Check this out! I know a lot of folks have been asking for a seven-string PRS SE. Well here ya go! It has 24 frets, 25″ scale length, maple neck with rosewood fretboard, bird inlays, mahogany body with a maple top (with flame maple veneer), SE HFS and Vintage pickups and through-body stringing. Available in Royal Blue and Vintage Sunburst.
Tommy Emmanuel is one of the world’s greatest guitar treasures. He’s on the road pretty much constantly in the US, Europe and Asia; Chet Atkins famously conferred upon him the title of CGP (Certified Guitar Player); and he’s generally regarded as the finest fingerpicker in the world. But his skills were developed from an early age as a child star playing all over Australia in the Emmanuel family band, and he proudly plays Melbourne-made Maton guitars. And Tommy never forgets where he came from, returning home regularly to thrill audiences with his acoustic and electric brilliance. Tommy toured Australia 18 months ago with his brother Phil, and that tour featured plenty of electric guitar playing and a full band. But he’s back right now to play a run of acoustic dates, with special guest Frank Vignola.
Tommy was something of an underground guitar hero in the 1980s but he came to the attention of the Australian music world at large with the release of his album Determination in 1992, and its 1993 follow-up The Journey. The associated tours took Tommy and his band all around the country, playing to regional audiences not often visited by instrumental guitar acts. “That’s right,” Tommy says. “Half the guys still don’t go to Perth because it’s so far to get over there and it’s hard for them to make the kind of money they’re looking for. But I always do Perth, no matter what. You’ve got to!”
Recently I realised my beloved Ibanez RG370 needed a fret job. It was my first good electric guitar – Father Christmas gave it to me brand new in 1993 – and it’s seen thousands of hours of service over the years. Finally a pretty substantial buzz developed around the 15th fret. After hearing lots of great things about his work I took it to Joseph Price at Soxy Music here in Melbourne, and the dude really seemed to know his stuff. We got to chatting and his story sounded pretty damn interesting, so a while later I came back with a camera in one hand and my voice recorder in the other. Here’s our little chat!
So how did you get started?
I started dabbling in tweaking guitars – I guess what people call setups – when I was 15. I got a Paul Reed Smith, which I still own. It came with .009s and I thought, “What would this sound like with .010s? Then I tried .011s and all these things. Then I started with my friends’ guitars. And when I was 17 I had that guitar refretted at the best guitar shop in London, who should have done a good job and were very capable, but basically they cut the fret slots too deep so it weakened the neck. I didn’t understand what was wrong but I knew that something was wrong, and I knew by their reacction and me being unhappy that they knew something was wrong as well. So I spat the dummy and went “Well I’m gonna buy some tools, and I’m gonna show you!” I started buying up cheap plywood Yamaha Strats, and I would rip the frets out and refret them. After about ten goes I started to learn what works and what doesn’t, and I moved to Glasgow in Scotland to study, where I worked part time for a violin repair guy. And he showed me, “this is a hand plane, this is a chisel,” and he taught me more useful information about wood, grain direction, run-out, all of these old-school things which helped me to start to build guitars. But it was mentally quite a big jump from repairing to building, and realising they’re quite separate disciplines.
Today I had the huge honour of spending about an hour with Paul Reed Smith himself for a huge interview which will be posted on I Heart Guitar soon. We talked about a lot of very interesting stuff – various PRS pickups, signature artists, the growth of the SE division, PRS’s wood stocks, and much more. One thing I wish we’d touched on but didn’t was this beauty: the PRS Guitars “Stripped” 58 model. Originally offered as a limited run for Experience PRS in 2011, this guitar is based on the popular SC 58, but with some changes which make it more affordable but no less desirable. It has a 24.5″ scale length, 22 frets on a rosewood fretboard, moon inlays (with bird option), mahogany neck and body, plus a curly maple top (with a 10-top option). The pickups are a set of 57/08 humbuckers (which sound amazing) and there’s an individual volume and tone control for each pickup. The guitar also has PRS’s two-piece bridge, which is machined rather than cast, for greater resonance. Just look at that thing. That tailpiece is so chunky that I think I can hear it making my computer monitor more resonant just by being displayed on it.
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 Guitars 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.
