She’s finished! First she looked like this…
Then something like this happened…
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Paul Reed Smith is rightfully known for their great mahogany body/maple top set-neck guitars, and rightly so: they sound great, they play great and their build quality is stunning. PRS has made a few attempts at other body materials and construction techniques over the years. Enter the DC3 (above) and NF3 (below).
First up, the DC3. Its body is made of alder. There’s a bolt-on rock maple neck with a maple fretboard featuring simple ring dot inlays (look close and you’ll see a ring of white around the black – nice). The scale length is 25.25″, and there are 22 big, chunky frets. The neck shape is PRS’s ‘Pattern Regular’ shape, which is similar to the traditional PRS guitars made in the late 80s at the company’s former Virginia Avenue location. PRS use modern tooling and programming to ensure perfect replication of the neck shape from guitar to guitar.
The bridge is PRS’s famous vintage-style bridge with steel components, which PRS says particularly matches the tonal quirks of single coil-toned guitars like the DC3. At the other end of the strings, the tuners are PRS Phase III locking models that perform admirably. It still feels a little odd seeing a Paul Reed Smith with a plain maple headstock.
So: those pickups. They’re based on PRS’s award-winning 513 model platform. They’re partnered to a five way blade pickup selector switch, a volume control and a tone control. The pickup covers feature a graceful curve which mirrors the fretboard radius, and frankly they look super-cool.
Available options include bird inlays, a rosewood fretboard and gold hardware.
The NF3 isn’t entirely far removed from the DC3 on the surface, but there are several key spec differences. For starters, the NF3’s body is made of korina, a relative of mahogany. Whereas the alder of the DC3 is a wood known for its clear highs and tight lows, korina is a little warmer like mahogany but with a bit more high-end ‘snap’ and a nice kick in the midrange. The NF3’s streaky grain shows through quite nicely indeed.
The neck is bolt-in rock maple with a maple fret board, again accented with ring dots. The scale length is 25 1/4″, and the frets are again satisfyingly chunky, as is the back of the neck. The bridge is Paul Reed Smith’s legendary tremolo, which has six-screw operation but with more lateral stability for the saddles compared to traditional designs.
The NF3 is named after its pickup configuration: three Narrowfield pickups. These humbuckers use the same wire as PRS’s awesome 57/08 humbuckers, but they feature narrower pole spacing and are deeper front-to-back. New features added to the model for 2011 include PRS’s V12 finish, which is a thin, hard and clear finish designed to not crack or react with thinners. PRS has been working on this for 12 years, and they describe it as being halfway between acrylic and nitro but with a feel all its own. The other new 2011 feature is the Pattern Regular neck.
Model options include rosewood fretboard, bird inlays and gold hardware. The test guitar had the gold bridge upgrade.
Comparing the NF3 and DC3 side-by-side is an eye-opening experience. Both are similar in several key ways, but radically different in other, equally important features.
The DC3’s tones are clear and snappy like you might expect from an alder-bodied, three single coil bolt-on guitar with a maple neck, but they veer more toward the warm end of the spectrum than the twangy end. There’s a bit of growl and smokiness there, and a lot of ridiculously expressive playing dynamics. If you’re the kind of player who likes to use a warm overdrive and plenty of playing dynamics, you’ll love how the DC3 gives back whatever you put into it.
The tone control takes the edge off the bridge pickup nicely, taking it from bright to sweet. And the combined positions sound utterly funky.
The neck itself feels pretty thick, but it doesn’t get in the way of playing – methinks the big frets play a big role in making it feel so damn playable. You can really dig in and wail on this axe, and although blues and rock players will love it, even shredders raised on humbuckers will feel right at home thanks to the fullness of the pickups and the comfort of the neck.
The NF3 sounds incredible. The reduced treble and increased midrange usually associated with humbuckers is present, but the attack is much more direct thanks to the narrower area of string being sensed by each pickup. This translates a little more of the ‘string noise’ than you would usually hear from humbuckers, and it makes expressive chordal playing styles such as fingerpicking really speak. The neck pickup sounds gorgeously juicy, especially when you really dig in and the pickup throws out an almost vowel-like response. The middle is balanced and full, great for chording. And the bridge bucker is punchy and powerful, with great attack, sustain and harmonics. The in-between settings sound great too, with a strong grindy pick attack on the low strings and a nice ring to the high ones.
The maple fretboard feels great – very touch-responsive – and the back of the neck is chunky without feeling like it’s slowing you down.
Okay, here’s where I make a shocking revelation. I’ve played some incredible Paul Reed Smithsand they’re beautiful guitars that I always look forward to playing, but I’ve never played any before that felt like my guitar. The DC3 has changed all that. This is an instrument that I would happily call my own if I didn’t have to tearfully hand it back after this review.
The NF3 might seem like an unusual guitar for PRS to make – three mini humbuckers, bolt-on, a solid slab of korina – but it makes perfect sense once you start to play it. It’s capable of rock, blues, country, jazz, indie and even guitar hero noodling. It sounds at once tough and sensitive, with plenty of note detail but also the oomph to back it up. It’s a truly addictive playing experience and it also looks so good that you could be forgiven for just sitting it in the corner and staring at it for a few hours.
So which would I choose? Well, obviously the DC3, after the impression it made on me. The NF3 is a damn fine guitar too, but there’s just something about that DC3 – we had a bond, man!
Aaron Kusterer, an absolutely monstrous guitarist (and Buddy Blaze artist) who I met by chance in California in January (when our Santa Ana flights were cancelled and we found ourselves on the same shuttle to LAX) is preparing to release his album Language Of Emotion. Check out this teaser video!