REVIEW: Paul Reed Smith PRS 30 Amplifier

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.

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The combo version features a WGS 12″ speaker, and a head version is also available with an equally penguin-toned matching cabinet. The amp is covered in black and white Tolex.

I plugged in my Ibanez UV777BK seven-string to test the PRS 30. I like using this guitar to test different types of amp because it has a single coil in the middle and high output humbuckers either side, but with a high pass filter mod on the volume knob which lets you roll back the volume while maintaining high end, simulating lower-output pickups too. This guitar also gives me an idea of how well an amp responds to lower tunings and baritone guitars.

The PRS 30 sounds warm and full at cleaner settings, and it can be coaxed into a nice ringing high end when needed. The effect of the bright switch can be pretty subtle at quiet levels, becoming more obvious at higher volumes. But bright switch or not, cranked or quiet, the clean sound is great for rhythm strummers and classic rock players of the Keith Richards variety.

Turn up the Volume control a little more and you’ll get great mid-heavy grit tones for blues-rock or country. Even higher gain settings bring out the amp’s touch sensitivity, and while it’s not designed to be a raging modern high gain beast, it’s capable of especially great rock and blues lead tones with plenty of sustain and harmonic richness. The growlier settings seem to especially like humbuckers, and there’s a singing midrange that’s really addictive. Another very neat feature is that when the Master volume control reaches its maximum setting, it’s removed from the circuit for the most pure tone.

The reverb is very musically voiced: it doesn’t overpower the note until its most extreme setting, and even then the reverb tail is at just the right level to sound cool rather than smudgy and noisy.

So who’s the PRS 30 ultimately for? Well it’s capable of gutsy, strong tones for rock, blues, R&B, country and fusion. Its combination of British warmth and US attack will also make it a favourite for the indie crowd. Its full tone at lower gain settings makes it a great choice for rhythm players, but it also works as a great lead amp. So really, it’s for the player who is looking for warmth, sustain and a harmonically rich tone without the need for mega-distortion.

LINK: Paul Reed Smith PRS 30

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