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 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.

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REVIEW: PRS SE Bernie Marsden

Long before Whitesnake was a hairspray-squirting, chart-topping, glitzy pop-rock band  they were a whiskey-swillin’, bar-room-fight-havin’ blues rock band. And some of their best blues rock was courtesy of one Bernie Marsden. This English guitar great has now been honoured with a PRS SE signature guitar and, as expected, it offers a slightly modern take on a classic vibe.


Marsden’s signature singlecut PRS SE looks at once familiar and exotic. It has a thick maple top with flame maple veneer in Vintage Sunburst finish, atop a deep mahogany body. The curves are very distinctively PRS, especially the treble side cutaway and the slightly square shoulder on the bass side, but the finish looks like it’s from another era. It’s perfectly applied, with no signs of paint bleed or rough buffing anywhere. Held up at an angle the clear coat is positively glassy.


[geo-out country=”Australia” note=””]
PRS SE Bernie Marsden Signature Electric Guitar Vintage Sunburst from Musician’s Friend for $649.

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REVIEW: Paul Reed Smith DC3 & NF3

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!

NAMM 2011: PRS Dweezil Zappa signature

Dweezil Zappa was featured on the cover of Guitar Player recently with a unique and utterly gorgeous Paul Reed Smith. Well that killer guitar was no one-off: 50 of these babies will be made. I had a chance to check out the guitar close-up and talk with Dweezil about it and he loves it to bits (he’s also an incredibly nice guy). Can’t blame him! I took these pics at the Paul Reed Smith press conference at NAMM yesterday. Expect more PRS NAMM stories over the coming days as I work through all the info!

Dweezil Zappa Limited Run Private Stock Semi-Hollow Electric

Limited to a run of 50 guitars, the new Dweezil Zappa Private Stock semi-hollow model features a unique Custom 24 mandolin shape and is modeled after the guitar Dweezil designed with the Private Stock team.

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INTERVIEW: Mark Tremonti of Alter Bridge

AB III is a landmark album in the still quite young career of Alter Bridge. Far more than just ‘Creed with a different singer,’ the band has always had its own thing going on, but AB III kicks it up a notch. It’s loud, angry, hurt, dark, mysterious and heavy, yet at times it’s also bright, optimistic, reassuring, even straight-up happy. I spoke to guitarist Mark Tremonti, who was in the midst of a European tour.

You know how good the album is, right?

(Laughs) Thank you very much! Appreciate it!

How do you feel about it?

We feel great! It was a good time that we put into writing and recording it, and it turned out the way we wanted it to. The response from fans has all been overwhelmingly positive so far.

You’re releasing the album yourself in the US on November 9, but it’s in the very capable hands of Roadrunner for the rest of the world and has already been released in other territories. Why?

We had to look at all our options, and our managers deal with that side of things, and they felt that was our best option for the States. At first we tried to be on Roadrunner both in the States and internationally, but I don’t think they thought we had a radio single for the States, that it was more of a European-sounding record, so we went a different route.

It is a very European-sounding, dark album.

I think it’s just a combination of where me and Myles were at. I grew up listening to heavy, dark music and I’ve always been a fan of darker music. Not that we’re dark people, but we like to evoke emotion, and either write a song that makes you feel really good or write a song that makes you really think and feel really moody. It’s just a combination of me pushing dark-sounding atmospheric music and Myles writing the darkest lyrics he’s ever come up with, and it’s just a perfect storm.

Well everyone needs their Empire Strikes Back, y’know?

Yeah! Hahah!

Just don’t go filling the next album with Ewoks.

Haha, exactly. Yeah.

There are lots of cool middle eastern-sounding scales on the record.

I think both me and Myles just played to fit the song. We weren’t really thinking of any scales in particular. I know that on my end, for the guitar solos and whatnot I was just trying to fit the chord changes. I just played for the song.

Do you have a favourite guitar part or solo?

I think the solo for All Hope Is Gone is my favourite solo. Favourite guitar part in general would probably be the intro to Life Must Go On. It’s a part that’s been floating around for quite a while.

What gear did you use on the record?

I used pretty much the same gear as the last album, except this time I used a Fender Tonemaster layered on top of the Bogner Uberschall and Mesa Rectifier.

What’s your approach to tone? I notice you’re using amps that have a shitload of gain on tap, but you’re holding back.

Yeah, it’s something I learned from Elvis on the last record: to record with a small amount of gain to really get stuff to cut through, so you can hear every bit of whatever riff that’s happening or whatever part that’s happening. If there’s too much gain you lose that clarity. It makes a big difference.

