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  • Writer's pictureHugh Hardy

Can a $479 PRS Kick a 10k Historic Les Paul to the Curb???

The Korean PRS SE Custom

Sometimes it’s unclear about what makes a great sounding guitar and sometimes we “listen with our eyes”, as my friend PF has become fond of saying…

So the back-story here is that I bought a cool little Korean PRS hollobody a few years back (now long gone), and after a re-fret and a few boo-teek pickup changes (I ultimately chose the stock Korean made pickups as best thing in that geetar!), I had a marvellous sounding and playing axe!

The thing about these guitars is that they are built a little bit like a 335 – with a FLAT plywood top and a solid centre block… this gave it a unique and wonderful punchy tone… the guitar was small and lightweight, with a big neck too! Anyway, as I said, that guitar is long gone. When I saw another on ebay, I grabbed it. $479.00 US greenbacks. I tried to live with the frets, but ultimately I had the guitar re-fretted with jumbos (thanks, Russ), put Grovers on, and threw in a set of ’61 model Jim Rolph pickups that I had in the parts bin.

Yup, made in Korea,,,

There are clearly some “offshore” aspects to the guitar… I didn’t trust the tuners, the bridge needed shimming so it wouldn’t wobble, the nut material was soft and rubbery (clearly not the “unotainium” material that Paul uses in his US made guitars)… But all stuff that I may change at some point. The effect on the playability was insignificant, in any case. But in a tone test, with the Jim Rolph pickups, this guitar sounded HUGE! Very lively. Big, tight bottom end. Smooth aggressive top end. I particularly noticed how percussive and “round” that the single note lines sounded. But “we have a problem, Houston”… rolling back the volume knob produced almost immediate “mud”. Problem #2: changing the offshore pots meant re-drilling the holes in the top of the guitar – since offshore pots have smaller shafts – a big hassle! Checking the wiring, I noticed that there was already a treble bleed cap, so this in itself should stop the volume pot from getting muddy, but it clearly wasn’t doing what I thought it might. At that point, my madcap brain remembered a small seemingly insignificant fact – that it was the recommendation of my late pal (and wiring genius… well, just GENIUS, period), Brian Miller, that a small bleed cap PLUS A SMALL RESISTOR in parallel was that best way to do this. In fact, I had a few of these parts that Brian had given me. So I soldered in the tiny resistor with the existing cap and VOILA! clear and beautiful all the way up and down the volume range. This was a bit astounding to me, but hey, I am thankful for small mercies! I plugged the guitar in… OMG, I’VE CREATED A MONSTER!!!

The Beast! Lightweight and Savage!

Now this guitar sounded so good… that I did an A/B with a $10,000 Historic Les Paul that I had laying around (well, not actually laying around) and, oh my! Blind-folded I might actually choose the PRS… The guitar was more lively, smoother, had more bottom end. It was punchier. It had more “bloom”. The Jim Rolph pickups in the cheap PRS – VERY highly regarded with those “in the know” (and rather expensive too) – obviously didn’t hurt the outcome either. Anyway, if you see one of these guitars around for sale used (they don’t make them with the flat top anymore), I highly recommend them as a great “project” guitar. And the stock pickups do sound excellent!

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