The idea that a Chinese-made acoustic guitar from a renowned high-end American guitar manufacturer would be a viable choice for a front and center gig would have been a hard pill to swallow several years ago. But the PRS A60E quickly changed my mind after using it on several local shows. While the A60E won’t replace your vintage or high-end dream guitar, it may be worth a look if you’re in the market for a budget-conscious instrument with some higher-end features.
The acoustic SE designs are descended from the high-end PRS Private Stock line built in Maryland, USA. While prices for Private Stock instruments can broach the five-figure mark, PRS has clearly put effort into delivering good-quality instruments to PRS devotees operating within budgets.
The first things you’ll notice about the A60E are the “bling factor” and a bill of materials that belies its price point. Our test guitar was the Angelus model, which has an extended cutaway. The body purfling, rosette inlays and emblematic “PRS bird” fingerboard inlays are abalone, not plastic. The fingerboard itself is ebony, as are the bridge and headstock veneer. Top, back, fingerboard and headstock are all bound in flamed maple, and the high-gloss finish and bone nut will appeal to budget-minded traditionalists who prefer not to compromise on these elements.
The wood choice is equally unexpected in a cost-conscious instrument. The guitar’s top is solid Sitka spruce while the back and sides are laminated ziricote. For those unfamiliar, ziricote is not a “value” choice. It’s offered as an option on Private Stock instruments and, in the reviewed example, can be visually mistaken for good quality rosewood.
The neck is a comfortable C shape, neither chunky nor thin. While the nominal fretboard width is 1-11/16”, string spacing has a slightly narrower feel (in a good way). As reviewed, setup was excellent, offering good playability with no buzzing.
After playing for a while at home and then adding a new set of .012s, it was time to find out how the rubber met the road. I took the Angelus to a friend’s gig where I knew I’d be asked to sit in.
There’s a marked difference in what I heard from the player’s perspective and what I heard in front when someone else was playing it. While this can be said of any acoustic instrument, the difference here is especially significant and worth knowing about if you plan to check one out. With a design that seems geared towards forward projection, listeners will hear a little more “sparkle” than you, the player, will.
Acoustic tone was well-balanced, favoring upper mids and sitting in a nice comfortable range between the “round” sound of a vintage design and a more present modern timbre. Pronounced mids never became tinny or annoyingly sharp, and the bottom favored articulation over the ambient “boominess” of a dreadnaught. Fingerpickers who use thumb picks might be caught by surprise by the presence of the lower strings, which can be good or bad depending on your taste and technique. In short, the A60E can both deliver a distinct, pleasant voice among other instruments, but can also hold its own when playing solo.
The Fishman GT1 did an admirable job as well (not always the case in medium-budget instruments). When I hurriedly plugged straight into a PA (foregoing my usual Baggs Para DI), I quickly found a sweet spot at around 80% of the GT1’s tone range, set the channel EQ flat and asked a musician friend out front to recommend adjustments. After listening for a few minutes, he gave a thumbs up, as did I when we traded places so I could hear the guitar in the mains.
A couple of other thoughtful features enhance the instrument’s value. The review guitar included a hex key for the truss rod, an extra bridge pin and a fairly nice hard-shell case (not always a given at this price point). The input jack is cleverly located on the treble side of the lower bout rather than in the endpin… much appreciated by those of us who put plugged-in guitars in floor stands but worry about potentially damaging cables and jacks.
If I had to nitpick, I’d point to a little play in a couple of tuners, but this is expected in this price class and not a problem. I personally favor multi-band EQ and steer away from sound hole-mounted controls (problematic when a rubber feedback buster is required), but the sound hole-mounted volume and tone controls do the trick and are preferred by many who dislike side-mounted control panels. If you do use a feedback buster (and I never ran across a need to with the A60E), a Para DI or similar DI with volume and EQ makes this a non-issue.
I must confess that my initial expectations were not great, and I might not have checked out the A60E had I not been asked to. Earlier editions of SE acoustics were made in Korea, and I frankly thought it might be years before China was ready to deliver instruments considered gig-worthy outside the “sing and strum” crowd. After spending a few hours both in front of the instrument and behind it, I was fully prepared to take it to the gig and it did not fail. I’m also confident the A60E would have held its own if I were to take it out on the road for an extended tour.
The SE Angelus is worth considering for its combination of looks, sound and utility in this price class. Street pricing seems to hover just above the $1,000 mark, but for those who prioritize budget over bling, both the Angelus and Tonare lines offer less ornamented versions in the three-figure range.
Street Price: $1099.00