If your a British guitar player of a certain age. PRS guitars conjur up a rather negative association with a certain type of well heeled player. Mainly middle aged professional “baby boomers” men who cashed in on the rising equity in their homes in the early noughties and bought into the brand big style. While over in America younger players such as Dave Navarro, Wes Borland, Chad Kroger and Linkin Parks Brad Delson made PRS the most populated guitar brand on MTV and VH1 (and before you ask yes the big 3 guitar companies actually do market research into this sort of stuff). In the UK despite the arrival of the affordable SE (student Edition) imports, the image of the PRS player in the United Kingdom is the stereotypical weekend warrior, the doctor, the lawyer,the accountant, the dentist. The guy who turns up at a blues jam to sing songs of pain and hardship (without any irony whatsoever) in a BMW Z5 or an Audi S4 estate (well…the golf clubs have to fit in the back too).
Guitar shops loved the baby boomer, before the recent arrival of his replacement (in Denmark St anyway) of the privately educated Stage School musician in his architypal Indie Landfill band (usually on Warners via BIMM or the BRIT school). These people kept Denmark Street turning over in the early to mid noughties. I used to see them ogling over the latest Mesa Boogie multi mode Combo or reliced Fender 52 whateverwecancashin…. nextocaster. You could always spot them as they were the only people in the shop who were not a sales rep wearing a suit. Future Publishing even started its own magazine for these people the woefully titled “Guitar Officianado”.
But back in 2000 Guitarist magazine named the PRS McCarty the number 7 guitar in its ’10 Greatest Electric Guitars in the World’ cover story, considering it was launched only 6 years earlier, thats pretty high praise. The McCarty is in raw terms is PRS’ homage to Ted McCartys presidency of the Gibson guitar company from 1950-1966. The guitar is essentially a thicker bodied Custom 22 with a thinner headstock, vintage style machines, 1 piece stop tailpeice and simpler controls (one volume and tone with a pull coil tap).
The vintage Gibson vibe came over very well at its launch in the mid 90′s and at the time (pre Singlecut) was seen as the biggest challenger to the hegemony of the Les Paul and found favour with many American musicians of the time. There were later hollowbody and semi acoustic variants too.
But 16 years on I get the impression that since the mid 2000′s lawsuit over the PRS Singlecut and the recently launched Dave Grissom signature guitar(basically a McCarty with a tremelo and revised pickups and electronics) have perhaps overshadowed the original McCarty model itself. The McCarty has somewhat fallen by the wayside. The McCarty II launched in 2008 featured a strange active circuit and barely lasted a year. The new McCarty is now the McCarty 58 which is essentially the same guitar with revised neck shape, tuners, pickups and finish. But neck shapes & the usual high end guitar marketing guff aside, its essentially the same guitar it was in 1994.
I stumbled upon the idea of buying a PRS recently. I’d set my sights on a CE22 or CE24 as in terms of my playing style I think I gravitate to a bolt on necked instrument, however the basic moon inlay McCarty is appearing in the classifieds for around £1000-1200. Thats a lot of guitar for the cash. Also the baby boomers don’t usually gig much, so these instruments are usually very very very well maintained.
I had a look around a few and didn’t buy mine from a stockbroker in the end Im glad to say, but a female blues guitarist in Gloucestershire. Aside from 2 dings on the lower bout (she gigged quite a lot I think) the guitar was pretty clean. Fretware was minimal for a 9 year old instrument.
The wide fat neck carve is a joy, reminiscent of a 1950′s Les Paul neck. But the whole feel of this guitar is upmarket. Its been put together from high quality woods with love and care, even when its not plugged in it sounds inherently toneful. Plugged in, its a fat big clear sound, more articulated than a Les Paul. I dare say It’d cut through live a bit more in a 2 guitar band than a Gibson.
The biggest suprise is the coil tap, usually this means we get some extra tones that are weedy and unusable, but with the neck pickup tapped, it sounds almost strat like, warm, fat and tubey. Perhaps this is the best coil tap I’ve ever heard.
All in all this is lighter and more comfortable to play than a Les Paul. As a guitar its very expressive and a joy to play. I am dissapointed that PRS fit all guitars with 009-042 strings though. Having ‘Jeztoned’ up the guitar with a set up of slightly heavier strings (009-046) and a medium to high action. Everything sounds even better than before.
The only niggle I have with PRS is considering the thought gone into both the guitars design and manafacture. The PRS hardshell case is a crock of shit. Its too big, too heavy and way too narrow. When placed as an upright rectangle on the floor it just falls over as its simply too thin. This is a terrible oversight and something you’d never find on an instrument costing even a third of the price. Whats the point of all that fancy guitar if its housed so badly.
As grim as it is to say, once the recession bites proper,combined with the brands seeming unfashionability in the current UK music scene. I expect to see more US made PRS guitars at very affordable prices. These are THE guitars purchased in the early-mid noughties credit orgy, many on hire purchase or plastic. As unfortunate and horrible as it is for anyone to have to sell their gear in hard times (and believe me I’ve been there). Im pretty sure we will see a large amount of these up for sale at very reasonable prices in the coming month. Cast aside the Yuppie guitar tag and these instruments richley deserve their reputation for build quality, tone and playability. With that in mind as a secondhand purchase I cannot see how one could go wrong.