PRS SE Custom
From the initial, and tentative, launch of just a single model – the Santana SE, back in 2001 – PRS's Korean-made SE line has grown to a nine-strong family.
The latest two additions are the SE Custom and SE Soapbar II Maple. And it's maple that's the key here: for the first time on an SE, both guitars use a flame maple veneer. And though both have flat fronts, and not PRS's hallmark carved top, they certainly look more like the 'real thing' than any previous SEs.
Of course, a considerable number of lower-priced guitars have, for many years, used figured maple veneers, as opposed to a thicker and much more expensive slab of solid figured wood, to emulate the look of more expensive Les Paul-style, or indeed PRS-style, guitars.
But PRS, from the start of the SE project, has been more cautious than most about 'copying' its high-line guitars, worried that the brand could be devalued and that sales could be affected.
In fact, the SE line has been a runaway success, and with the company celebrating its 20th year in 2005, we're told to expect record sales on the USA models too.
Pictured face-on, the SE Custom looks every bit a PRS, a visually close cousin to the Maryland-based company's original model: the Custom.
Because of its 22 frets (like all SEs), it aims to replicate the later Custom 22 rather than the original 24-fret model. Pulled out of its included high- quality gigbag, however, the SE Custom is initially disappointing.
Before you go to play it, it's the flat front with no edge radius or forearm contour that's such a contrast to the elegantly shaped arch of a USA Custom and that somehow looks 'wrong'.
Other SEs, the SE Soapbar II Maple included, have a vintage-style edge radius and forearm chamber that, even with a flat front, look very 'right'. So why hasn't PRS contoured the SE Custom's front in the same manner?
It's simply to include another PRS-like feature: the natural edge 'binding'. To be fair this is quite clever (though not unique). PRS has topped the mahogany body with a thin slab of maple and then capped that with the thinner flamed maple veneer.
It means that while the top is finished in grey black, and the sides and back are solid black, there's a visible natural maple edge of around 4.5mm – not as thick as the USA models but it more than alludes to that feature. But there's also sound to consider.
"The flat front on the Custom allowed us to add a thicker piece of maple to the guitar," explains Doug Shive, PRS's overseas project manager who looks after the SE range. "A veneer looks great, but it really won't affect the tone. The thicker maple top on the Custom adds some highs that aren't typically heard with an all mahogany guitar.
"In addition, we've been very careful not to copy our USA designs too closely. We wanted maple, we wanted natural binding, but we didn't want anyone to be the least bit confused that the guitar they were buying was made in the USA factory. Perhaps we'll offer another model with an arm carve in the future, but it won't have the natural binding."
Aside from the top there's little different here to the basic double-cut SE recipe, but when it's this good why change?
The guitar's 25-inch scale, wide-fat neck profile (it actually feels a little smaller than the USA wide-fat), and control-layout all give the SE a strong family resemblance.
The vibrato bridge, a Korean-made version of the PRS design, is close to the USA-made part, with only slightly rough metal finishing giving the game away.
At the headstock we have generic chromed enclosed tuners with a slightly soft feel that's improved immediately by tightening the tension screws.
A black, friction-reducing nut is used here, which is left a little high and square – though the set-up is spot on – but the fretting from a slightly lower, wider wire is highly polished.
We also have Korean versions of the moon inlays (first seen on the late 2003 SE EG and single-cut Soapbar) although the two pieces of pearloid don't have quite the same contrast as the USA moons' pearl crescent moon and abalone sky.
With just volume, tone and a three-way pickup selector, all well placed, the SE Custom is an uncomplicated drive.
The bridge humbucker has a pretty medium-to-hot output that certainly produces a beefy, not over-pokey, mid-range grunt and handles all manner of classic rock.
Some lead lines can sound a little thin unless boosted from amp or pedal but there's little wrong with this. Likewise the neck pickup: not quite the awesome tone we expect from PRS but flutey and darker than the bridge and nicely balanced volume-wise too.
Yet this Custom certainly doesn't have the chameleon-like character of the real thing. Yes, with volume reduction you can create some older, cleaner and snappier tones, but things begin to sound a little thin: there's simply not the resonance or depth of tone here that has made the USA Custom so successful.
Additional high-end? Hard to say without another all mahogany, twin humbucker to hand, but experience would definitely suggest we're listening to a guitar with a soupçon more clarity than, say, the Santana SE or SE Standard.
High build quality and solid sounds. A great workhorse.
The too-flat maple top.
A well made and affordable instrument from PRS.
3-way Pickup Selector Master Tone Master Volume Tone
Gray black and cherry sunburst - both with natural maple edge
Country of Origin
Guitar Body Material
No of Strings
No. of Frets
PRS Designed Stop-Tail bridge
2 x Humbucker
3 Position Blade - Bridge/Middle/Neck
PRS designed treble and bass humbucking pickups with zebra bobbins
2x PRS-designed Zebra-colied open humbuckers PRS designed Treble and Bass Humbuckers
Scale Length (Inches)
Scale Length (mm)
Flame Maple Veneer
Width at Nut (mm)