PRS SE Paul’s Guitar Review: The Best Value Guitar?
Most of you already know the name Paul Reed Smith, likely thinking of him as the guy responsible for those great PRS guitars. Similar to Les Paul himself, he’s also a fantastic and accomplished guitarist, and that tends to get overlooked.
The PRS Paul’s Guitar model was directly designed and conceptualized by Paul, then crafted to the high-quality specs that work best for him when he’s playing with his band.
PRS’s Paul’s Guitar model has been around for years as part of the Core and Private Stock lines that PRS offers, and now we finally have an SE counterpart to those, which comes in at a much more affordable price tag without sacrificing build quality or components.
About Paul Reed Smith Guitars
Paul Reed Smith Guitars is a premier guitar manufacture based in Maryland known for producing some of the most stunning, high-quality guitars out there.
PRS Guitars was founded by Paul Reed Smith himself in 1985. Many of their flagship designs are still manufactured at the company’s headquarters in Maryland.
PRS began as a small, boutique company that catered to professionals like Carlos Santana and Al Di Meola. Eventually, it would grow into a worldwide brand with a full range of models for every style and budget.
One unique thing about the design of PRS guitars is how they merge features from traditional Fender and Gibson designs. Many of their designs feature a double cutaway design reminiscent of a Strat, but with a Gibson-style headstock with 3 tuners on each side. Like Gibsons, they usually feature dual humbuckers, but with options to split into single-coils and a Strat-style switch. Most Fender guitars are built with a 25.5” scale length while Gibson tends to use 24.75”, and PRS typically use 25” for that comfortable scale.
Check out my guide on the Best PRS Guitars
PRS SE Paul’s Guitar Highlights:
This is maybe the nicest guitar I’ve ever seen for less than a thousand dollars. The SE Paul’s Guitar stays true to the design and feel of the Core model and sacrifices very little, resulting in an incredible value.
There’s no doubt that this is a professional-grade instrument that can work for any style of playing, with enough tonal options to achieve nearly any tone you could want.
Here are some things that we liked, and a few that we didn’t.
What We Liked
- Looks: the full thickness Maple tops on these guitars are stunning, no cheap veneers to be found here. The PRS bird Abalone inlays are a real eye-catcher.
- Versatility: between the two custom-spec’d humbuckers and the coil-split switches offering true isolation, the amount of tonal options here is incredible.
- Feel: the high quality woods and construction provide a very solid and resonant feel when holding and playing this guitar. There are quality parts from top to bottom.
What We Didn’t Like
- Not made in the USA, quite common at this price-point.
- No hard case, PRS gig bag included.
- The high gloss finish can sometimes get a little too sticky on the back of the neck.
PRS SE Paul’s Guitar Review: Features & Specifications
- The PRS stop tailpiece with brass inserts provides solid tuning stability and tone.
- PRS’s TCI humbuckers with the true isolation coil-splitting switches allow you to get the most believable single-coil glassy tones from any other humbucker I’ve heard.
- Pattern profile neck at 25” scale provides excellent playability and comfortability
- Full thickness Maple capped Mahogany body has the snap and sustain that you’d expect from a high-end PRS.
PRS SE Paul’s Guitar Review: Our Insights
The features on this guitar are astonishing. Alright, now let’s pull our jaws up off the floor and dig into the details of why this is such a great choice.
As usual with any PRS, the build quality and quality control is top notch. Made in South Korea in the World Musical Instruments Co. factory, every guitar that leaves this place is thoroughly looked over and approved.
We’ve got a 3-piece Mahogany body, and a 3-piece Mahogany neck as well. The carved Maple top is just gorgeous, and really catches your attention. The Rosewood fretboard with those signature bird inlays, in this case made of true Abalone, are a great combination.
The finish is flawless, and both color options this year are stellar; Amber and Aqua. The high gloss is a durable finish that is pretty common on any import guitar these days.
Though this isn’t the Core line guitar made in the USA, we’re really impressed with the overall quality and attention to detail on this SE model.
Hardware and Electronics
It’s actually pretty surprising to see that the PRS wrap-around stoptail bridge found on this SE model is the exact same one used on the Core line models, even the Brass posts were included. The Brass inserts on the bridge are a great touch. Brass saddles are known to provide a little extra brightness and attack, which compliments the mellow tones that come from the Mahogany found in this guitar.
We’ve got PRS vintage style tuners, which seem to be made well and provide solid tuning stability. Locking tuners would have been a nice touch, but could be a pretty easy upgrade if you decided they were a must-have.
