PRS 20th Anniversary Custom 22

The base price of £2,750 for the 20th Anniversary Custom 22 or 24 is only £160 more than the standard non-anniversary model, and although the 20th Anniversary Artist Package is £145 more expensive than the standard Artist Package it does include a Brazilian rosewood fingerboard and headstock facing.

We've selected a Custom 22 with Artist Package, creating just about the most upmarket spec before you move into Private Stock.

20th Anniversary Custom 22 Love 'em or hate 'em, it's impossible not to be swayed by PRS's build quality.

Through the faultlessly applied and polished dark cherry sunburst, the Artist-grade maple top with its near perfectly symmetrical bookmatching is jaw-dropping, as is the perfection of the clean natural maple edge.

The deep red of the top's edge continues over the back, sides and neck back, and while on the early guitars there'd be noticeable finish shrinkage – which some, of course, loved – PRS's modern thin hard finish (polyester basecoat/ acrylic top coat) has few rivals.

Along with the orange-hued brown of the Brazilian rosewood headstock facing, with its 'Paul Reed Smith' signature inlaid in green ripple abalone, the fingerboard is a stripy, 'interestingly' grained slab of Brazilian rosewood that features those unique-to-2005 20th Anniversary bird inlays.

The birds, for the first time, are curved, rather than central, either side of the 12th fret while three wisps indicate flight; also for the first time, the 12th fret features two birds.

But don't let such arty frippery hide the fact that the combination of PRS's wide-fat neck profile, 10-inch fingerboard radius, its chunky but not over-big frets and subtly rounded fingerboard edges creates easily one of the most comfortable and positive playing platforms available.

In combination with the extended heel, the wide-fat neck is designed to improve stiffness and tonal girth, primarily in the low-end, and to compensate for the longer, unsupported neck of the double-cut design.

While some will be drawn by the curly maple top, it's the properly dried South American mahogany back and neck – both one-piece – that form the basis of the model; there's a full-width tenon where the neck fits into the body, and note how the body rises, in profile, to accommodate the neck pitch and keep the strings and vibrato quite low to the top. These are all crucial parts of the PRS recipe.

While the vibrato looks identical to the original it's changed a few times along the way, and is now a two-piece machined brass version of the original's one-piece brass casting.

However, the function remains the same: a vintage update that works effortlessly with reasonably wide travel and excellent return to pitch.

Locking tuners too were always essential to this system – likewise the nylon/Teflon friction-reducing nut and seven-degree headstock back angle.

The current tuner design that's been used since 2002 swaps the original bulky and costly-to-produce cam-lock design for a more simplistic slot-head bolt that clamps each string in its regular tuner post.

At the same time the tuner buttons were changed from the previous larger design to the smaller one you see here.

The covered Dragon II humbuckers appeared in 1997, and by the following year had replaced the pokier-sounding uncovered Dragon pickups on the core 22-fret PRS guitars like the CE, Standard and Custom.

The year of 1998 also saw the option of a three-way toggle switch plus a coil-split switch on the tone control on all models that previously offered the original five-way rotary switch as standard.

Sounds

The Custom may be the original PRS but it can be a slippery character to pigeonhole. Firstly there are the differences between the 24- and 22-fret neck versions, then there's the effect of vibrato or hard-tail. Do the differing neck profiles affect the tone?

And, as here, there's a Brazilian, as opposed to Indian, rosewood fingerboard to consider. The 22- and 24-fret guitars have different pickups, and then you have a choice of the five-way rotary or three-way toggle.

These two systems provide three tones common to both: bridge humbucker, neck humbucker, and the two screw coils in parallel. The five-way system adds two more sounds: the two slug coils in parallel and then the two slug coils in series.

The three-way system adds three more sounds: bridge and neck humbucker combined, plus the screw-coil of each pickup individually.

This Custom 22 looks posh and sounds it too. The Dragon II has quite a classic, refined output that harks back to a smooth jazz tone when played clean: bell-like and rich.

Show it the front end of an old Marshall JCM800 or a juicy Cornford Harlequin and there's enough drive for classic seventies-era crunch or higher gain shred.

The single-coil voices may lack the depth and some of the character of a good Strat but they provide the guitar with a duality that's essential to PRS's versatility.

Wind down the volume and the sound cleans-up; select a single-coil voice and there is plenty of sparkle that in the right amp/FX chain will give you clean chime, or Hendrix-y percussive funk.

This versatility is created not without work, however, and using the volume and tone controls in combination with the toggle and hardly quick to activate pull/push, you can create some spectacular sounds.

Yet things like the control tapers and control positions, not to mention these new knobs previously only seen on the 513, just make all this sound-selection a pleasure. Everything seems 'right'.

The real achievement of PRS is quite simply the consistently rising quality of the guitars themselves. There are some who would like us to believe modern PRS guitars are not as good as those made in the early years of the company.

Certainly the early guitars had a charm about them back then, with finish defects, inconsistent shaping, fading colours, vibratos that would quickly wear, noticeable filler around inlays… but 'better' is not a word this writer would use.

The modern PRS guitar is virtually identical but it's built with 20 more years experience and it shows.

This is the guitar that not so much celebrates PRS's present but actually its past. If you've never played or owned a PRS, a Custom is undoubtedly the place to start.

MusicRadar Rating

4 / 5 stars
Pros

Better than ever build and sound quality. 513 knobs. Inlays.

Cons

The Artist Package inflates price into collectors' realm – unless you're loaded.

Verdict

If you've never played or owned a PRS, a Custom is undoubtedly the place to start.

Available Controls

3-way Pickup Selector Tone Volume

Available Finish

Dark Cherry Sunburst/Wide Choice of Translucent Colours with or without Natural Edge.

Bridge

PRS Vibrato

Case Included

Yes

Country of Origin

USA

Cutaway

Yes

Fingerboard Material

Brazilian Rosewood

Guitar Body Material

Mahogany

Hardware

Gold

Inlays

Abalone Birds

Neck Material

Mahogany

No of Strings

6

No. of Frets

22

Nut

Friction reducing

Pickguard

No

Pickup Configuration

2 x Humbucker

Pickup Type

2 x PRS Dragon II Humbuckers

Scale Length (Inches)

25

Scale Length (mm)

635

Top Material

Artist-grade carved maple top

Tremolo

Yes

Weight (kg)

3.6

Weight (lb)

8

Width at Nut (mm)

42.8

Review Policy
All MusicRadar's reviews are by independent product specialists, who are not aligned to any gear manufacturer or retailer. Our experts also write for renowned magazines such as Guitarist, Total Guitar, Computer Music, Future Music and Rhythm. All are part of Future PLC, the biggest publisher of music making magazines in the world.