Noteworthy Guitars Series
This is the fourth installment in a series of blog posts highlighting some really cool guitars and gear I’ve come across.
The last post I wrote like this, I was pretty set on a PRS SE Custom 22 Semi-Hollow. The reasoning behind that stands. I still think it’s an awesome guitar for an awesome value and I fully intended to purchase it. A part of me still thinks I will. But when I got close to pulling the trigger, what actually wound up happening took me to a slightly different PRS.
I can get very good prices on certain retail music items, thanks to my job. So an American made PRS S2 for me essentially becomes the market price of an SE. When confronted with that realization, it made sense for me to get an S2. However, PRS has a huge backlog of orders and only a few of each guitar currently stocked. That meant my choices were very limited. The few Custom 22 Semi-Hollows had some very odd “custom” colors (seemingly they’re “custom” when someone gets a little too experimental with the finish) and I just couldn’t stomach them.
But, I quite liked one of the Custom 24’s they had left in Whale Blue Smokewrap Burst.
I thought it through. I wanted an S2, but I didn’t want to wait 8-10 months. I also thought that with the amount of great guitars in production nowadays that have 24 frets, it might be wise for me to get comfortable with the extra two. I had played enough PRS guitars, prior to actually owning one, to understand how they operate and know that I appreciate how they’re made. I plugged them into the same model of Blackstar I currently use. I’ve alternated between 22’s and 24’s, semi-hollow and solid. Even though I was looking at a different model, I knew this wasn’t a huge stretch.
The bottom line: I was still getting a really great performing guitar from a top brand at an unbeatable price. So I bought it. And I am really pleased.
Comparing My Fender American Fat Strat with My PRS Custom 24
The biggest differences between the PRS Custom 24 and my previous go-to Fender American Fat Strat Texas Special HSS (2000-2003) is in the neck shape, sustain, and pickup output. These are obviously significant aspects of a guitar which do indeed affect my playing. I wouldn’t say one is better than the other, but they are suited to different styles and feels.
First off, the Custom 24 has a mahogany set-neck, while the Strat has a bolt-on maple. There really are differences in the sustain you get from the set-neck, especially a mahogany neck into a mahogany body. It seems to create a continued note that just sits around for a while until you lift your finger up. The Strat doesn’t quite hold out as long without using your finger to create vibrato.
It also seems the PRS has stronger resonance overall and that it’s transferred through the 85/15 “S” humbucker pickups. Having dual humbuckers is, on its face, different from an HSS configuration, but these in particular have a more powerful output. The volume and clarity is way more than I got from the Strat, even with the Seymour Duncan Pearly Gates humbucker at the bridge. You feel those bass tones and there’s an enhanced clarity with higher outputs and volumes.
But to be fair, you definitely do not get the same “character” from the Custom 24. Strats do have a little something special in their thinner, more recognizable jangle, specifically from the neck single-coil. The old bluesy and classic rock tones that Strats achieve, along with their sonic versatility, is kind of unique unto it. Even when I coil-tap the PRS, it’s just a lighter sound; it doesn’t amend the tonal character to sound like a Strat.
Those are the differences in tone. But the difference in feel is also significant. The neck of the PRS Custom 24 is Pattern Regular. I’m not sure where that falls technically in comparison to my Strat’s neck (I’m guessing it’s a “C” shape, but I’ve had the guitar since 2002 and at that age I wasn’t checking specs), but the PRS clearly has a thicker, rounder neck which forces my hand to move differently. Truthfully, it has the effect of slowing me down just enough to where I play more accurately and less wildly. In some scenarios that’s very helpful, but there are certainly times where I want to flail and smash indiscriminately, and I’ll pick the Strat back up.
The rosewood fretboard of the Custom 24 also has a different feel and causes my fingers to react differently. It’s a smoother, easier feeling to slide across the rosewood. While it seems a similar radius, I can’t confirm the exact specs. Maple also causes my fingers to “stick,” almost. It’s cool in certain ways—like allowing me to do fast runs and stop and bend real hard. But, the overall continuity of my playing is benefitted by rosewood. I do prefer the look of maple though.
The remainder of the differences are less relevant. The headstocks are of course different, with PRS using a 3 x 3 configuration for the tuners (which are locking), and the Strat having 6 on top. PRS uses large strap-buttons which are large enough that they hold the strap and you could probably get away without locks (not recommended) whereas on the Strat you NEED locks. And of course, like many PRS models, the Custom 24 showcases birds-in-flight inlays, as opposed to the standard Fender dots.
I am really happy with the PRS Custom 24. And some 17 years later, I am still really happy with my Strat too. The differences highlighted are just that—differences. In some circumstances I’ll use one, in others, I’ll use the other. And that’s the great thing about being a guitar player—the variety of choices and opportunities you have to play different instruments differently.