There’s so much tonal flexibility here, it would take me some time to list them all out. These TCI humbuckers are capable of crystal clear cleans as well as super high-gain humbucker power and everything in between.
Two coil-split switches, one for each pickup, are designed to achieve full isolation for each coil. Because of this, you can get the most Strat-like tone and with the flick of a switch, get right back to a rich and warm humbucker sound.
I’ve always been a fan of the PRS designs because they feel like the best Fender, and best Gibsons I’ve owned all in one guitar.
The 25” scale makes chording and comfortable without feeling too stretched or too cramped. A wide-thin neck with a 10” fretboard radius provides an easy-to-play experience, and makes bending a breeze.
The double-cutaway design provides unlimited access to those high frets for when you need to go wild up there.
With all of the high-quality appointments we’ve discussed, there’s no debate that this is an excellent guitar. It comes in at under $1000 new which is still a good chunk of cash for an instrument, but it feels and sounds like something twice the price.
We’re big fans of the SE model guitars in general and would consider this a great value.
Check out my guide on the Best Electric Guitars Under $1,000
PRS SE Paul’s Guitar Review: Policies and Additional Info
While PRS guitars come with their own warranty policies, other details like shipping costs and return policy will vary depending on where you shop for gear.
If you’re shopping at your favorite local store, consult their policies. If you’re shopping online, however, it’s tough to beat Sweetwater. The information below is based on their policies.
If you buy your guitar online from Sweetwater, it will ship for free if you’re in the continental United States. This covers ground shipping, though you can also get Next-Day shipping for a fee if you can’t wait to start playing.
Another great thing about buying guitars from Sweetwater is that each instrument goes through a 55-point inspection before shipping. This ensures that the guitar will be ready to play out of the box. The box itself will also be an official PRS box, not a generic box.
All PRS guitars come with a lifetime warranty, provided you return the warranty card within 30 days of purchasing.
This warranty only covers manufacturer defects, however, not things like normal wear and tear or accidents. As long as your guitar is properly cared for, there shouldn’t be any major issues.
While PRS guitars are built to last a lifetime, things do happen, and having the comfort of a lifetime warranty is very nice.
Most major retailers have great Return Policies these days, and Sweetwater is no exception. If you’re not satisfied with the SE Paul’s Guitar, or it’s just not the guitar for you, it can be returned within 30 days of purchasing.
If you’re trading the guitar in for something else, Sweetwater will apply the difference. If you’d like a full refund, they will typically deduct the cost of shipping from your refund.
Should You Buy the PRS SE Paul’s Guitar?
While I can’t answer that question for you, I can say that this is an excellent example of a professional-grade guitar that costs less than $1000.
It has the versatility to work for any musician for any style of music, so if you’re into Jazz this year, but next year you decide to join a metal band, the SE Paul’s Guitar will work just as well for both. If you can’t decide between whether you like single-coil sounds or humbucker sounds, it covers both territories extremely well. Also, it is just a gorgeous guitar.
PRS SE Paul’s Guitar Alternatives
PRS SE Paul’s Guitar Vs PRS SE Custom 24
The PRS SE Custom 24 is one of the best value guitars on the market. It offers professional quality, stunning design, excellent sound and playability all an affordable price.
Read our PRS SE Custom 24 Review
If you’re not fully sold on the Paul’s Guitar model, the PRS SE Custom 24 might be a great option as well. Coming in almost $200 cheaper, the SE Custom 24 has a few notable differences:
- Extended 24 fret neck
- PRS tremolo system
- Push/pull volume pot for coil-splits
Some players love having that full 2-octave note range on their guitars, and this guitar will provide that. Again we have the Rosewood fretboard with the PRS bird inlays, but unlike the Abalone we saw on Paul’s Guitar, we have a synthetic
We can also see that it has the PRS Tremolo system, which is similar to what Fender users might be used to. You won’t be pulling any dive bombs on this thing, but it works great for some subtle trem work. The only downside of having a tremolo is that it may sometimes lead to more needed tuning.
While this guitar also has the coil-split option via push/pull pots, it is not the same level of isolation that the Paul’s Guitar model has. This may lead to a less believable single-coil sound. The PRS 85/15 humbuckers are the standard for most PRS SE models and provide a warm and rich tone.
The SE Custom 24 also comes in several different finishes that are all killer; Black Gold Sunburst, Bonnie Pink, Burled Ash Natural, Charcoal Burst, Faded Blue Burst, Quilt Black Gold Sunburst, and Quilt Charcoal. While the Paul’s Guitar model has the true Maple cap, these guitars have a thin veneer top that looks really nice but is not as high quality.
