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Posts Tagged ‘PRS’

Ever since Paul Reed Smith came out with amplifiers, I’ve been a little dubious about them mostly because anything carrying the PRS logo will invariably cost an arm and a leg. Don’t get me wrong PRS makes freakin’ incredible gear, but said gear also has a relatively large barrier to entry. So it came as a nice surprise that the PRS Sweet 16 is much more reasonably priced than one might expect of a PRS. For a hand-wired amp at just under $1700, that’s getting into Dr. Z territory, and that’s a GREAT thing!

During my latest sojourn to Guitar Center, my wanderings took me to the “quiet room” where GC has a few amps and guitars for people to play, isolated from the rest of the store. I like going in there because usually they have nicer gear like Custom Shop Strats, and high-end Gibsons. For amps, there’s always nice ones like classic Fenders (they’ve had the same silverface Twin in there for awhile now), and this time, they had the PRS Sweet 16 with its matching 1 X 12 cab.

Features (from PRS)

  • Hand-wired in Stevensville, Maryland
  • 16 Clean Watts (Smooth Overdrive at Max)
  • 2x 6V6 Output Tubes
  • Cathode Bias
  • Master Volume (Exits the Circuit at Max)
  • Reverb
  • Volume, Bass, Treble, Mid, Reverb, Master, and Bright Controls
  • Vintage-style Black and White Tolex Look

Fit and Finish

What can I say that hasn’t been said of PRS gear? It’s invariably lovely stuff! The black and white tolex and black grille cloth give the amp a very cool vintage look. As expected, there’s nary a blemish or seam out of place with this amp, and as expected, both amp and cab are super-sturdy. But that’s a given with pretty much any PRS gear.

How It Sounds

Here’s where we get into a bit of murky territory, primarily because even in an isolation room in a store, it’s not an optimal place to test – at least for me because I almost invariably don’t have my own guitars available when I do “random” tests. But that’s okay, I just spend a bit of time getting guitars that are close to what I have or had. With this test, I used a Strat and a very nice ES-335.

The Sweet 16 must have a pretty hefty output transformer because this puppy puts out some volume, even with a single 1 X 12. It has TONS of clean headroom, which made me turn down the Master and crank up the volume to get even a little grind, which indicated to me that to really get this amp to get into serious breakup, the master has to be dimed as well. The predominantly pre-amp distortion just seemed a little flat-sounding to me; it wasn’t bad, but it was nothing special. I did crank up the Master for just a little while, and even with it dimed, the breakup was  lot like a classic Marshall JTM; tons of clean headroom, with a modest amount of distortion when cranked. Definitely an amp suited for classic rock/blues.

Clean was another story. Really nice cleans with this amp, especially with a Strat. The CS Strat I played produced a smooth and complex tone with a chimey top-end. Quite nice. And the ES-335 sounded gorgeous through the Sweet 16. Adding a touch of reverb, really helped fill out the sound, and it was great playing fingerstyle with both axes.

For EQ settings, I just moved everything to 12 o’clock and didn’t have to tweak at all, though I did switch on the bright control to get some top-end shimmer; especially when playing the ES-335. The Strat didn’t need it, and the fuller sound really helped bolster the natural thin tone of the Strat.

Regarding the reverb, I do have to say that I’ve heard better. It’s not that it’s bad-sounding. I just wasn’t really impressed with it. I certainly wouldn’t use it to provide a sustaining effect with this amp. The sag is enough with the amp that I can get my sustain with my fingers. The reverb is not as pronounced as a Fender reverb, and it’s not very springy. I liken it to an Aracom reverb that isn’t very intense. It’s there, but it’s a heck of a lot more subtle than a Fender. But like I said, it’s not bad, but for me, I probably wouldn’t use it. For recording, I’d record the amp dry and layer a reverb as an insert or side-chain effect. That said, that amp sounds great without a reverb.

Overall Impressions

My gut impression is that it’s a great-looking and great-sounding amp, and it’s a good start for PRS’s entry into the low-wattage amp arena, but there are a lot better-sounding amps in that price range and below.Good examples of this are the Reason Bambino, the Aracom VRX series, and the Dr. Z Remedy. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not knocking the Sweet 16. I really liked it, but it’s not an amp that blew me away with its tone.

Despite my rather contrarian comments, the Sweet 16 gets a 4.5 Tone Bones rating. It’s well-made and great-sounding. If I ever get one into my studio, I’ll do a full review, and perhaps my rating will change. But it’s a solid performer nonetheless, and you could do a lot worse.

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Tweed Demon's Goldtop DGT

Tweed Demon's Goldtop PRS

There’s nothing like someone sharing their personal experience with gear. This post comes courtesy of Paul Garvey, aka “Tweed Demon,” a Guitar Gear reader who shares our passion for gear. Read on!

BTW, the picture is of his personal gear – I love the Victoria amp!

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I’ve always loved goldtops from the first time I was 12 years old and sneaked my way into a high school dance just to watch the band. I was transfixed on the guitarist who was wielding an early Les Paul Deluxe with soapbars… I thought that was about the coolest looking guitar I’ve ever seen. I saved my nickels and dimes bagging groceries until I had enough money to buy my own a few years later (that was in ’78). I bought my first PRS about a decade later after getting that same feeling watching that guitarist with Joe Ely’s band who everyone now knows- David Grissom. Then in ’92 my wife gave me a goldtop PRS Custom 24 for my wedding anniversary present (yup, she’s a keeper). Needless to say, I’ve always loved goldtops and I’ve always loved the versatility of PRS instruments as the name PRS has become synonymous with quality high-end production guitars. For a guy that plays a lot of covers, I always felt these guitars were a necessity for anyone who doesn’t want to carry a carload of axes to every gig. I’ve always been a believer that good tone comes from the hands….a great amp helps…and big strings equals big sound. Then in 2007 when I read that PRS was coming out with a David Grissom signature model I felt intrigued.

