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When Paul Reed Smith first ventured into guitar manufacturing in 1985, even he would have struggled to envisage the success that PRS would enjoy.
I’ve been hugely impressed by the brand’s consistency over the years, and many guitarists would argue that they’re close to the standard set by the likes of Fender and Gibson.
Combining elegant aesthetics, versatile tones, and exceptional playing comfort, PRS guitars deserve every accolade they receive. In this guide, I’ll provide you with the best PRS models to suit all budgets and styles.
What Are The Best PRS Guitars?
PRS Guitars Reviews
I’m a huge admirer of hollowbody guitars and their resonant, thick tones. PRS has produced many high-end hollowbody axes over the years, but many musicians find the American-made models too expensive.
The PRS SE Hollowbody Standard comes in at under $1600, making it much more accessible.
The combination of a hollowbody design with a piezo pickup system creates fabulous results. Tonally, this electric guitar is incredibly versatile. I was blown away by its ability to seamlessly switch between chord patterns and lead parts, retaining its warm and substantial sound.
Due to the affordability of the SE Hollowbody Standard, I expected a reduction in build quality and playing comfort. Surprisingly, this guitar feels like a high-end hollowbody, thanks in large to the tonewood combination of a maple top and mahogany back and sides.
To top it off, the pair of 58/15 S humbuckers can be used as an alternative to the piezo system for tones better suited to vintage rock styles of playing. These qualities make this arguably the best PRS guitar for the money.
- Thick, warm tone with a prominent midrange
- Comfortable neck is ideal for rhythm and lead parts
- Produces acoustic-style or classic vintage humbucker sounds
- Less compatible with fast, technical styles such as metal guitar
John Mayer is widely regarded as one of the leading blues guitarists in recent history. When it was announced that he had split with long-time endorsers Fender to join PRS, I was excited to see what this new partnership would produce, and the brilliant PRS Silver Sky doesn’t disappoint!
Inspired by classic solidbody guitars from the 1960s, the Silver Sky has an authentic, vintage feel. Its 22 custom-sized frets facilitate fast chord changes and intricate licks, and the bolt-on maple neck allows you to effortlessly navigate the smooth rosewood fingerboard.
Loaded with three single-coil pickups, the Silver Sky produces a well-rounded tone with emphasis on the chimey high-end. If you use a tube amplifier, you’ll be blown away by the warm, emotive tone that this electric guitar evokes from its speakers.
The tremolo arm further enhances the capabilities of the Silver Sky, allowing for additional flair when soloing or playing riffs.
- Balanced tone with a clear, glassy high-end
- Sounds incredible with a high-gain tube amp
- Exceptional playing comfort
- Volume and tone pots feel a little flimsy compared to the other components
Affordable and classy, the PRS SE 245 is the perfect solidbody for guitarists who want to experience the PRS tone and playing experience without breaking the bank.
Blending modern and vintage design methods, this single-cutaway pays homage to iconic axes from the ’50s.
The first thing I noticed about this guitar was its wide neck profile, which makes it easier to quickly switch between rhythm and lead parts.
The slightly reduced scale length ensures that the guitar’s action is naturally relaxed, and the onboard PRS 245 humbuckers deliver a chunky, detailed tone.
After analyzing several affordable PRS guitars, I’m amazed by the fact that they always seem to use high-end tonewood blends whilst keeping the cost of the instrument down.
With a body constructed completely from mahogany and a luxurious rosewood fretboard, it’s remarkable that the SE 245 is priced so affordably!
- Clear, mellow tone is perfect for chord playing
- Produces plenty of sustain
- Wide neck and low action for reduced fretting hand fatigue
- May require some EQ adjustments to increase bass prominence
I wanted to include a PRS acoustic guitar in our list because I feel they deserve more recognition.
While the manufacturer is undeniably best known for its exquisite selection of electric guitars, the PRS SE Parlor P20E is proof that they’re also experts in the field of acoustic instrument production.
I was initially drawn to this parlor-sized guitar due to its striking aesthetics, which include a matte black body decorated with distinguished features like a herringbone rosette and a genuine bone nut and saddle.
The size reduction of the P20E makes it a great choice for traveling guitarists who value mobility in addition to tonal quality.
Unplugged, this PRS acoustic-electric sounds full-bodied. Its treble-end sparkles, and for a parlor-sized guitar, it packs an impressive punch in the bass frequencies.
The reliable Fishman GT1 is installed underneath the saddle and provides accurate amplification of the natural acoustic tone of the SE Parlor P20E.
