I’ve now viewed a dangerous amount of Paul Reed Smith content and the man continues to steadily climb the ranks to the top of my list of life’s inspirations. Like other legendary guitar makers I’ve studied, the passion he has for his craft is matched by his excitement to share his path to contentment. His fervor-driven pursuit of creating the perfect guitar has lead Paul and PRS Guitars to being known as one of the best electric guitar producers in the world. It’s no revelation finding out Paul’s passion for perfection wouldn’t always be limited to a solid-bodied axe. After crushing milestones in the electric world, Paul has tried on a new outfit with his attempt at purity with an acoustic line of instruments. PRS Guitars has likely reached another pinnacle in their living legend narrative. This is the Paul Reed Smith SE Acoustic Series.
Like the McCarty, Silver Sky and Custom 24, the SE Acoustic line is not without its inspiration. “This entire acoustic project started with private stock,” Paul explains. “We got our hands on an old Torres guitar that Larry Thomas owned and I thought it sounded extraordinary. He played one note and it took my breath away. He was sitting about three or four feet in front of me. We were able to x-ray the guitar and ask the question ‘What was he thinking when he made it?’ Not ‘how did he brace it,’ but what was he thinking, because it was not an accident that this thing sounded unbelievable. Those qualities that we learned about, those theories that we learned about, have made it into this guitar. This has the fan bracing in the back with the X brace on the top… And for what you get for the money, for all those theories that are in those private stock guitars we started with, are in these SE guitars.”
The bracing Paul mentioned is the PRS Hybrid X / Classical Bracing. As you can see in the picture, the top half of the guts of this guitar are much like traditional X bracing that you’ll find across much of the acoustic guitar world. Tried and true, the strength and tone of the guitar is dependent on the strong support beams and tone bars.
The lower half of the bracing, however, mimics what you’d find in a classical guitar like the Torres, as seen in the picture to the left. A fanning pattern takes place of the tone bars which is intended to allow the tone wood to have more movement and, in turn, more volume.
This PRS SE A60E is my favorite acoustic produced by Paul Reed Smith, but it is just one of many available. The name itself is coded and explained in the graphics below. The SE line currently comes in two body shapes: The (A) Angelus Cutaway or the (T) Tonare Grand. Following the body are the numbers assigned to the back and sides. Our featured model today is the 60, a beautifully striped ziricote. In combination with the solid, bear claw sitka spruce top, the sounds of this guitar is fantastically resonant. Also available is a quilted maple (55), standard maple (50), ovankol (40) or the well-known mahogany (20). As you’d likely guess, the final character of the PRS product code is the reference to the on-board electronics (E). Currently included in the entire line of SE guitars is the Fishman GT1 electronics system. The ¼ inch plug and battery are both conveniently located on the underside of the body for easy player access. The GT1 features a sound hole mounted preamp with an easily accessible volume and tone control as well as an undersaddle pickup with an incredible bass response. The neck of this SE-60 is solid mahogany and has the feel of a “wide C” shape, giving finger-style players plenty of room to work. Both the fingerboard and bridge are made of ebony, a bone nut and saddle and a 25.35 inch scale length. Maple binding surrounds the frame of this guitar and leads us to my favorite, sparkling feature of this exquisite instrument. Around both the purfling on the top of this 60E and inside the rosette is beautiful abalone shell. A slim but shining strip also splits the back of this model. The final nod to elegance and style are the abalone bird inlays found across the neck. The pictures of this PRS don’t do it justice at all.
“I’ve always said from the beginning that an electric guitars was first and foremost [before] an acoustic. That was my early shop and I had a list of clients that believed it, but there was also a large group of people that thought maybe that was pretty nuts. It’s not that far from electric guitar making. In terms of the original theory to have the strings sustain and be really rich harmonically, the bass is there, the mid range is there, the high end is there and none of it sounds harsh or overbearing – it’s all balanced. So, in a way it came from the electric guitar theory, but it also came from wanting the thing to just sound huge.” - Paul Reed Smith
Knowing who’s in the driver’s seat, it should be expected that this guitar sounds as good as it looks. Whether from the research and development or its classical guitar inspired framework, the SE series guitars have a level of volume and sustain that matches and even surpasses some of Paul’s top shelf competition. For me, this PRS SE A60E acoustic guitar is the perfect combination of craft and contraption.
This model and its full-bodied sibling, the PRS SE Tonare T60E, as well as the PRS SE Tonare T40E, are currently available at Heartbreaker Guitars, a proud PRS Guitars dealer in the heart of Las Vegas, Nevada. Brendan and his staff can answer any and all questions Paul Reed Smith and would be happy to let you demo any of the SE models in their giant Las Vegas show room.
Heartbreaker Guitars Contributor