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Why I don't like PRS guitars

PRS S2 Mira Electric Guitar McCarty Tobacco Sunburst

There are certain guitar companies out there who have very little concerning a guitar I'd actually want to own, and PRS is one of them.

Pictured above is one of the very few models PRS offers I'd consider owning, the S2 Mira in Tobacco sunburst with dot inlays on the neck.

Is there a "bird" inlay version? Yes, unfortunately. Why unfortunately? Because PRS overuses bird inlays and they're just not cool anymore.

The Mira is one the very few PRS designs that does not look like a bad copy of something else, nor does it look generic. Mira has some good flavor to it. It's not overdone nor underdone and strikes that just-right balance to it. I think it's good even though the blade selector looks like a tacked-on afterthought (it should've been a toggle).

But I wouldn't buy one. Why? That leads me to my first point.

Everything PRS makes is too expensive for what it is

The cheapest non-signature model is the SE 245, which is nothing more than a boring, different-looking Les Paul.

If I wanted a Les Paul copy, I'd buy an Agile AL. That guitar is under $250, has better colors and full binding on the body and neck. And even if I put $200 worth of upgrades into it, it's still cheaper than the SE 245.

To concentrate on a different model with a Floyd tremolo system on it, there's the SE Custom 24, which is over $700. Also, just so you know, if you buy one without the Floyd, it's still over $700. That's not exactly a good deal.

Why would anyone bother with that nonsense when the Jackson SLX Soloist X can be had for $100 less is beyond me. Heck, you could even go under $400 new with a Dean Custom 380 Floyd. Or if that's not your thing, with Schecter you can stay just under the $450 mark and still get your Floyd-Rose system.

My point is that there are many guitars under the PRS price point where you get way more for your money.

And for anyone that says "you get what you pay for", do you really with PRS? I don't think so. Not with SE models, anyway.

PRS guitars have no distinctive tone to them?

Two terms describe PRS tone better than anything else. Either the guitar is voiced flat, meaning as if an EQ was set dead middle (all sliders flat, which is where the term comes from), or voiced "vintage", similar to the Seymour Duncan Vintage Blues humbucker set.

Flat does not mean "bad", but rather generic. Many guitars are voiced that way in an attempt to appeal to the widest amount of players possible. The problem by doing that however is that you end up with a guitar that has no tonal personality to it whatsoever, as in you end up with something sounding generic and boring.

"Vintage" is a very overused term to describe guitar tone, but it basically means a lower-output pickup with higher treble, higher midrange and less bass response.

I've never heard any recording of a guitar in my life where I thought, "Yep, that's definitely a PRS."

Many PRS guitars are borderline kitschy in the way they look

Paul Reed Smith P22 Jade

The above is a Paul Reed Smith P22 model in a color called Jade. Other colors include Lemonburst, Grayburst, Charcoal, Whale Blue, Orange Tiger and several others.

Here's the thing, however. Almost none of the finish options fit the guitar correctly. A lot of "almost there" colors, but not quite, because the finishes were purposely made to look expensive. To achieve that look, PRS went all stripey, put the stupid birds on the fingerboard (of course), stuck a dark headstock on the end, did not color match the back and then called it a day.

When guitar companies do that "try to look expensive" thing, you end up with kitsch. If you don't know what that word means, it means questionable aesthetic value.

What PRS does with certain guitar models of theirs is ride the fine line between looking totally awesome and totally stupid.

The Mira (the one at the top of this article) is one of the few instances where PRS didn't go stupid, and instead created a functional, well-designed, elegant guitar - even if it is overpriced.

The P22 on the other hand is where things get real stupid; the guitar panders to those who feel that if something looks expensive, it must be good. As any guitar player worth his salt knows, that's rarely the case.

My best way of describing the P22 is PRS "pulling a Gibson", where they concentrated more on appears-to-be-exotic crapola rather than just making a proper guitar that doesn't look like ugly furniture.

And no, not all P22 finishes are kitschy. The three that aren't stupid are Antique White, Black and Gold Top. But of course, those colors are the most difficult to come by.

The burst finishes look like a cheesy zoo brochure, again with the whole "pulling a Gibson" shtick.

What finish would make the P22 really pop, so to speak? A non-striped, non-flame, no-quilt 2-color sunburst, as in the same 2TSB finish that's on the '56 American Vintage Strat reissue. The P22 would take to that finish very well and make it look like the high-end instrument it's supposed to be.

PRS does know how to do a burst correct when they don't do all that flamey/stripey/quilty crapola.

Is PRS dead weight?

Some believe the brand is past its prime as the go-to guitar that players want.

The largest indicator I'm seeing that PRS doesn't have much of an impact on players anymore is from the lack of YouTube videos on them.

Oh sure, you'll find videos aplenty of stores selling the guitar with their demo videos. But how many player videos are you seeing with PRS these days? Not many. You'll see tons of player videos with Fender, Squier, Gibson, Epiphone, Jackson, Schecter and so on... but PRS? Not really.

For the PRS player videos I do see, most are older PRS models and not newer ones, because those are the only ones players can actually afford.

What really strikes me as odd is that PRS is a brand sold in Guitar Center. According to the GC web site, there are 136 different kinds of solid-body PRS guitars being sold there right now. I can assume from that the brand is selling, but YouTube tells a different story because I am simply not seeing player videos there anywhere near as much as other brands.

Player videos on YouTube, as in guitar playing videos by regular people, will tell you real fast whether people are buying a certain brand or not. PRS doesn't exactly make a good showing.

Published 2014 May 13

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