What is it?
The SE line arrived in the early 00s and offered a taste of that high-rolling PRS look and feel at a more accessible price, and over the years it has produced a wide range of electric guitars that have defied the laws of fiscal gravity.
It arrives with the weight of expectation on its carefully contoured body. In the PRS canon, the Hollowbody II has a reputation for one of Paul Reed Smith's classiest designs, with the piezo-equipped models extending the voicings of an instrument that was already suitable for most styles – jazz, blues, rock 'n' roll, hard rock...
Well, the SE Hollowbody II Piezo is a chip off the old block, so to speak. Its body is constructed from 5-ply laminated maple with figured maple veneer on the top and back, with mahogany on the middle.
A 25" scale guitar, its mahogany Wide Fat neck is glued to the body. Upper-fret access is generous thanks to the scooped cutaway and recessed neck heel, so typical of PRS builds. The 22-fret ebony fretboard has a 10" radius and is dressed with the traditional avian inlay. Maple binding on the body, f-holes, neck and headstock tie the whole package together.
Strum the SE Hollowbody II Piezo acoustically and it already has an impressive voice but it is its pickup combination that gets the heart rate racing. Here we have got a pair of Indonesian-made, PAF-style 58/15S humbuckers, which have a similar tone profile to their US counterparts, the 58/15LT – albeit with a little more heat to them
The guitar itself is assembled in China by Cor-Tek – where the SE acoustics are made, and indeed many other brands' guitars, including the company's proprietary brand, Cort. The build really is faultless.
Performance and verdict
While we found the action a little on the high side when it came out the box, the PRS Adjustable Stoptail makes adjustments a breeze, and with a little tweak it was perfect.
There are two output jacks for your magnetic pickups alone and a mix of piezo/magnetic pickups. Having a piezo onboard is still something of a novelty, so we headed to the mix position to get a feel for how the transducer and magnetic pickup would work together.
The mixed piezo/magnetic cleans have a wide, almost doubled quality to them; they are exceptionally rich, and when you add gain to the mix the mixed tones are very persuasive, even if the piezo's acoustic voice takes a little of the attack off the tone.
Taking the piezo out of the mix sharpens up the tone. It gives it a little more physicality, a more conventionally electric tone that takes gain as you might expect; yielding crunch, harmonics, and tones that work gangbusters for blues-rock and classic rock riffing.
The control setup is straightforward. There is a 3-way pickup selector for your two humbuckers, with two volume controls – one for the magnetic pickups, the other for the piezo – and a single tone control.
• Fender American Acoustasonic Stratocaster
Fender' might just have designed the future for hybrid electro-acoustic designs, with this Strat a lightweight, high-performance instrument that will persuade you with tones and feel.
• Gibson ES-339
It would seem Gibson has at last turned a corner in terms of quality and consistency. Not only is the ES-339 a great guitar at an even better price, it's undoubtedly one of the best new Gibsons we've ever played.
• PRS P245 Semi-Hollow
As the song says, it's not about the money. No, it's about the craft. That's what Paul Reed Smith has worked so hard on these past 40 years and that's what's displayed here.
Designed in collaboration between LR Baggs and PRS, the piezo works a treat. Turn the magnetic pickups' volume down and turn up the piezo and you've got a tone that is bright, glassy and full of detail. It sounds just right for all kinds of amplified acoustic shenanigans, albeit with a feel under the hands that is very much that of an electric guitar.
The SE line might be the "Student Edition" and yet there's no question that the Hollowbody II Piezo is a pro-quality guitar. It has the visual flair, the attention to detail. It has the tones and then some.
The 58/15S humbuckers strike the right balance between classic PAF tones and packing a little more contemporary heat – they never overpower the mix. Nor is there any feedback issues – this is one hollowbody electric that holds up well to loud volume. And, come to think of it, to the expectations that come with the name on the headstock and that reputational. This is the real deal.
MusicRadar verdict: A classy build, impeccable feel and an excellent humbucker pairing is elevated by having piezo tones on-tap. It all adds up to one of PRS's top models losing little of its glam magic in the more affordable SE line.
The web says
"If PRS had underperformed on this model, it would have brought into question the quality they’ve strived to maintain under the SE banner for two decades. Thankfully, this is not the case. If anything, we’re amazed at how close this feels to the ‘real thing’ – to the point of it being a very real instrument in its own right."
- BODY: 5-Ply Laminated Maple with Figured Maple veneer top and back, with mahogany middle
- NECK: Mahogany
- FRETBOARD: Ebony
- FRETS: 22
- SCALE LENGTH: 25"
- FRETBOARD INLAYS: “Old School” Birds
- PICKUPS: 2x PRS 58/15 “S” humbuckers (neck and bridge), LR Baggs/PRS piezo
- CONTROLS: Volume (Magnetic), Volume (Piezo), Tone Control with 3-Way toggle pickup selector
- FINISHES: Black Gold Burst, Peacock Blue Burst
- CONTACT: PRS Guitars