Paul Reed Smith SE Custom 24
Forget comparisons to the Maryland-made PRS’s, this is a damn fine instrument in its own right.
ince Paul Reed Smith introduced the Custom 24 in 1985, it has become one of the most collectable, sought after and respected guitars available. Where traditionally there was the “holy trinity” of guitars, the Les Paul, the Stratocaster and the Telecaster, the PRS Custom 24 genuinely lays claim to being the 4th in a quartet. Such is the stature of the model, for it has its own look, its own voice and feel, and has captured the public’s attention. Of course, one of the things that those who know PRS are all to familiar with is that they come with a healthy price tag. No doubt the money is worth it if you have owned a PRS, but thankfully PRS introduced its line of SE guitars, giving better access to the more financially challenged of us…oh, and the SE stands for Student Edition.
Legend has it that the SE line was actually Carlos Santana’s idea, arguably the most recognisable figure involved with PRS (though Paul Reed Smith himself is a very public face of the brand). The story goes that Santana was talking to Paul and said that he had students who would love to enjoy the quality of the PRS brand but just couldn’t afford one…and so the Student Edition was born. I don’t care if this legend is true or not, it makes for a great story!
The SE line is growing each year, with 7 models currently available and a whole lot more SE signature models. Check out their site for more information on the range, we’ll be focusing on the Custom 24 SE. Most recently, PRS introduced the S2 range, which is a curious introduction, seemingly jumping on the success of the SE line, but offering an American made alternative. The S2 line is understandably slightly more expensive that the SE range, and it will be interesting to see i) how they compare and ii) how they affect the future of the SE range.
Enough history, down to business
Whilst Fender and Gibson can offer guitars right down to entry level pricing (through their Studio, MIM, Epiphone and Squier brands) the SE line from PRS is not priced as an entry level guitar, and nor should it be. Mahogany body and neck, maple cap, expensively finished, nice pickups, thin fast neck…this is a guitar that even experienced artists will give a nod and a smile when playing.
Firstly, what strikes you is the overall finish on the PRS SE Custom 24, it’s just amazing. This is not really a surprise when you look at the back of the headstock and read “World Instrument Music Company, Korea”. For those who haven’t heard about this company, they have developed a reputation as being one of the finest guitar builders in Asia. YouTube guitar hero Rob Chapman opened the doors on the Korean factory by using them to make his own Chapman Guitars & the YouTube clips are certainly worth watching as he describes the process of making a guitar with them.
The model we’re testing is “whale blue” and is classically PRS, bright and bold. Initially you might think there is binding around the body, but that pale stripe is actually the maple cap that they have taped off before putting colour on. So it is a natural maple “binding” stripe, I just love this and wish more manufacturers used this technique.
If you see pictures of SE Custom 24 models prior to 2013, you will notice that they had a flat top, that is they are not carved maple. Whilst the current model is not carved a lot, it is a big step forward for me. It’s really starting to look like the USA made PRS. No doubt the carved top adds to the cost, I’m glad PRS decided to add this appealing finish to the SE.
The two PRS humbuckers are very good quality and offer a lot of versatility in tone. I don’t find them particularly “hot”,and I’d like them to be a little more dynamic, but it is a good sign of a quality instrument that when you dial back the tone a little, there is a very good response from the pickups. They don’t go muffled or flat, they just change…very important to me. Given this is a set neck mahogany body/neck setup, you would be forgiven for thinking that the tone is going to lean toward a Les Paul tone as opposed to Stratocaster, but I really find that it sits almost squarely in the middle. They can give a fat, dark tone, perhaps without the depth of a Gibson pickup in such a heavy body like a Les Paul, but equally you can get fairly articulate single coil tones. I’d like the pickups to be a little brighter and clearer, but they certainly don’t disappoint.
One thing that surprised me was the impressive amount of sustain that the PRS SE gives you. Chords can ring and ring and ring, and single notes will hold pretty much as long as you like, which really surprised me. On the test model, there was a great sweet spot at the 12th fret on the G string, curious…but with a distorted tone, it would feedback beautifully every time.
