The Paul Reed Smith SE acoustic line is inspired by the fundamental build qualities of their higher-end Private Stock acoustic guitars, which are revered for their craftsmanship and playability. Over the years, the SE line of guitars has offered studio and road-worthy instruments to those players in search of a modestly priced acoustic. Earlier this year, Paul Reed Smith revamped their full line of SE series acoustic instruments.
The 2018 lineup features two body styles — the SE Angelus and SE Tonare — with three models in each style. Back and side wood, binding style, and bracing pattern vary with each numeric series. The full line of guitars feature a mahogany neck with PRS’ Wide Fat profile and Ebony fingerboard with an 11.81” radius, bone nut and saddle, and the Fishman GT1 electronics system. Two of the most important across-the-board features I find with the new SE series are: Each guitar features a solid Spruce top, and shipped in a form-fit hardshell case. It isn’t common for guitars under $1,000 to come with a hardshell case; many at this price point come with a gig bag or soft bag — or nothing at all. With user care and incorporating the proper use of an in-case guitar humidification system, these guitars will last for years to come — and save the player the added expense of purchasing a case.
Any of the new SE acoustics identified by -40E or -50E feature a PRS hybrid “X”/Classical bracing, in which the top of the guitar is braced in a traditional X pattern, but with fanned bracing across the belly. The concept here is that the back of the guitar is tightly secured for extra stability, while the Spruce top still moves freely. This style enhances the volume and projection of the guitar while not adding weight in bracing where you don’t want it — the guitar’s top.
For this review, PRS sent us out three guitars: two Angelus guitars — the AX20-E and A-50E — to display qualities and difference in bracing pattern from the same body style, and the T-40E which is part of the non-cutaway Tonare body style.
This guitar is the first step in the line of SE Angelus guitars. It features mahogany back and sides, traditional “X” bracing, white/black binding, and pearloid PRS bird inlays. The Angelus SE has a crisp high end, but isn’t entirely too bright. This guitar complements the chime of first position chords with string-to-string definition and no negative overtones. The onboard Fishman GT1 is easy to use, with standard volume and tone controls for a quick dial in on a plug-in gig. Coming in at $649 — with a hardshell case and electronics — the AX-20E is an excellent main or backup instrument for the gigging musician.
Perhaps the flagship in the new line in tonal and design quality, the SE-A50E is comprised of figured maple back and sides, Abalone purfling over white/black binding, and Abalone PRS bird inlays. This model comes in at a street price of $899. Compared to the AX-20E, the A-50E has a greater midrange projection and fuller body, provided by the hybrid X/Classical bracing design in this series style. Fingerstyle players may enjoy the A50E’s accentuated midrange, and almost anybody will enjoy the huge sound this guitar packs.
The Tonare line is the non-cutaway line in the new SE acoustic family. This, the T-40E, features Ovangkol back and sides — which is a hardwood in the tonal family of Rosewood. All of the 40E series features a very attractive Tiger Acrylic purfling over white/cream binding. This model, having a fanned braced Ovangkol back and sides, has a different nature in the attack of the high end. It produces a different frequency than the high end of Maple back and sides; one that may further complement the sibilance of a vocalist — making the T-40E perhaps the optimal choice of the three for a singer-songwriter. The Tonare 40E comes in at $699.
Those who are already PRS fans will instantly gravitate towards playing these new SE acoustics. The Wide Fat neck profile has a comfortable vintage inspired feel, and may make a long tracking session or gig easier going on the fretting hand. Out of the box, these guitars were ready to play. Perhaps a minor truss rod adjustment may be needed, but only by preference. As a fan of orchestra-styled acoustic guitars, I especially enjoyed the T-40E model.
All of the new SE series guitars make excellent choices as main or backup instruments for the gigging musician, the after-work relaxation couch jam, or studio tools for the next session. Maybe you’re lucky to own a Private Stock acoustic and need something to leave in the practice space that still has a close-to-home feel, or maybe you need to pick up more than one acoustic for multiple tuning changes in a band — whatever the case may be, the new PRS SE acoustic line are acoustic guitars with true, reputable build quality that are affordable.