A Closer Look: PRS SE Acoustics
Published on 09 July 2020
Quality and innovation.
These are the first two words we’d associate with PRS guitars, followed closely by ‘beauty’.
Of course, we (and probably yourselves too) think of gorgeously finished electric guitars with spectacular exotic woods when we visualise PRS. This makes, sense, since it’s what they are world renowned for! But there’s more to it, and today we want to guide you down a slightly different path.
PRS Quality, SE value
These wonderful acoustic guitars are part of PRS’s SE range. These are made out in China to exacting standards by a carefully chosen factory. Paul Reed Smith and his team have taken decades to build up their reputation for quality, so instruments bearing his initials, even those made outside the USA (especially those, to be fair), need to come up to scratch.
It’s obvious from the off that these are excellently made guitars. The design, construction and inlay work are all high-level, regardless of price, and the guitars all ship with hard shell cases, adding confidence to the integrity of the instrument.
The guitars we've chosen today are all either Angelus or Tonare Grand models. Each style has it’s own distinction, but first, let us take a look at the features shared by them all.
First off, the Angelus, which is a medium-sized Grand Concert model with a Venetian-style ‘Angelus’ cutaway. The mid-sized body should work perfectly for most players: it’s big enough to move some air and produce a mature tone, yet not so big that it’s a chore to get the right arm around. By contrast, the Tonare Grand has a larger, non-cutaway body tha tis designed for an altogether bigger sound. Singer-songwriters and fans of strumming will certainly enjoy the deep, loud, projecting voice of the Tonare Grand!
Both the SE Angelus and Tonare Grand guitars have a solid Sitka Spruce top, a sign of quality and a natural choice for giving acoustic guitars a crisp, authoritative voice. The body of each model is made with a different layered wood, so we’ll address those soon.
The neck, always a defining factor for how a player takes to an instrument, is fantastic on these PRS SE guitars. The models all have Mahogany necks, shaped into PRS’s Wide Fat profile. This is a real favourite carve for vintage guitar fans and has a heft and comfort that is immediately favourable. Additionally, all of the necks have 20 fret Ebony fingerboards with a 25.3” scale length and an 11.81” radius. The famous bird inlays are happily present, reinstating the provenance of these instruments and providing extra vidual beautiy and identity.
All PRS SE acoustic models shown here come fitted with a Fishman GT-1 pickup and preamp system. Fishman, as you’ll know, are the number one name in acoustic amplification, and this particular system matches up an undersaddle piezo pickup with a discreet soundhole control system. The battery compartment is down by the input jack, making battery changes extremely easy. Good news for busy, gigging players: who wants to slacken off their strings and reach into the soundhole to grab blindly at a dud 9-volter right before (or in the middle of) a gig?
These are the main features relative to the range. Now, let us take a quick skip through each individual model, bearing in mind that the codes often mean a matching spec, so the Angelus AX20E, for example, has the same specs as the Tonare Grande TX20E apart from the body shape. Remember, to tell the models apart at a glance, the Angelus has the cutaway and the Tonare Grand does not!
AX20E & TX20E
The PRS SE AX20E has a layered Mahogany body to go along with the solid Spruce top, as does the TX20E. The bracing inside is traditional ‘X’ style, designed to let the timber vibrate and resonate in a controlled way for great, punchy tone.
Decoration on these models is the most stripped back, with black binding on the body and an understated rosette. If you like your guitars to be all about comfort and playability, the AX20E and TX20E will serve you well.
A40E & TE40
This next models, and indeed the rest that we’ll look at today, all have special hybrid bracing. This is an innovation by PRS from their top-drawer Private Stock instruments. It’s a combination of the traditional X bracing mentioned above (and found in the majority of steel string acoustic guitars) and Fan-style bracing borrowed from the classical guitar world. This extra bracing on the top lets the Spruce timber move more freely, opening the sound up with more projection. This means a louder, livlier guitar tone for both shapes.
The A40E has this bracing, and is made with a layered Ovangkol body. Ovangkol is similar to Rosewood but with slightly more in the mids and a brighter top end. As a result, this guitar really sparkles and cuts through a mix!
The decorations here are a little more involved: there is tortoiseshell inlaid in the rosette and purfling, along with white and black binding on the body for a refined, classy look. The TE40 shares this Ovangkol spe cand is available in both Natural and also the eye-catching Tobacco Sunburst!
A50E & T50E
The PRS SE A50E and T50E have a gorgeous layered Flame Maple body, with some beautiful finishes to amply show off the figuring. These are great looking guitars, with abalone birds, purfling and rosette inlay work adding some quiet opulence to proceedings.
Sonically, we are relatively different ground here: the layered flame Maple adds a brightness and zing that really characterises the instrument. This is met by the hybrid bracing and body shape to provide a sound that is clear and crisp but still balanced.
The Flame Maple adds lots of presence to the slightly larger Tonare Grand style, making the T50E model a wonderfully percussive, satisfying instrument to write songs on.
A55E & T55E
The PRS SE A55E and T55E guitars have some extra elegance and opulence on offer. The body wood used here is layered Quilted Maple, and is available with an incredibley finsihed Abaco Green back! This colour, like the rest of the range, applies to the back and sides only: the tops are all Natural. This creates a unique and beautiful look, especially the green one! We don’t think we’ve ever seen acoustic guitars quite like this! Certainly not an affordable production model!
The A55E and T55E have abalone purfing, birds and rosette detailing, making this the most obviously eye-catching of the range. Having said that, it is still reasonably low-key and tasteful: after all, most of the surfaces here are Spruce, Ebony, Mahogany or Maple!
These are all highly satisfying instruments with firm, resonant voices and plenty of charm. Despite being broadly similar, they do all hold their own tonal surprises, so it is worth having a play on a few before totally making your mind up.
We’d happily recommend these, even if they weren’t all under £600, complete with a hard case! The Fishman pickup makes this range a more than sound choice for gigging guitarists. We think that PRS have long since proved that they can cut it in an acoustic world. These superbly made and excellently priced SE models are the easiest way to confirm that for yourself!