First debuting their Custom 24 in 1985, Paul Reed Smith has since exploded in popularity and notoriety in the guitar community.
Known for using only the finest tonewoods, electronics, hardware, and occasionally some exotic materials in their guitars, they’ve gained support and admiration from many famous musicians.
Artists like Alex Lifeson, Mark Tremonti, John Mayer, Carlos Santana, and many more have sung the praises of their PRS guitars.
While their American line of guitars is known for its high-end quality and perfect craftsmanship, it is not exactly known for being budget-friendly.
To get their guitars into the hands of a wider audience, PRS introduced their SE series in 2000. The SE line of guitars takes a lot of influence from the American line – they still use high-quality woods, pickups, and electronics and still retain the iconic PRS tone, but they’re manufactured abroad to save on costs.
One of the most popular and high-quality guitars to come out of the SE line is the PRS SE Santana.
In this review, we’ll go in-depth on the SE Santana, and talk about its strengths, weaknesses, and everything else you need to know to help you decide if it’s the right guitar for you.
Let’s get into it!
About The PRS SE Santana
Santana first started playing a PRS Custom in the early 1980s before PRS started producing them on a large scale in factories, and it’s been a huge part of his tone, playing style, and his image ever since then.
The model PRS made for Santana was so popular that they started making a version to sell on a larger scale. This American-made version featured top-notch vintage-sounding pickups, exquisite tone woods and materials, a plethora of stunning color pallets, and a comfortable deep-cut body shape.
Truly a dream guitar, right?
…Unfortunately, it also costs nearly $5,000…
To appeal to a wider audience, PRS released the SE Santana model. With the SE model you get a lot of the same features of the US model – the iconic deep body cut design, great-sounding pickups, and a stunning finish – all at a much more affordable price point.
Let’s take a look at a few of the things that really stand out on this PRS SE Santana model.
PRS SE Santana Highlights:
- Affordable, all-mahogany take on Santana’s signature instrument
- Beautifully understated body and fingerboard binding
- Vintage-feeling mahogany neck
- Wide-fat neck profile
- Easily accessible 24-fret fretboard
- Two “S” humbucking pickups for Santana-esque tones
- PRS-designed tuners and tremolo for tuning stability
- Iconic PRS bird inlays
What We Liked
- Same unique, comfortable body shape of the American model
- Excellent tones with a lot of versatility
- The 24.5” scale makes maneuvering the fretboard effortless
What We Didn’t Like
- Limited color options
- A little neck-heavy when used with a strap
PRS SE Santana Review: Features & Specifications
- Double cutaway body
- Maple top
- Mahogany body
- Gloss finish
- Mahogany neck with Wide Fat shape
- Set-in joint
- Scale length: 24.5 in.
- Rosewood fretboard with 10’ radius
- 24 great fingerboards with PRS specialty bird inlays
- PRS neck and bridge humbuckers
- 3-way pickup selector with master volume, tone
- PRS Tremolo/Vibrato bridge/tuners
- Comes with a gig bag
PRS SE Santana Review: Our Insights
So, now that we’ve given you a general overview of what the PRS SE Santana has to offer, let’s take a deeper dive into the nuts and bolts of the guitar.
We’ll give you our take on everything – the tonewoods utilized, overall build quality and playability, hardware/electronics, and what kinds of sweet tones can be gracefully pulled out of this guitar.
Without further ado, let’s get into it.
Materials and Build Quality
For a guitar in the sub-$1000 price range, the SE Santana has exquisite build quality and craftsmanship.
Often, mass-produced guitars in this price range will still frequently have small defects in the binding, finish, etc. That’s not the case with the PRS SE Santana.
Everything from the fingerboard binding to the stunning translucent finish is of impeccable quality, leading to a phenomenal playing experience where everything just “clicks”.
The binding on the SE Santana is done exceptionally well and sets the top and back of the guitar apart in a unique way.
And, of course, you’ll find the PRS signature bird inlays in beautiful mother-of-pearl. It’s one of the unique things that really sets PRS guitars apart.
Moving onto the tonewoods, the PRS SE Santana utilizes an all-mahogany body, rosewood fingerboard, and a mahogany neck. These woods are tried-and-true choices for PRS, and the tonal combination they create is unmatchable.