The Pickups do feature push/pull coil splitting via the tone control, this effectively gives you 6 distinct tones when combined with the 3 way switch. Overall, I find the PRS Custom 24 SE pickups to deliver a tone that is likely to appeal to a wide group of players, with the ability to find a lot of individuality using coil splitting and tone manipulation. Read my post on coil split vs coil tap if you’re not sure what this terminology means.
How does she play?
Let’s talk about playability, which is a function of a whole lot of characteristics. In terms of the neck feel, PRS necks are known to have a slim profile and the SE Custom 24 is no exception. Whilst not as thin as something like an Ibanez Wizard neck, it is getting pretty close. If you like necks which are more like a handfull, or a basball bat…this may not be the guitar for you – but I encourage you to try one – because once you’re used to the profile, it is so comfortable. Access to upper frets is always easy – you’ll never be stretching like you can with some instruments that have fatter necks and less cutaway underneath the neck. The neck on the SE is what PRS call “Wide Thin”, which has a width at the nut of 42.8mm (1 11/16″), width at the body of 57.1mm (2 1/4″) and a depth at the nut of just 19.8mm ( 25/32″)…which is super thin. It means that when you grip the neck near the nut (that is the end where the head stock is) it feels very compact…the thinnest in the PRS family. Fretboard radius is 10″, which will be familiar to most players.
The overall feel this gives is one of lightness and speed. If fact, the play ability is the strength of the PRS SE Custom 24. Our test model weighed in at 3.6kg (8.1 lbs), which is a little surprising. When you pick this guitar up, the neck and body shape trick you into thinking it is going to featherweight, but it’s actually pretty “standard” in weight. Now if your guitar feels lighter than it actually is, this is a good thing. It’s unlikely to make you feel tired after holding for a few hours.
Another major factor in playability is action, or string height. I was able to get the string height down extremely low, without any buzzing on frets. I understand that this has a lot to do with how well a guitar is setup, but it’s a testament to the build quality that I could achieve such low string height simply by lowing the strings using the bridge saddles. Low string height may not suit everyone, but at least you have the option with the SE. If you like it higher, just raise them up a couple of mm. But if you like it super low, you’ll be able to achieve that with the PRS SE.
The combination of the slim neck, compact feel and low action makes the PRS SE feel modern and capable. I also found that because this guitar has a compact feel, I could quite easily sit on a couch with it on my lap and play comfortably. So if you’re the type (like me) who will take any excuse to have a guitar in hand, even infront of the tv on the couch – the light feel of the PRS SE will suit you.
Let’s talk about birds
The bird inlays are a Paul Reed Smith calling card, their trademark. I find that this is a love/hate thing with guitarists. Some say they are beautiful, different and add to the artistry of the instrument. Others say they are flashy, unnecessary and just add to the cost. I’m definitely a fan, for me they add to the artistry and are a nice change from dots and trapezoids. The SE bird inlays differ slightly to the Maryland made Custom 24 inlays in that they are a solid shape. The USA made inlays are more complex in that they are just an outline and are slightly more defined around the edges. This is obviously a cost saving, but comparing the two, the solid inlays don’t really look like a cheap imitation, they just look different.
Reading over the review above, it’s kinda hard to find negatives. This is a seriously good guitar. I felt as though the pickups were slightly behind in terms of quality, when you compare to how well the guitar looks and plays. I just found them a little flat, though they are certainly not bad pickups and will appeal to most. I guess my main complaint, is that (currently) there is no hardtail variant of the Custom 24 in the SE line. The tremelo system is not the greatest and whenever I see pictures of this guitar, it is usually without the tremelo. In fact, the promotional video on the PRS website shows them using this exact guitar WITHOUT the tremelo arm attached. Many owners block the tremelo or just leave the tremelo arm off permanently. The new S2 line has a hardtail option in the Mira and the USA Custom 24 obviously has a high quality tremelo, but they also offer a hardtail version of the Custom 22. So maybe a Custom 22 SE or hardtail verison of the SE Custom 24 would be a good choice from PRS.
I have to say, the PRS SE Custom 24 is a fine instrument. Playability and finish are the highlights and the sound from the coil splitting pickups gives you a LOT of tone options at your fingertips. For the cost, you get an extremely well crafted guitar, a distinctive look and an instrument that will suit almost all genres.
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