PRS Studio 2021: What is it?
Do not adjust your sets. Yes, this is a PRS Studio, the Maryland purveyor of high-end electric guitars’ twist on the HSS format, sharing a name with a guitar launched in 1988, then reimagined for 2011 with a pair of 57/08 Narrowfield humbuckers replacing the two single-coils.
It’s a name also familiar to the PRS’s more affordable S2 line when, from 2018, a more stripped-down S2 Studio offered this versatile pickup pairing on an all-mahogany solid-colour finish electric. In 2021, however, what has changed?
Well, certainly not the shape. This Core model is instantly recognisable as a PRS long before you get to its headstock. The scale length is classically PRS, 25”, and the 10” fingerboard radius similarly splits the difference between the fundamentals established by Gibson and Fender. And the idea behind the 2021 Studio and its 10-year-old forebear has changed little; this is a do-it-all guitar, a veritable Excalibur for the session player.
But as with so many PRS designs, it is a question of refinement in all areas. That distinctive headstock is now equipped with a set of locking Phase III tuners. When you turn your attention to the vibrato you’ll find that it, too, has been revised. This is a guitar remade by the brushstrokes of Phase III.
Unlike the 2011 model, today’s Studio arrives with a Pattern/Wide-Fat neck profile where previously a Pattern/Wide-Thin necked model was on the menu, too. Like the 2011 model, we’ve got 22 frets as opposed to the 1988 model’s 24-fret format. This 2021 Studio is now finished with the new Core standard Nitro over a base coat of CAB lacquer.
And, crucially, we’ve got some new pickups, too, with the 2021 model fitted with a 58/15 LT humbucker at the bridge and Narrowfield small aperture humbuckers that have been refined over the years and occupy a space of their own on the sound spectrum – neither full ‘bucker nor single-coil and not a P-90 either.
Just as the PRS design ethos is all about concentrating on each part of the guitar to get more performance out of it, from wood treatment to headstock design, and so forth, the Studio’s control circuit presents us with a smorgasbord of options from this pseudo-HSS configuration, with a five-way pickup selector and a push/pull split mode on the tone control and a master volume.
PRS Studio 2021: Performance and verdict
All these little details conspire to elevate PRS guitar design beyond anyone’s preconceived notion of the brand as being somehow exclusive. These Core USA models are not cheap but the attention to detail and how this manifests itself in the sounds and the feel is what makes them a square deal in terms of value.
• PRS S2 Studio
Price-wise, it’s bang on the money. This means it slots into what is a pretty exciting real-world area, which has the benchmark Fender Professional range, on the one hand, contrasted by more progressive guitars such as Ibanez’s AZ models
• Ernie Ball Music Man Sabre
The Sabre shows a different side to Music Man, with a classic double-cutaway body the launching pad for an all-singing, all-dancing modern electric that's got heaps of tricks up its figured-maple sleeve.
• PRS SE Hollowbody II Piezo
A classy build, impeccable feel and an excellent humbucker pairing are 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 pattern neck profile is a classic guitar design, with a timeless quality that blurs the line between vintage and modern. It sure fills the palm of the hand with a nod to 1950s Les Paul but is more an act of ergonomic voodoo, with the rolled fingerboard edges giving the Studio a lived-in, easy feel straight out of the case.
Indeed, straight out of the case it’s ready for action. The factory setup on these Core USA models is faultless. Again, details.
Reprising the Studio for 2021 is an interesting move from PRS because it sees this pseudo-HSS model encounter a for real HSS model in the shape of Mark Lettieri’s signature Fiore, which is, indeed, a new shape for PRS, and a bolt-on at that… With proper single-coil pickups!
Does that make the Studio any less relevant? Absolutely not. But it might change how you look at it in the catalogue because the tones here are a little different to pretty much anything out there.
You’ve got the 58/15 LT humbucker doing its PAF thing at the bridge, and when you split it you’ve got a superb single-coil voicing at the bridge. Don’t think of this single-coil mode as a secondary feature per se; it’s a tone that’s on a par with the full humbucker mode. All too often a coil-split mode only serves to make us wish we had a Stratocaster close at hand, but not with the Studio. It sounds exceptional.
As to the Narrowfield pickups, they work a similarly Fender-esque magic when combined, albeit with a little less bite and a little more width. The detail in the sound remains impressive throughout.
The Studio does the work of two or three guitars. When you price that in and consider the truly exceptional build quality and feel, it makes perfect sense. By now, those PRS design flourishes – the abalone bird inlay, the gold nickel hardware complementing the Faded Whale Blue finish beautifully – are starting to look kind of classic in their own right.
If you take yourself to the PRS website you’ll find some 18 colour options, from the Antique White to the eye-popping Eriza Verde, a shade of green that gives that violin-carved maple top an almost neon luminescence. Again, there’s PRS with the options. In 2021, as ever, the Studio is all about them.
MusicRadar verdict: A triumph for the principles of constant refinement, the 2021 PRS Studio delivers a judiciously epic playing experience and a sonic versatility that might well leave a number of guitars in your collection redundant while presenting a wide sweep of fresh tones to explore.
PRS Studio 2021: The web says
"Can you get a bad sound of this guitar? Well, we tried… But it is worth pointing out it’s not that hot-rod Superstrat style of a beefy bridge humbucker mixed with a pair of Fender-like single coils. No, the Narrowfields here definitely have their own voice and it’s one that’s worth getting to know.
"It sounds to us less about copping the sound of a '60s Strat with a hot PAF at the bridge, and more about offering a broad spectrum of fully hum-cancelling voices that sound classy and sophisticated played clean and really quite huge but defined with some crunch and gain."
"The PRS Studio provides a super-solid foundation that's defined by great woods, great components, and high attention to detail that closely allies it with other PRS cornerstone models like the Custom and McCarty. What really differentiates the Studio, though, is the pickup set, and while this configuration might not be for everyone, it's a fatter, thick-sounding twist on the do-it-all HSS template that offers maximum flexibility to so many players."
PRS Studio 2021: Hands-on demos
PRS Studio 2021: Specifications
- ORIGIN: USA
- TYPE: Offset double-cutaway solidbody electric
- BODY: 1-piece mahogany back with carved flamed maple top
- NECK: 1-piece mahogany, Pattern profile, glued-in
- SCALE LENGTH: 635mm (25”)
- NUT/WIDTH: Synthetic friction reducing/43.25mm
- FINGERBOARD: East Indian rosewood, bird inlays (green abalone centre/vintage ivory outline), 254mm (10”) radius
- FRETS: 22, medium jumbo
- HARDWARE: PRS Gen III vibrato, PRS Phase III locking tuners
- STRING SPACING, BRIDGE: 52mm
- ELECTRICS: PRS 58/15 LT fullsize humbucker at bridge; PRS Narrowfield humbucker at neck and middle positions. 5-way lever pickup selector switch, master volume and master tone (with pull-push switch to split the bridge humbucker)
- WEIGHT (kg/lb): 3.62/7.96
- OPTIONS: The base price of the Studio is £3,885. The only option is the 10-Top w/ hybrid hardware (as reviewed), which adds £615
- RANGE OPTIONS: See Rivals. The Custom 24-08 (£3,799) offers simple humbucker/true single-coil switching
- LEFT-HANDERS: No
- FINISHES: Faded Whale Blue (as reviewed), one of 20 standard finishes available – all gloss ‘NOC’ (nitro over cellulose)
- CONTACT: PRS