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.
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PRS SE Bernie Marsden Signature Electric Guitar Vintage Sunburst from Musician’s Friend for $649.[/geo-out]
The scale length is a slinky 24 1/2″ from nut to bridge, and there are 22 frets on the bound rosewood fretboard. The mahogany neck is wide and fat, which will take a little getting used to for some players who are more accustomed to thin necks. It’s definitely a palm-filler and its sheer girth is in keeping with the deeper-than-usual body. The primo PRS bird inlays on the fretboard look the business, as do the aged pickup rings, selector top and outer pickup coils and the creme binding, which all conspire to give this guitar a vintage vibe, and they warm up the look a little bit too compared to if it had harsh white plastic parts. The tuners are vintage grommet-style units with aged buttons, and the bridge is a PRS-designed wraparound stoptail model with intonation compensation.
Electronics include two volumes, a single tone control, a three-way pickup selector switch and a pair of uncovered, PRS-designed SE 245 humbuckers. These are the same Alnico V based pickups that you’ll find in the PRS Guitars SE Santana. The bridge pickup has a DC resistance of 10.5k ohm – a little hotter than the 8.75k ohm of the USA-made, Alnico II-loaded, covered PRS 245 humbuckers – while the bridge version is 8k ohm, like the US counterpart.
First up, this guitar sounds killer when unplugged. The heavy body seems to absorb rather than enhance some of the acoustic volume, but at the same time it evens out the tone nicely from string to string. Plugged in, the bridge unit has plenty of bite and cut in the great late 50s humbucker tradition. It’s perfectly suited to classic rock and hard blues, especially through my overdriven Marshall, and those brighter frequencies play all friendly-like with fuzz boxes too. The bridge pickup’s clean tone isn’t overly distinctive compared to the overdriven sound.
The neck pickup sounds full and juicy, great for squeezing the heck out of big bends or playing a mellow melody at lower gain levels than would feel comfortable on the bridge pickup. This is also a great pickup for slightly overdriven chording. The middle pickup switch setting – often overlooked by many players – is wonderful for rhythm, with a smokey, slightly rough aesthetic that really gives the guitar a strong third voice alongside the bridge and neck settings. In fact, you could spend hours on the middle selection without even trying the others and still walk away happy, which is rare for most twin-humbucker guitars where the middle setting almost seems like an afterthought.
The big fat neck and deeper-than-usual body make the guitar feel like a bit of a handful, but that also makes it feel like a very serious instrument indeed. And what I particularly like about this instrument – and it can be said about PRS’s approach to their SE signature models in general – is that the extra body and neck thicknesses make it clear that this is exactly what Marsden wanted. This isn’t just a stock model with a custom colour scheme, but rather a unique instrument that requires specific structural deviations from stock models. And that helps to give this guitar a character all of its own.