REVIEW: Paul Reed Smith Signature Limited

Paul Reed Smith has many gorgeous signature models for artists like Carlos Santana, Alter Bridge/Creed’s Mark Tremonti, David Grissom and Al DiMeola, as well as SE models for Orianthi, Dave Navarro, Bernie Marsden, Opeth’s Mikael Akerfeldt and many more. The PRS GuitarsĀ Signature Limited is a signature model too, but you won’t find a specific artist named on the headstock. Instead this model has the backing of multiple artists: Howard Leese (Heart/Bad Company), Davy Knowles (when I told Davy I was reviewing the Signature Limited, he offered a few words: “It’s the only guitar I’ve played for ages now. So proud to be a part of it!”), Michael Ault, legendary guitar historian Tom Wheeler and Paul Smith himself. The model was launched at the 2011 Winter NAMM show as a 100-piece run through the company’s Private Stock division, but in 2012 the model has been shifted over to the core production line for a still-limited but much-larger, 400-piece run.

The 2012 Signature Limited features new Signature/408 treble and bass pickups, which look a lot like those on the original but are no doubt informed by an extra year of feedback from the artists. Other features appear very similar to last year’s Private Stock version, and it can be hard to tell them apart from a distance, colour aside: Figured Artist-grade maple top, mahogany back, sinker mahogany neck with a rosewood fretboard, 22 frets, 25″ scale length, ‘Pattern’ neck shape, beautiful two-tone bird inlays made of paua in the centre and mother of pearl around the outside; and a rosewood veneer headstock with paua Paul Reed Smith signature and mother of pearl ‘Signature Limited’ inlay.

The hardware list includes the option of either PRS Stoptail or PRS Tremolo bridges, while standard features across both versions include ‘hybrid’ hardware (a combination of gold and chrome looks – very tasty), PRS Phase III locking tuners, and an electronics set incorporating master volume and tone controls, a three-way pickup selector switch and two mini toggles which split each pickup into single coil mode.

Here’s what I consider to be a revolutionary design choice: the pickups are very cleverly designed to maintain the same volume when you switch between humbucker and single coil configurations. This solves a huge problem commonly encountered when splitting a humbucker into a single. How does it do it? When you switch to single coil mode on the Signature Artist, the circuit turns one coil of the humbucker off and actually adds extra wire turns to the other one, beefing up its output and making it act much more like a ‘regular’ fully-wound single coil. For each pickup, the coil closer to the neck is the one that gets activated in single mode.

Colour options are Black Gold Wraparound, Charcoal Burst, Ezira Verde (that’s the colour in the pic above – nice huh?), Faded Abalone and Fire Red Burst.

After plugging the Signature Limited into my Marshall DSL50, the thing that really became apparent straight away was the sheer usability of the pickup switching system. It’s set out logically, but more importantly every sound is useful. And I’d grown so accustomed to ‘regular’ coil splitting and the volume drop that accompanies it that the beefier single coil sounds here were kind of jarring at first, until I got used to them and started to really see what they were capable of.

The bridge humbucker tones are warm and vocal, with that bold PRS midrange which works just as well for crunchy power chords as it does for screaming leads. The neck humbucker is thick and full of sustain, and it’s great for really digging in with the pick and for long, singing notes. Each pickup’s single coil mode maintains some of the humbucker mode’s tonal voice but adds grit and zing while taking away some of the thickness: each almost sounds like a fat, overwound but very quiet 60s-style Strat single coil rather than a twangy 50s sound. And the combination settings are great, my favourites being both pickups together in single coil mode, and both together with the bridge in single mode and the neck as a humbucker. This brings out the string detail while maintaining that full, singing lead quality, and it’s one of the best blues-rock tones I’ve ever heard coming out of my amp.

Playability is of course up to PRS’s high standard, and the tremolo bridge is one of the most stable non-locking varieties you’ll find.

It’s hard to find things not to like about this guitar. If you’re into metal styles, the dynamic range and the midrange oomph will probably go against what you’re looking for. And if you need super clean tones that play a supportive role rather than an up-front one, this guitar might be a bit bold for the mix. But for rock, jazz, blues, country, and pretty much anything that requires up-front tones with cut, clarity and edge,

The Signature Limited is a guitar that rewards nuanced playing, and which is designed to work with the player and their amplifier in equal measure. It’s capable of an astounding range of tones, yet each sounds like a carefully thought out function of the guitar, rather than a byproduct of a switching system.

[geo-out country=”Australia” note=””]This is an extended version of a review I originally wrote for Mixdown Magazine.[/geo-out]