Its great buying a new guitar,but its also great when someone else wants your advice on how to spend their money.

Enter my nephew who wanted me to act as his guide when purchasing his first ‘proper guitar’. Now this was exciting for several reasons. As said nephew has recently been playing bass in his first band with some mates. However he plays guitar more than bass at home & has decided now was the time to stop borrowing from his fathers guitar collection & get an instrument he can call his own.

For a young lad he’s quite financially savvy and has managed to scrimp together his pocket and birthday money & save a not in-considerable amount. His budget was about £600, however he could go to double that if pushed for a real knockout.

In the main he’s been using his Dads living room guitar, a PRS Tremonti SE, he liked the neck of this so was interested in the new SE Singlecuts, his other favourite was a Gibson Explorer or a replica. As I’m from a different generation, I see the Explorer as a metal axe, however the guitarist from the Killers has clearly made this a possible choice as a non metal guitar.

After arriving at Coda’s in Luton our appetite is whetted by a very wide choice of Les Paul Standards in various finishes. My nephew has a thing for a black Explorer and two models are auditioned first.

First off is a black Gibson Explorer,at £829.00 its at the upper end of the budget. The demo amp is a Line 6 Spider combo, not ideal, but at least it can give us clean and dirty sounds quickly.

The big shock is how underwhelming the guitar sounds. The midrange is mushy and when playing low end riffs, there is very little definition in the individual notes, even unplugged the guitar sounds non descript. But my cheif issue is the neck profile, according to Gibsons website this is a rounded wide profile neck, however to my hands it feels narrower than the neck on my Les Paul Classic and nowhere near as nice. The neck is sticky, but this is due to the nitrocellulose finish & will play in over time. However it just feels nasty, and certainly not worth £800+ of anyones money.

With neither Myself, Nephew or his Dad convinced we consider the PRS Singlecut SE as we know the neck on this will be good. However my Nephew still likes the idea of the Explorer shape so next up is a Japanese built Tokai Explorer, a snip at £569, and back within our budget. But I’m not sure it’ll be all that different.


First off the neck is much fatter, feels more like how a Gibson should feel & is instantly more comfortable to play. But my biggest shock is the sound. The Tokai’s generic humbuckers sound much warmer & fatter than the Gibsons and are more dynamic to the touch. Playing the same riffs that the Gibbo struggled with, the Tokai gives a warm fat beefy tone with a lovely smoothness. It gets the thumbs up from all of us and is definetly a contender.

With the Explorer dream back on track, its time to think of alternatives. The Singlecut SE is still an option, however my nephew has spotted another PRS he likes the look of. An American made mahogany bodied CE 22. This is right at the top end of his savings. Now normally I regard PRS as excellent guitars, but a tad overpriced. But this is reduced from £1299.00 down to £999.00. Considering I’ve seen used CE’s going at this price. It looks worthy of further investigation.

The guitar itself is nicely finished in vintage cherry & the neck is PRS’ wide fat profile, it feels superb. As someone who normally prefers a much deeper fatter neck, fast runs are effortless and the whole guitar feels really responsive & musical. However the real clincher is the versatility of the switching and the quality of those sounds. The PRS’ rotary switch gives such a fabulous array of clean sounds, Tele & Strat type sounds. My nephew is convinced. But spending a grand on on a guitar is a lot for a 15 year old to take in so we recess for lunch.

Over the most overpriced Burger I’ve eaten in many years (thanks Debenhams Cafe). My nephew lays down his concerns. He loves the Tokai, but feels that after a couple of years he will outgrow the shape and require something else. However much as he loves the PRS, he’s worried that buying such a professional instrument at his stage in life is all a bit much.

My opinion is asked for, which one would I buy? Well on evidence the 2 instruments are in a different league. But as my last 2 bands have required me to play a variety of clean & dirty tones. I’d pick the PRS, as would his dad. However at 15 years old, maybe I’d have got the Tokai Explorer?

But as his dad explains, with any guitar choice there is an element of regret. I’ve missed out on many guitars over the years, Squier JV, Tokai Love Rock Custom (styled like John Sykes Les Paul Custom complete with mirrored pickguard) A worn in Yamaha SG2000 that had once belonged to 80′s goths ‘Feilds of the Nephilim’ etc etc. But another way to look at it as I suggest to him, would be this….

In 4 years time, my Nephew will be 19 and likely a much more confident guitarist than he is now. He’ll likely be auditioning for bands at a more serious level and the PRS will be an ideal all round guitar, it will be 4 years old and because he’ll have grown with it, there will be more of a bond between player & guitar. He’ll know it well & will no doubt get the best from it.

After some more thinking the lad has made his choice. It’s the PRS. On the walk back to the shop, I expect him to dither, but he doesn’t. The deal is done & they throw in the strap free.

Back home and playing through a Marshall DSL 50 the guitar does not dissapoint and his playing already sounds more confident and focussed. Will he regret not buying the Tokai? I doubt it.


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