Monday, October 6, 2008

THE PRS CHALLENGE

I received an email this morning from a guitar player who wanted me to expand upon my thoughts on PRS guitars... Here were my thoughts... Thanks Sean!

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Sean wrote:
> Hey Jon-I read your blog on the PRS goldtop and have a few questions.I am endorsed with Gibson and a avid Les Paul player(as well as a 345,ES 137,SG and 1275).The Les Paul is what has shaped and evolved music over the last 50 years or so-from Les Paul himself in the 50's & 60's,Jimmy Page in the 70's and Slash in the 80's & 90's.All other guitar makers have tried to copy this master piece.I agree that PRS make a quality instrument but seriously! You mentioned in your blog about how well made they but what about the tone?I am a fan of your music and the best tone I heard was on the new cd where you played a 335 I believe.Can you expand further into this subject?
>
> Regards-Sean



My response:


Hey Sean...

Thanks for writing me!

It's true, most of our last record was recorded with a 335. I hadn't yet played many PRS guitars, and I certainly hadn't experienced them the way I have now. Incidentally, the 335 we used was an EPIPHONE 335, a less than $1000 dollar instrument. We also had a Gibson 335, an assortment of teles and strats, and 6 Les Pauls. They were as follows: a 1976 Gibson LP Custom, a 2006 Gibson LP Custom Classic Reissue, a 2002 Gibson LP Classic, a 1999 Gibson Les Paul Standard, a Gibson 2001 LP Studio, and an Epiphone 2005 LP.

We compared guitars rigorously. We did our best to ignore price tags and labels, and focus strictly on tone. Oddly enough, the 2 guitars that we liked best were the Epiphone 335 and the Epiphone Les Paul. We had the Gibson versions right there to compare to, and they simply didn't sound as good. The only mods done on these Epiphones were a replacement nut. The various Gibson Les Pauls all had small details we didn't like. One would sound to muddy, the next would sound too "plinky", and another would refuse to hold tune or intonation. The Epi guitars sounded clear, somewhat bright, and "big". The 335 became our main tracking guitar, and we used the Epi LP for a lot of doubles, etc.

I agree that the Les Paul is iconic. It, along with the stratocaster and the telecaster, is arguably the most iconic guitar ever made... and for that reason I spent several YEARS hunting for a great one. I have owned probably 12 Les Pauls, and my favorite was one I spent AGES looking for. I wanted to be a Les Paul player for all the reasons you described. All these amazing players have played Les Pauls, so why would I want to play anything else? My guitar hero during my youth, Stu G. of Delirious, plays a heritage sunburst Les Paul Standard, and he makes it scream! So, when I found my favorite LP (a 2001 Gibson LP Classic Goldtop, which I modded with different pickups), I was satisfied that I had finally arrived. I had played and owned so many Les Pauls to get to this one, so I was satisfied that I had found one of "the good ones".

That was until I took my LP to guitar center, and compared it to a wall of PRS guitars.

I sat down with my LP, and a McCarty, a Singlecut, a CE24, and an SE model (I don't remember which). Every one of them sounded clearer and more "musical" than my Les Paul. In comparison, my LP sounded darker, deader, and muddier. With each PRS I could strum a chord and hear individual notes in a way that I've never heard on a LP. Even the budget PRS SE sounded and played better than my Les Paul. I was floored... actually I was upset. I wrote my contact at PRS and told him I was upset at him for ruining my Les Paul obsession. I started working with PRS shortly thereafter.

Also, a lot of the things about LPs that I saw as downsides didn't exist with the PRS guitars:

1: The Weight.
Some people like the weight of a LP. I do not. I find it harder to have fun with. I feel limited as to how much I can move around and enjoy a show. I know it's part of what makes a Les Paul a Les Paul (until Gibson started putting in chambers in 2006), but I never liked it. PRS Guitars go through a more rigorous and thorough drying process that make them lighter, resonate better, and stand up to environmental changes more readily.

2: The Neck.
Again, some people like the base-ball-bat 50's style necks of many Les Pauls. I do not. I grew up playing fenders, so bigger necks are uncomfortable to me. I know the 60's slim-taper neck on the classics and some standards is smaller, and I definitely preferred it to the 50's neck, but I still felt clumsy on it. PRS guitars come in a wide-fat (like 50's LP) or wide-thin (more akin to 60's LP, or even a Duo-Jet, etc) neck. The Wide-Thin is my favorite, and I feel incredibly comfortable on it.

3: The Fragility
I got sick of babying the poor things. The headstock design is iconic, I know, but let's be honest, it's flawed. How many Gibsons have you seen with headstock breaks? How many PRSes, Fenders, or other guitars have you seen with headstock breaks? It's a fundamentally flawed design that makes it more fragile. I've even heard some people say that SG's sound better once they've had a headstock break, and been fixed. You're telling me a BREAK makes it sound BETTER? Why wouldn't it sound the best when it's right out of the factory in mint condition? I've never seen a PRS with a headstock break. Ever. You'd have to do some serious damage to one in order to get that kind of break. Think of all the metal bands that have been PRS players for years. Now think of how they treat their guitars. Still don't believe me?

4: The Muddy-Muddy
Compared to most other guitars, I always found Les Pauls pretty muddy. Individual notes can be hard to make out. Sustain is often lacking. PRS guitars are, in general, slightly brighter than LPs, and waaay clearer. Play a G chord and pay attention to every note that resonates... also, note how LONG they resonate.

5: The Inconsistency
This could be the biggest issue for me. After owning my fair share of LPs, and playing even more... I feel like you have to undergo a nation-wide search if you're going to find a decent Les Paul. That's what it took for me to find one I thought was worthy of its Iconic status. Even after all that, I compared it to 3-4 PRSes that ALL sounded better. Since working with PRS, I've never played a single one of their instruments that I wasn't impressed with, and I include the SE singlecut ($600 price range) that I have. In fact, my friends at PRS gave me that SE Singlecut the day of our Creation East Main stage performance this summer, and I played it that day. No tweaking other than putting my own strings on it. It performed incredibly. That's the kind of faith I have in their ability to make a fantastic guitar every time.

I'm definitely not trying to say that the Les Paul is anything other than an iconic design that deserves its due credit.... I've just realized that when it came right down to tone and playability... when I was able to ignore the headstock design and shake the nu-metal stereotypes from my perceptions of the brand... when I compared the guitars side by side... and when I was honest with myself about the comparison... there was a clear winner.

I sold my Les Paul that month.

My friend Evan Milby, who is on the same tour as us right now, had a similar experience. So I'm not trying to strong-arm anyone into feeling the way I do... I don't feel like I need to. Take your favorite Les Paul down to a guitar shop that carries PRS guitars, and spend an hour comparing them. No hard feelings if you don't agree with me... But I think you'll be surprised with the results!

Jonathan

3 comments:

Ida said...

PRS must be really awesome! YAY first comment!

Stevie Jeanine said...

umm...that was really long...remind me not to contradict you unless i wanna spend an hour reading your retaliation...lol

the flipped musician said...

hey, thanks for posting this! it cleared up a lot of questions i had, considering i haven't actually gotten the chance to sit down and compare guitars for more than a few minutes. =]