In this review, we take a deep dive into the PRS SE Custom 24 to find out exactly what makes it such a great instrument. Let’s get started!
Paul Reed Smith Guitars, a company that redefined what an electric guitar could look and sound like, has become a staple among top-of-the-range instruments, and their line of mold-breaking guitars is not showing any signs of slowing down.
With a list of players including Carlos Santana, David Grissom, and John Mayer, the company has carved out a unique place for itself among guitarists of all genres. PRS had small beginnings in an attic almost 31 years ago, growing steadily ever since, and the SE, or “student-line” of Korean-built guitars was launched in 2001, with the goal of creating affordable guitars for PRS fans that still had the same feel and aesthetic of top-line models.
Many guitarists and PRS fans, understandably, worried about the reliable PRS guitar’s manufacturing being exported offshore, but these concerns were soon abated when the SE line launched, bringing into the market a mass-produced guitar for the working musician with outstanding quality, sound, and craftsmanship.
PRS’s flagship, the Custom 24, was also given the SE treatment — with great success we might add — and has sold many more units than its predecessors with suppliers struggling to keep up with the high demand. But what is it about this guitar that has made players line up for it for the past 15 years?
The Custom 24 as we know it, with its beautiful carved top and distinguished finish, only appeared among the SE range in 2009, the upgraded iteration of a flat-topped, vastly different Custom 24 that appeared in 2005.
The new SE Custom 24s are closer to the classic PRS we all know and love, and are, aesthetically, closer to the PRS core version than they have ever been. The guitar features a “shallow violin carve” on its top, moving the SE far closer to the heavily carved top of its PRS big brother.
While there are some similarities of this Indonesian-made SE to the classic Custom first released in the mid-1980s, the guitar has some distinctly unique aspects, something that the SE guitars have been adding more and more into their lineup — there are some guitars unique to the SE range, not found in the USA PRS lineup.
- Top: Maple veneer
- Back: Mahogany
- Frets: 24
- Scale length: 25-inches
- Neck: Maple with rosewood fretboard
- Bridge: PRS tremolo
- Hardware: Nickel
- Pickups: PRS SE 85/15
- Controls: Volume and push/pull tone control, 3-way selector
All in all, the SE Custom 24 has 8 different pickup combinations thanks to the 3-way selector and push/pull tone control. In typical PRS Custom fashion, the guitar has a 25-inch scale length, classic “flying bird” fret markers, a “wide-thin” neck profile, PRS-designed tremolo system, and comes in the classic “Vintage Sunburst” finish as well as the new for 2021 “Eriza Verde” finish.
The new model has also been given a welcome pickup upgrade, switching from the useable but somewhat thin “SE” generic pickups to the 85/15 PRS humbuckers. These pickups are high output and sound terrific all on their own, but with the push/pull tone switch and 3-way selector, you are getting an astonishing 8 different tone options, making for a truly “do-it-all” instrument.
The SE Custom 24, as you’d expect, sounds incredible. It’s about as versatile as a guitar can get, with 8 different tone options including Stratocaster-like split-coil functionality and full, thick humbuckers, plus every iteration in between.
The guitar handles all this tonal variety with ease, never getting too muddy or overly thin no matter the selection — a problem often found on splittable-coil instruments.
Usually, the guitar will be able to give you a wide range of tones with none being truly great-sounding, but the SE Custom certainly does not fall into that category. This makes the guitar a real joy to play, giving you all the possibilities of tones you know and love at your fingertips all in one instrument, barring a Hollowbody sound — few guitars can claim this kind of versatility.
Rolling back the volume control does not result in a tinny, overly treble response on any pickup set — a problem you often run into on Stratocasters — but instead just lowers the output slightly, as it should. Both in single-coil and humbucking mode the guitar excels, with a surprisingly rich and warm tone coming from both. Sound-wise, PRS really hit this one out of the park, arguably creating the best-sounding SE Custom 24 yet.
The SE features what PRS calls a “wide-thin” neck, making for the fast and fluid playing experience that you’d expect from any PRS guitar. We were able to set the guitar up with a super low action without any buzz, and the extra frets were a joy to play on too.
Of course, the long scale length makes for a slightly “tighter” playing experience, making big bends a bit more work, but it also gives an incredible sustain to the guitar that cannot be matched with shorter scale length instruments. In the end, it’s a trait you quickly get accustomed to, and in the sustain is worth it!
The tremolo is well designed and a breeze to configure, although, using it can create tuning issues that are immensely frustrating, and you’ll probably want to replace the stock tuners with some locking tuners to really take advantage of it. Although, this is not an issue that will affect most players, and light players that don’t bend too much or make much use of the tremolo are unlikely to have any tuning problems.
All PRS guitars are a joy to play, and this SE is no different. The flat, fast neck, low action, and mirror-finish frets will certainly keep you coming back for more.
The new SE line has moved from Korean to Indonesian construction, and the guitars feel and look incredible. The bodies are beautifully carved, the guitars are wonderfully playable right out of the box, and the finish is stunning.
The flamed maple veneer is a 3-piece design: two book-matched pieces glued on top of a 3rd piece, and although it may too thin for some, we found it difficult to fault. The stain really brings out the flame maple, all the way to the cutaways, giving the guitar the beautiful finish that PRS guitars have become known for.