It can be an intimidating thing to stand up on stage with one of the greats and be expected to match them lick for lick, night after night. But that’s what Nick Catanese does. As second guitarist in Zakk Wylde’s Black Label Society, Catanese has to keep up with Zakk’s killer riffs, hold down the fort when the Wylde one takes a solo, and even handle some pretty high-profile leads of his own when required. Catanese has a reputation as a hard-working, reliable player who gets the job done with efficiency, energy and stage presence. And although his role is mainly a live one, Catanese has put in the hard yards to earn a rather nice Paul Reed Smith SE signature model.
Catanese recently took the opportunity to redesign his SE model. The original version was a more modern-looking, aggressive black and red affair, while the new one has more of a classic look. “It’s basically the same weight, dimensions, frets, everything, but the red flame top, all the chrome, the Chrome EMG pickups… we’re trying to go with the ’57 Chevy look,” Catanese says. “But it has the same neck dimensions. I like thick necks. No fret markers. The thing that’s different with this one is, on my first one I thought I was being cool when I put red fret dots on it, which looked cool in the light, but when the lights went down I couldn’t see anything! I had no fret markers or dots, so I was pretty screwed!”
I recently had the chance to talk guitar backstage with Alter Bridge guitarist Mark Tremonti prior to the band’s sideshow with Steel Panther during the monstrous Soundwave festival. Alter Bridge are about to release a live DVD via Roadrunner which will hopefully keep fans sated for a while in between Tremonti’s solo album and the next Creed recording. Mark is, and I say this in the most respectful way possible, a guitar nerd just like you and me, so it’s always fun to talk shop with him. So, enjoy!
How have the Oz shows been going?
We came down here without knowing what the crowd response was going to be, and it’s just like we’ve been touring here our whole lives. It’s incredible.
It’s been great watching you guys grow and evolve as a band, and especially seeing how nuts they go for you in the UK.
Yeah! This is very reminiscent of the UK over here in Australia. It’s seeming to grow very quickly. This is the second time we’ve been here and it’s already been over the top.
Slash got up and played a song with you recently. What was that like?
Oh it was great. Slash has played with us a handful of times now, and every time the crowd just eats it up. We love it. We’re all fans and we’re just honoured to have him out there.
And you’re playing with Steel Panther on this tour.
Yeah. We’ve known them for a while. We did a few shows in the States, we’re under the same management and they had the idea of putting us together on these sidewave shows. And I’ve jammed with them before, but I probably won’t do that tonight because they’re two very different shows.
Although they’re one of the most popular guitar brands in the world, Paul Reed Smith isn’t the first company that comes to mind when you think of amps. But even so, the PRS 30 and its other US-made counterparts aren’t entirely unprecedented. In the early 90s they released a respected line of solid state amps, and more recently they’ve launched a line of boutique amps (including a Custom Amp Designs division led by Doug Sewell).
By the way, a new PRS SE line has also just been announced for those who can’t afford the US models. Can’t wait to check those out. But first, let’s look at the PRS 30. It’s a 30 watt amp designed to offer an English sound with an American twist. The construction method utilises thick PC boards for consistency, and all of the pots, jacks, power tube sockets and switches are mounted to the chassis. Shielded wire is used at various critical points for the best quality where it counts. At its heart are a quartet of EL84 power tubes, while the preamp section features two 12AX7s and two 12AT7s. The controls left to right are a Bright switch, Volume, Reverb (3-spring Reverb with medium decay), Treble, Middle, Bass and Master Volume. Around the back you’ll find an extension speaker jack in parallel with the speaker out jack.
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!
It’s unofficially Opeth week here at I Heart Guitar – after all, new album Heritage is out now and it kicks all sorts of ass – so let’s take a look at the Paul Reed Smith SE Mikael Åkerfeldt signature model.
This puppy was unveiled at NAMM this year, and although Mikael didn’t use it on the Heritage sessions, he definitely stands behind this guitar. And why not? Legendary PRS-designed tremolo bridge, SE HFS and SE Vintage Bass pickups, old-school bird inlays, 24 frets and that cool Opeth stylised ‘O’ logo. This is a classy axe, and I’ve long been impressed by PRS SE build quality. To be honest, I wasn’t really impressed during the first year or two of the SE line, but manufacturing tolerances and build quality zoomed right up pretty early on and now I rank them pretty high – especially the SE One, the Torero and the Orianthi and Paul Allender signature models.
By the way, check out my interview with Åkerfeldt here.