The solid mahogany in the body and neck provide the balanced, warm, and natural tones that mahogany is known for, while the rosewood on the fingerboard furthers the richness of the tones. It all comes together for a sound that is undeniably classic PRS.
Read Also: Where are PRS Guitars Made?
Hardware and Electronics
As far as hardware offerings go, they are mainly what you’d expect to find on a guitar in this price range – nothing special but they get the job done.
The tuning machines and tremolo bridge are PRS-designed models. They hold their tune reasonably well and the tremolo is certainly usable as long as you don’t get too crazy with it.
The hardware all comes in a nickel color, which pairs nicely with the flamed yellow color of the SE Santana’s body.
Under the strings you get a pair of PRS’s Santana “S” style pickups. These pickups are wired to sound as similar as possible to the Santana signature pickups used in the American-made models, all at a much more budget-friendly price point.
While some may think that the PRS SE Santana will only shine when trying to get a Santana-like tone or when playing his style of music, that couldn’t be further from the truth. Just like PRS’s other offerings, the SE Santana is surprisingly versatile.
Thanks to its all-mahogany body, the SE Santana delivers powerful, warm, detailed notes that seem to just jump right out of the guitar.
The bridge pickup gets plenty of oomph and delivers the kind of searing tones that are perfect for piercing lead lines or power chording. It retains a perfect balance of having enough kick while not over-doing it on the treble. It’s perfect for any type of rock music.
The neck pickup gets just the right amount of thick oozing tone without getting muddy for chording. You can slowly and deliberately hit each note of a chord and hear each one’s character shine through – even on higher gain settings.
The neck/middle positions not only really shine for those types of soulful, melodic runs that Santana’s playing is known for, but also sound superb clean and could be used for a variety of styles that call for cleaner tones.
So whether you’se aiming to nail a Santana-esque tone for your Santana cover band, enjoy playing classic blues, or even want to occasionally dip into jazz and other softer types of music, the pickups in the PRS SE Santana will most likely have you covered with their beautiful sustain, definition, and thickness.
With its deep body cut figure, the SE Santana truly does fit the body perfectly, making for a great playing experience whether you’re sitting in the studio or on stage at your local venue.
Another feature that makes this guitar so effortless to play is the 24.5” scale. This shorter scale length on a 24 fret guitar allows you to reach all of those frets more effortlessly, gliding up and down the neck with speed and efficiency.
In addition, the SE Santana’s mahogany neck has a wide-fat carve, making it super comfortable to get wherever you’re going on the neck. Add to that the distinctive neck joint with its deep cut-out, and you’ve got insanely effortless upper-register access.
Needless to say, the SE Santana offers an incredible amount of quality, tones, looks, and craftsmanship at a price that a lot of people can afford.
When comparing this model with the made in America version, it is still true that “you get what you pay for.” It’s undeniably true that the American model offers superior quality, parts, woods, as well as just the overall “feeling” of a guitar on that level (anyone who’s played expensive guitars knows exactly what I’m talking about).
But is that step up in quality worth the over $4,000 price difference? For me personally, it’s almost impossible to justify the price difference between these two guitars.
With the SE Santana, you’re getting a guitar that comes real damn close to the one that costs $4,000 more. In our opinion here at Guitar Advise it’s one of the best value-for-money buys on the guitar market today.
PRS SE Santana Review: Buying Experience
The PRS SE Santana can be purchased in a variety of in-person shops and online stores, and of course your personal buying experience will be dependent upon which store you end up buying your guitar from.
For maximum convenience with no hassle buying, we at Guitar Advise recommend buying your guitar directly through Sweetwater.
The details below on shipping and return policy are all the case when buying through Sweetwater directly.
All guitars from Sweetwater ship for free following a thorough 55-point inspection.
Sweetwater is not only known for their great customer service, but also their attention to detail when it comes to shipping products like guitars and other gear you may need.
One important thing to note is that this guitar will ship only in the PRS cardboard box, so if you’re worried about protecting the guitar on its way to your door you can opt to buy a case through Sweetwater, and they will place the guitar in the case for you before it ships.
The hard shell case is HIGHLY recommended – I can’t even count how many times my guitar could’ve been broken into two pieces if it weren’t for it being placed in a hard case.