What about guitars?

I just used my signature model Paul Reed Smith. I think the only other guitar I used – other than acoustic Taylors – was on some clean tracks. PRS made me a guitar, like a Strat-style, three single coil, maple neck guitar that sounds really good on clean stuff. Sometimes I’d layer with that. That was about it.

Have you tried the baritone 8-string Taylor?

No I had not. Didn’t know it existed. Wow, I’ll be calling them when I get off the phone! I need to get that for sure!

You have a lot of guitar technique – how did you develop that? Were you always technically minded or did you hit a point where you decided to really work on that stuff?

I just always try to learn something new every day. I’m a big fan of the guitar so everywhere I go I have tonnes of guitar instructional DVDs. I still look for new ones that come out. No matter what style it is, I’ll buy it. If it’s something I don’t have, I’ll get it. If I’m getting on a plane I’ll watch country chicken pickin’ DVDs or whatever it is, because you can learn something from everybody. I’ll also get on sites like or or YouTube or I’ll search everywhere I can looking for inspiration. Sometimes you’ll find it in the least likely spots, from some guy you’ve never heard of.

What are your favourites at the moment?

Right now I’m putting a lot of time into Robben Ford. Years ago I would have thought you couldn’t use a lot of his approach in hard rock, but I think you can if you learn the right tunes. He does a lot of blues-based stuff that you can use right away. I’m into him lately, I’m into a guy named Matt Schofield that not a lot of people that I’ve talked to have heard of, but he’s great. Audley Freed is a big one for me over the last few years. Warren Haynes. I went through all my shred years and just kinda switched gears a couple of years ago, going for the more old-school approach to bluesy phrasing and chord tone soloing. Lately I’ve been trying to step into the jazz world, not to play jazz but to try to understand more of the theory side of things and to have it readily available whenever I’m playing. I’ve looked at some piano lessons and there’s a guy named Charlie Banakos that taught a lot of jazz guys, so I’m trying to dig out some old exercises that he’s taught.

Any plans for a solo album?

I’ve started to put together some songs. With the last couple of years with everything that’s happened – Myles going out with Slash, the Creed reunion and everything else – there’s going to be some downtime when we’re waiting for Myles to get done so we can get back out on tour, so in those times I’ll be putting together a solo record. At this point I think I only have about five songs I’ve demoed, and every time I have a couple of months I’ll put together a handful of songs and see what happens with it.

What kind of direction?

It’s going to be mostly just melody, song-based stuff. It’s not going to be like a progressive instrumental record. It’s going to be more of a melody-driven, song record. I do want to do it at some point, I’ve just got to find the time.

What are your favourite instrumental albums?

Alien Love Secrets was a big one for me. I spent a lot of time with Tender Surrender. I spent four months learning that song, and now I’ve forgotten it! I like a lot of the Larry Carlton stuff, the Robben Ford stuff… for me it’s like, songs instead of records. I’ll just dwell on one song for a long time. There’s just so much of it I don’t know where to really hone in on! Paul Gilbert had a lot of influence on my learning to pick and shred. Intense Rock was probably my favourite DVD for a long time.

Any plans to come to Australia any time soon?

We actually just talked about that with our agent the other day. They were talking about maybe targeting October of next year. We’ve just gotta see what happens next year. We have to plan so far ahead with the Slash tour and our tour, so we have to just let our agents point their finger in the right direction for us.

Yeah, I guess you couldn’t force Myles to do double duty and wear the poor guy out.

We’ve talked about it – have Alter Bridge open for Slash.

REVIEW: PRS SE Paul Allender signature model

Cradle of Filth’s Paul Allender has been a PRS user for a long time, and his signature SE model has undergone a few changes over the years, especially in the finish department. This latest model is in a spooky green (called Emerald Green Burst) and is also available in Scarlet Red Burst, whereas the previous iteration was purple. The body is made of mahogany with a flame maple veneer – not thick enough to have a noticeable impact on the tone, but certainly glitzy enough to have a cool effect visually. It’s not the most out-there piece of flamed maple you’ll come across, so if you’re a flamed-maple fence-sitter like me, you’ll like the look.

