to look. This makes for excellent “closed-eyes-epic-guitar-solo” moments that look so good in the spotlight, and even better on the cover of your favorite music mag (‘Performing Songwriter’ was mine)!
Since 1997, when my axe was lovingly put together, PRS has come out with more and more high-end, drool-worthy guitars, and even introduced a lower-priced introductory line that has done well. The CE actually saw its production terminated in 2008, but re-introduced again, with modifications, in 2016. So if you want what I’ve got you’ve got two options: surf EBay and CraigsList for an older model (don’t worry, they’re built to last) or try one of the new CEs and get to know the latest iteration of a classic instrument.
The reputation of Paul Reed Smith’s company is one of superb craftsmanship, a pioneering technological drive that implements new, patented improvements with astounding frequency, and a penchant for beauty in the details as well as the overall look of any instrument with the PRS name on it. That reputation over the decades since the 80s has only improved, and you can be sure that if you invest in one of his killer axes, you will be introducing into your hands a work of expertise and imagination unparalleled in the guitar world. This…is the real deal. This is the work of a “Geppetto” who earned the magic to make his “Pinocchio” come alive by loving his craft, being fastidious about every detail, and producing works that made the world a better place through expert functionality and distinctive, innovative allure. Truly pieces sure to trigger G.A.S. attacks for many years to come.
Check out his guitars and see what I mean. You’ll probably have to ask a rep to get one for you, as PRS guitars are typically not left on the floor for just anyone to try. Shops do like to hang them high, out of reach, on a wall tho’, lit handsomely. They know it only stokes our enticement…and pays for their next Paul Reed Smith axe!