Overall, another great value coming out of the PRS SE lineup.
PRS SE Paul’s Guitar Vs PRS S2 Custom 24
The PRS S2 Custom 24 is a nice compromise between a PRS SE and a PRS Core guitar giving you top notch American craftsmanship at an affordable price point
Aside from the SE lineup, PRS also offers the S2 series guitars. These are essentially the next step up and usually come in the $1400 to $1800 price range.
At first glance, this looks very similar to the SE Custom 24 we just discussed, but if we look closer there are a few key changes that knock the price up almost $1000:
- Birdseye Maple top
- Upgraded PRS 85/15 “S” pickups
- PRS S2 locking tuners
- Gloss Nitrocellulose finish
The Birdseye Maple top here is stunning. It is a bit more premium wood over the standard Maple cap that Paul’s Guitar has. The other key distinction is the Nitrocellulose lacquer. This is a pricey upgrade that we often see on Custom Shop guitars, as many believe the Nitro finish, while more fragile and prone to scratching/checking, provides a better overall tone than the high-gloss finishes of more affordable guitars.
The upgraded pickups here are as dynamic and versatile as you’d expect and are considered a step up. They do include a push/pull pot but again, they are not as isolating as the Paul’s Guitar coil-split switches, and therefore will sound less like a true single-coil.
Hard to complain about the hardware here. Locking tuners are something most players love to see, and this S2 has a set of PRS’s own low-mass (lightweight) locking tuners. Again we see the PRS tremolo which some players love, while some prefer a hardtail, myself included.
This guitar is roughly $650 more than the SE Paul’s Guitar, but if you’re looking to spend a little extra for some added features and slight changes, this might be a good call for you.
PRS SE Paul’s Guitar Vs Epiphone Les Paul
The Epiphone Les Paul Standard captures the same look, feel, and sound like an original Gibson Les Paul at a fraction of the price.
Read our full Epiphone Les Paul Standard Review
The Epiphone Standard model is a classic example of a great ax that comes in at a more pocket-friendly price. The recent improvements Epiphone has made over the past couple of years make them much easier to recommend.
It’s easy to see how Paul got some inspiration for his guitars from the Les Paul. Just like the SE Paul’s Guitar, we have 2 humbuckers, Mahogany body, 22 frets, stop bar tailpiece, 3+3 tuner configuration.
Now that you know what’s similar about this model and the SE Paul’s Guitar, let’s see what’s different:
- Lack of coil-splitting options
- Tune-o-matic bridge
- Indian Laurel fretboard
- 24.75” scale length
The pickups in this guitar are Epiphone’s Probucker pickups, which are voiced to emulate the classic PAF humbucker sound. They are medium output and sound pretty great actually. This model does not have any coil-splitting options like the SE Paul’s guitar but is still capable of some great sounds.
When Paul was designing his early PRS guitars, he tended to use the wraparound style tailpiece like we see on the Paul’s Guitar model because he and many others believe that they sound better than the tune-o-matic style bridge. This Epiphone has a separate bridge and tailpiece configuration like most Epiphone’s and Gibsons. The Grover tuners on these are nice and should hold tune quite well.
The Indian Laurel fretboard is a cost-effective alternative to Rosewood but shares a similarly dark look and similar tonal properties, warm and round. Somewhat surprising is the flame Maple top here. Normally a guitar at this price point would have some sort of veneer instead of the real deal, kudos to Epiphone for this.
The Epiphone Les Paul comes in around $400 less than the PRS SE Paul’s Guitar but sacrifices some of the high-quality components and parts in the process. The Epiphone Les Paul would be a great choice for somebody looking for a guitar with less options, for less cost.
The Bottom Line
The PRS SE Paul’s Guitar is an excellent choice for anyone who needs a professional-grade instrument for less than $1000 and needs to cover many sounds with one guitar.
Our favorite standout features of this guitar are:
- Upgraded pickups and switching options, and PRS stoptail bridge with the Brass inserts
- Gorgeous Maple cap and excellent construction
- Ergonomic and comfortable design
It truly does feel like a guitar that was designed with the player in mind, and an incredible value was the final result. Upgraded parts, incredible construction, and tone for days are what this guitar provides.
If you’re on the hunt for a new guitar that can cover a lot of ground, we can absolutely recommend the PRS SE Paul’s Guitar.