- Full-bodied tone when unplugged or amplified
- Comfortable parlor body size
- Easily transportable
- Difficult to access highest frets
Next up we have the PRS SE Hollowbody II Piezo, which is similar in appearance to the first entry on our list but includes some significant differences.
With its tonewood mixture of mahogany sides and a maple top and back, this guitar emits a unique, resonant tone that is brimming with character.
PRS has chosen the smooth-sounding 58/15 S humbuckers, which are joined by a classic piezo system for sonic variation.
This blend allows you to enjoy the warm vintage tone of the humbucker hollowbody combination, whilst also having the option of injecting the natural acoustics into the output by using the piezo pickup.
Despite its large body size, the SE Hollowbody II Piezo is surprisingly light, making it ideal for long gigs and rehearsals, or marathon recording sessions. The neck has a widened, fat design, and plays much faster than your average hollowbody.
- Clear, articulate vintage tone
- Stays in tune reliably
- Unique tonewood blend for enhanced resonance and warmth
- Wide neck may be too bulky for guitarists with small hands
This list wouldn’t be complete without the incredible PRS McCarthy 594, which many consider the best PRS model ever.
Part of the manufacturer’s celebrated high-end solidbody range, this electric guitar carries a rather expensive price tag, yet is perfectly balanced between vintage authenticity and modern convenience.
In my opinion, the McCarthy 594 is part of a rare minority of solidbody guitars that is suitable for any style or genre.
Equipped with a set of 58/15 PAF-style pickups which have been optimized for the specifics of the instrument, the whole frequency range sparkles with clarity, articulation, and power.
Moreover, PRS has designed the pickups so that you can access tones more commonly associated with single coils by simply cranking up the tone controls.
This pickup assembly, coupled with a neck and fingerboard that has been carefully crafted for ultimate comfort, equates to an unbelievably satisfying instrument. One could make a strong argument that this is the most versatile PRS guitar.
- Optimized pickups produce a rich tone suitable for all styles
- Four tone controls for ultimate flexibility
- Ultra-smooth playability
- Coil-tap feature may take some time to become accustomed to
PRS Guitars Buyer’s Guide
The story of PRS guitars is inspirational, to say the least. Founder Paul Reed Smith famously created his first guitar from a wooden door when he was in college, and this industrious attitude led him to sell guitars backstage at any gigs that he could gain entry to.
Guitar icon Carlos Santana was one of the first to see Smith’s potential and began using one of his instruments in the 1980s. This led to the birth of PRS, and the rest is history!
In the following sections, we’ll take a closer look at the key aspects that make PRS guitars so special.
Materials & Designs
All PRS guitars including the PRS SE Hollowbody II Piezo and the PRS SE Parlor P20E are made from high-quality tonewoods, but there is a lot of variation depending on the specific range. For example, the affordable SE line, which is predominantly produced in Indonesia, uses materials like maple and mahogany.
The best PRS guitars, like the McCarthy or Silver Sky range, also heavily use mahogany and maple, but the specific varieties are likely to be of a higher quality. Rosewood, considered by many to be the gold-standard fingerboard material, is a popular choice for high-end PRS guitars.
The SE range is ideal for guitarists who want to enjoy the perks of PRS guitars, without having to save up a considerable budget. However, if you want the ultimate PRS experience, an American-made model is the way to go.
Pickups & Onboard Electronics
Another secret to the success of Paul Reed Smith guitars is their proficiency at designing and manufacturing their pickups. Other high-end electric guitar brands often rely on external producers, like Seymour Duncan or DiMarzio, but PRS’ pickups are so good that they don’t need to go elsewhere.
PRS produces a vast range of humbucker, PAF-style, and single-coil pickups. On high-end models like the McCarthy range, these pickups are often tailored and fine-tuned to perfectly match the other components and specifics of the instrument.
Even the more affordable solidbody and hollowbody guitars like the PRS SE Standard 245 make are often fitted with pickups that you’d expect to find on considerably more expensive models. Their commitment to maximizing the tonal quality of their guitars shows in their attention to detail when designing their extensive array of pickups.
The Legacy of PRS Guitars
Before PRS was established, it seemed that no manufacturer would be able to rival the unprecedented success of Fender and Gibson. In recent decades, the brand has steadily risen to the forefront of guitar production and is now mentioned in the same breath as the two pre-established heavyweights of the industry.
Dedicated to producing highly playable instruments with distinctive tones, PRS continues to go from strength to strength as they approach four decades of guitar manufacturing.