You can rest easy knowing that all PRS guitars come with a lifetime warranty, you just need to make sure to fill out and return the warranty card within 30 days of purchasing.
It’s important to note that the warranty only covers manufacturer defects. It does not cover 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.
What happens if it turns out that the PRS SE Santana isn’t for you? We don’t think that’ll be the case, but in case it’s not the one for you, Sweetwater offers a great, “no hassle” return policy.
When buying online from Sweetwater you have 30 days to test out your new guitar and send it back with no questions asked, as long as it’s still in the same condition as it was when you received it.
If you want a refund, Sweetwater will deduct the actual amount to ship it back to them from that refund.
Should You Buy the PRS SE Santana?
As always, the question of should you buy a specific guitar is highly subjective and depends on your personal needs and preferences.
However, in the case of the PRS SE Santana, we at Guitar Advise can give a resounding YES this guitar absolutely deserves a buy.
The value for money factor alone makes this guitar a great buy. Add on its incredible versatility, smooth playability, and classic, sheek, PRS good looks, this guitar is worth every penny you spend on it.
PRS SE Santana Alternatives
As much as we love this guitar, we realize it may not be for everyone.
We’ve compiled a list of a few other guitars that may suit your needs better.
PRS SE Santana Vs PRS SE Custom 24
Coming in at around the same price point as the SE Santana is another favorite of ours, the PRS SE Custom 24.
While there are a lot of similarities between the SE Santana and Custom 24 models, there are a few differences to take into consideration.
For those who don’t like the yellow color on the SE Santana model – the SE Custom 24 has a wider array of options for you to choose from.
While both guitars are incredibly versatile, the win here goes to the PRS Custom 24 – for one reason:
A coil tap.
The SE Custom 24 has a push/pull coil tap that allows you to dial in a realm of tones that the SE Santana model can’t match with its lack of a coil tap.
This one comes down to personal preference. Some (including myself) may prefer the deep double-cut body shape of the Santana model, while others may like the pointier style of the SE Custom 24.
The SE Custom 24 gets the PRS 85/15 “S” pickups, while the Santana model gets the Santana”S” pickups.
As to which sounds better, it’s mainly up to personal preference.
PRS SE Santana Vs PRS SE 245
The PRS SE 245 is an affordable version of Paul Reed Smith's Core SC 245 model. If you're someone who loves the traditional feel of a Les Paul, but want some upgrades to make it more modern, then the PRS SE 245 could be a great fit for you.
Coming in at a price point a bit below the SE Santana is the SE 245.
There are a lot of similarities between the Santana, Custom 24, and 245 models, but the biggest differences to be aware of are the body shape and number of frets.
The SE 245 is a single-cut shape, so if single cutaways are more your style, then the SE 245 may be a better fit for you. It also only has 22 frets as opposed to 24 on the Santana and Custom 24 models.
PRS SE Santana Vs PRS Santana Retro
An absolute delight to the senses, a god among mortal men, our first guitar for your consideration against the SE Santana is the American-made Santana Retro model.
Coming in at around the $5,000 mark, (check the link for current prices) the Santana Retro is the kind of guitar most of us dream about.
Based on the guitars that were custom built by Paul Reed Smith for Santana before they were mass-produced in factories, everything on the Santana Retro model is meant to be as it was on those original early 80s models.
It features a deeper body carve, original style heel, and the original headstock shape from the early PRS days.
As far as the tonewoods, the Santana Retro gets PRS’s trademark mahogany body with maple 10-top combination that is their go-to for all of their high end models. This combination of tonewoods gives the guitar its deep, rich, harmonic tones PRS has come to be known for.
In the bridge is a 58/15 pickup, which is wired to produce sweet vintage tones with every note you play. In the neck is a Santana pickup, a pickup that was designed in collaboration with Santana himself. Flip it into the neck position to get the warm, singing tones that are his trademark sound.
If you’re looking for the highest quality and money is no object, look no further than the Santana Retro model from PRS.
The Bottom Line
The PRS SE Santana is a fantastic, bang-for-your-buck guitar that gets all the quality of the PRS name in a much more affordable package.
Whether you’re wanting to be the next Santana or just looking for a great looking, versatile guitar, you will not regret picking up the SE Santana.