Of course, you cannot expect the same hardware as you’d find on a USA-made PRS, but the hardware is still great, albeit slightly generic-feeling. The block and top plate are both sheets of steel with a brass vibrato, so there is really nothing to complain about, and the hardware is certainly better than many other similarly priced guitars out there. Again, the only upgrade we’d suggest would be some locking tuners.
How does it compare to the USA Custom 24?
Naturally, with its lower price tag and cheaper components, guitarists want to know what they’re missing out on with a USA-built Standard PRS. To be honest, not much, although the small details are enough to convince some players to spend the extra cash.
It’s not surprising that the lower price will result in some missing elements, but whether these are enough to sway you comes down to your personal preference. Before we get into it, we should make it clear that the SE is an outstanding instrument that can hold its own on stages and recording studios and is an incredible piece of gear for the price.
The biggest difference we’ve found is the tremolo. The tonal difference between the brass and steel plates is quite noticeable when the guitars are played side by side.
On its own, the SE is a great-sounding guitar, but when the tremolo is switched out with a USA block, you’re going to get more sustain and richness to the tone that an SE just seems to lack.
Another massive difference is the pickups. The USA core line has a high-output, well-rounded voice that is almost incomparable when it comes to most humbucking guitars, the SE included. The richness and punch in the pickups is something that has to be heard to appreciate, a part of what made PRS guitars stand out in the first place.
Other than that, the hardware is inferior on an SE, albeit slightly, and the wood selection on USA models is clearly more carefully and painstakingly selected. Quality control is another factor, with USA PRS guitars coming off the line absolutely flawless in finish, playability, and sound — you won’t need to adjust a thing.
The SE Custom 24 is a phenomenal guitar for the price, and the tremolo and pickup can easily be changed out to get you closer to the classic PRS tone — if you so desire. If you’re not willing to spend 2-3 times the amount of money on a guitar, the SE will certainly be worth every cent.
Pros and Cons
- Iconic instrument in an affordable package
- Push/pull tone control
- 8 pickup combinations
- Beautiful finish and construction
- Incredible playability
- 24 frets
- Upgraded pickups
- Slightly generic-feeling hardware
- Quality control is not as stringent as USA models
PRS SE Custom 24 alternatives
Paul Reed Smith, and the Custom 24 in particular, has inspired dozens of replicas from other companies each with its own unique stamp. If the SE is not quite your cup of tea, or you’re looking for something a bit more affordable, here are some of our favorite alternatives.
Harley Benton makes some great PRS clones that are very affordable, and have great build quality too. The Harley Benton Fusion II is a lot of guitar for the price, with a gorgeous flame maple top bridge and neck humbuckers, and a single-coil middle pickup.
It also has 24 frets and a 25-inch scale length, but with a maple fretboard and a slightly thicker radius neck profile. There is no push/pull versatility like on the SE, but it does have a 5-way selector for some tonal variety.
Schecter has been making incredible quality solid-body guitars since the 1970s, with a similar aesthetic to PRS instruments. The C-1 Platinum is a nod to the Custom 24 with beautiful inlays, a gorgeous flame maple top with midnight blue stain, a mahogany body, 25-inch scale length, and rosewood fretboard with 24-frets. It also comes complete with Grover tuners and EMG active pickups, making for a truly capable instrument.
Godin makes a wide range of styles of solid-body electrics, including a few that are a hat-tip to some PRS models. The Godin Redline 2 is just one of these, with EMG pickups, a 25-inch scale length, rosewood fretboard, 24-frets, and a 5-way pickup selector. These guitars are by no means cheap but are fantastic quality instruments that sound and play wonderfully.
Answer: The SE range is Paul Reed Smith’s line of affordable guitars, dubbed the “Student Edition.” The line is full of classic PRS models made to be more budget-friendly with cheaper components and outsourced manufacturing, but the line is full of custom models too.
Answer: A large part of the success of PRS and its SE models is quality control. The USA models especially are made with incredible attention to detail, and no guitar ever leaves the factory line if it doesn’t meet exact specifications. Just take a look at this factory tour around 7 minutes in — if the guitar is not up to scratch it literally gets sawed in half! While the SE models are built with affordability in mind, the quality control is also strictly adhered to and the SE line has only been getting better since its inception.
Answer: PRS guitars are made in the United States in Stevensville, Maryland. All Private Stock, Core, and S2 models are made in the USA. In the 1990s, PRS began making the SE line, which was made in Korea to reduce costs and make the instruments more affordable to the average player. As of 2019, PRS began moving its SE construction to Indonesia, and almost all the guitars are now made there.
The PRS SE Custom 24 is unbelievable value for money, and at this price point, there are very few guitars that can come close. For players looking for that PRS playing experience but cannot afford to pay 2-3 times the price, the SE is an excellent alternative, and with a few small upgrades can come very, very close to a USA-built PRS.
The biggest draw for us is the versatility of tone, and the push/pull control combined with the 3-wat selector gives an incredible 8 different tones options to choose from — a true “chameleon” guitar that can be used for just about any style of music.
The SE range has often unfairly been referred to as the “poor man’s PRS”, but we couldn’t disagree more. The SE Custom 24 is a magnificent guitar in its own right, and for the price, is unlikely to disappoint.