Scale length is a nicely in-between 25″, and the fretboard is ebony with jumbo frets. The neck shape is wide and thin, and it reminds me more than a little of the necks on John Petrucci’s Ernie Ball Music Man signature models. This neck is definitely built for speed and comfort, and will appeal just as much to players who have no particular affinity for Cradle of Filth as those who are Allender fans. What might not be so appealing to some, though others will love it is the fretboard inlay: a series of bats flying from the headstock towards the body. It’s a sinister twist on the famous PRS bird motif. They’re well executed and as far as I’m concerned they look freaking awesome, but if you’re not into the whole goth thing you might be a little put off by them.

The first incarnation of the Allender SE model had PRS-designed pickups. This time around Paul has chosen an EMG 89 in the bridge position and an 81TW in the neck, each of which can be split into single coils via the push-pull master tone control. There’s also a master volume and a 3-way pickup selector switch. The tremolo is the SE version of PRS’s distinctive 6-screw non-locking unit, which bares some similarities to the classic 6-screw vintage unit but with more stable saddles and a tension-adjustable arm.

The PRS Allender is a loud, powerful guitar with lots of sonic detail. With every note you play, you can hear and feel that you’re using top-shelf pickups. The EMG 89 in the bridge has stunningly articulate pick attack followed by a thick, crunchy body and almost endless headroom. This makes it famously great for heavy metal rhythms and leads but it’s surprisingly adept at low gain tones too, where you really get the most out of the dynamic range. It tracks very well for high-speed licks, and because the response is so even no matter where you’re playing on the neck, it sounds great when you’re performing wide-interval licks such as string skipping and tapping.

The neck pickup is your classic metal neck tone (think Fade To Black) – almost flute-like, with stooped midrange, full bass and a powerfully clear treble. Again, it’s great for string-skipping licks, and it really seems to sing when you apply vibrato or dig into a screaming bend.

In single coil mode, the EMGs are bright and hi-fi, with that great 80s-era David Gilmour hollow twang. It’s here that the subtler beauty of the guitar comes through, as the pickups transfer even more of the string’s detail through to the amp. The addition of the coil splitting ability makes this guitar a great studio guitarists’ tool, no matter what genre you play.

It’s great that each of the pickups has such finely honed detail, because the neck really lets you shred. The big frets make hyperspeed fretting a snap, while the neck shape itself will allow you to reach even the low E as easily as the higher strings.

The PRS SE Paul Allender model is a great choice for hard rock, prog and metal players looking for a fast, high quality guitar with killer pickups and an unstoppably fast neck. Not being particularly into CoF these days (unlike my goth days back in the late 90s – yes I wore eyeliner and black nail polish, no there aren’t photos), I wasn’t prepared to be so taken with this axe, but it really brings everything to the table that you could want in a rock or metal axe – provided you dig the bats.

LINK: Paul Reed Smith

Though well executed (and decidedly awesome to this reviewer), the bat inlays may not be for everyone.

EMG 89 and 81TW pickups, and PRS's legendarily stable non-locking bridge.


VIDEO: Orianthi & Steve Vai – Highly Strung (plus making-of)

While I was at NAMM I was lucky enough to interview Orianthi about PRS guitars. Unfortunately about an hour later my voice recorder disappeared (though I’m told it still could show up in lost and found, fingers crossed), but not before Orianthi could tell me about her new duet with Steve Vai, ‘Highly Strung.’ The track appears on her new album Believe. Check out the video below, then the making-of video. And check out the album too – Orianthi’s guitar playing kicks ass.

NEWS: Johnny Hiland leaves PRS for Ernie Ball Music Man

Sterling Ball of Ernie Ball Music Man has confirmed on the company’s official forum that Johnny Hiland has left PRS (where he had a signature model) and shacked up with EBMM. Hiland is rockin’ the EBMM Silhouette model.

Here’s the post from Sterling Ball:

OK in a case where rumor ends up knowing this before me….As of today Johnny Hiland has joined our family as a valued endorsee. Johnny is over the moon with the Silhouette and will be playing them for a long time we both hope.

As for the earlier threads it was funny in that I had zero contact with Johnny until the next day after those threads when Derek called me and said that Johnny was interested in joining us.

As for some of the below the belt comments…Johnny is not doing this for money he is doing this because he likes our guitars. He will be supporting our original guitar the Silhouette which makes me very very happy.

Johnny will be at the NAMM show and has agreed to play at the Casey Lee Ball Foundation annual bash allong with Steve Lukather and Joe Bonamassa.

WElcome to the family…cant wait for the jam sessions with our team…Luke Albert SteveMorse , Steve Lukather, John Petrucci, and Johnny Hiland….Like the Yankees!