At the end of 2004 the Soapbar II was quietly launched: an all mahogany double-cut with P-90s that was - and still is - the closest guitar PRS builds to Gibson's classic post-'58 Les Paul Special.
The Korean-made SE Soapbar II Maple simply adds a maple veneer to the top, and instead of just the opaque black and antique white, vintage cherry and tobacco sunburst translucent finishes we now have tri-colour sunburst (as featured here) and black and blue matteo - a slightly less vibrant version of the USA blue matteo finish with darker black 'bursted edges.
The darker edge-bursting is important. With a standard translucent, like vintage cherry, you'd see the join line between the maple veneer and the mahogany, which bearing in mind the generous vintage-style radius of the edge could look rather untidy. With these new sunburst finishes, however, you can't see any joins and our sample's attractively finished top, which drops over the forearm contour, makes you think there a lot more figured maple than there actually is.
The build quality is exceptionally high for the money, and the plating on the Stop-Tail (there's no vibrato option) looks amazingly close to the USA-made part.
The Soapbar has sparkle and vibe. It has plenty of power, and the soapbar single-coils really suit the guitar. Its weight seems to create some good resonance. There's bite from the bridge pickup but depth and power too, and the neck pickup is really sweet, defined and typically single-coil - just with more fatness and power. The twin mix is great for older blues styles, or with a little volume reduction it does a passable funky Fender-like mix; thankfully it's hum-cancelling, too.
It's dead simple to use, but that's the appeal of this guitar's inspiration: the Les Paul Special. Okay, it never had a maple top but you know where we're coming from: light weight, a great neck and impressively rock 'n' roll sounding. It's not overblown but nicely raw and jangly, and with enough poke to have you wailing away up the dusty end.
If we had to be critical, we'd say that the frets are slightly on the low side and playability is a little less fluid than it could be.