I’ve tried all the PRS models to date and frankly, I liked the McCarty’s, but I felt the pickups were a bit vintage sounding to my ears and lacked a bit of clarity. In addition, I like the spongy feel to string bending that a trem can give a guitarist – particularly one who uses heavier strings (I use 11s on all my guitars, 12s on my ES-175). So when I read the specs on the DGT, new neck carve, jumbo frets, more open sounding pickups, added a trem, twin volume controls, and it comes in a goldtop… I knew I had to have one.

When I picked up my DGT at my dealer, the first thing I noticed was the finish. This is a nitrocellulose lacquer finish over a poly seal coat. The finish on this guitar is truly amazing. I have a nitro re-issue Fender, and that finish is downright soft by comparison. The finish on the DGT is very thin and hard…very hard. Hard like glass. I tapped on the back of the neck with my knuckle and the wood rings like a bell. Acoustically, I would describe it in a word- “resonant”. The gold was much deeper and brighter than my other goldtop PRS which appeared almost beige or buff colored by comparison (see attached photo). The deep gold with the mahogany back and neck really look like those great Gibson’s from the mid to later ’50s. Very cool. One drawback is that the finish is very fragile and will pick up a few dings very easily. On the flip side, it will break-in nicely and you can “relic” it the old fashioned way…by playing it.

The bigger frets (6100s) are great. I’m used to using 11guage strings, but these frets make 11s seem like 10s from a bending perspective. The neck again is much more “vintage Gibson-like” than any other PRS I’ve played. I would compare it closer to the D-carve on my Custom 22 Soapbar only narrower. The feel was very comfortable, and it almost immediately felt like an old friend. If you’re not used to a nitro finish, you will notice a bit of stickiness to the feel, which will fade with time as the guitar breaks in. And if you’ve never smelled newer nitro, it gives off a scent all its own – which may take some getting used to in a small practice area. But that too, should get better with time.

The phase II locking tuners are top notch. I have the same tuners on my CU22 and love them. The only difference is the “Kluson-type” vintage look to the ivory buttons. In addition to the cool look and function, they seem to keep this guitar well balanced by reducing a bit of weight in the headstock area.

My first night out with the DGT I would have to give it the grade: Incomplete.

Half way through my first set I was really starting to open up with this instrument. Then I felt like I wasn’t playing in tune and it was driving me nuts. My intonation was really whacked. I picked up my CU22 Soapbar and finished the set. On break I noticed two of the screws holding my saddles in place loosened up, one fell out completely, and the hex nut holding my trem was 80% out of its threads. Wha the? I did manage to find the lost screw, but the DGT rode the bench the rest of the night. Anyway, to fix the problem, I added a dab of medium (blue) threadlock to the bridge screws and re-intonated the guitar. Problem solved. A word of advise – let all threads dry first if you use threadlock, it will take off the finish if the chemical comes in contact with any painted surface. I use this stuff on my motorcycle everytime I replace any screw. Maybe PRS should start using threadlock in its production process. If I only had one guitar with me, I would have been screwed…literally.

The second night out with the DGT was with much better results…Grade: A. The first thing you notice about this guitar is just how spot on David Grissom was with his pick-up design. I understand about a years worth of R & D went into them. The pick-ups quite frankly are the best sounding PAF-like pickups I’ve ever played. The picks are very balanced with incredible clarity. Comparing them to my CU24, I would say clearer, more pronouced lows and highs and very open sounding pleasing harmonics, with far better sustain, which surprises me do to the clear clean sounds. The split coil sounds are also very clear and open. I would say the split bridge pickup delves more into Telecaster territory rather than Strat. Very snappy. The split neck can give you some nice strat-like neck tones. However, if you’re looking for the strat out of phase “quack” sounds, they’re not here. You may better appreciate a Custom 24, Swamp Ash Special, CU22 Soapbar, or a 513. But, if you want the beautiful open sounds of a great PAF, with some tele spank, this is THE guitar.

Another interesting and well thought out feature of this guitar is the dual volume controls. The versatility with this feature is endless and I found myself immediately using it. One of my favorite positions in the single coil mode, dual pickups is to roll the neck pickup back to about 8.5 or 9 just to give the mellow center position a little more snap. Very cool.

Looking under the hood on the DGT you will notice that the volume pots each carry an extra capacitor used as a treble bleed. There had to be a lot of research and trial for the proper values used here. The volume controls ARE volume controls! No loss of tone. You can roll the volume back with incredible clarity. It made me realize what I was missing all these years. It was a real eureka-type moment. A great feature for old school surfing of that saturated zone with a great cranked low-wattage tube amp- just by manipulating that volume control. What fun.

I normally don’t feel compelled to write these kind of reviews for any new piece of gear. But, I feel this guitar is special. I used to think the Modern Eagle was PRS’s crowning achievement in production-level guitar. The DGT almost gave me an epiphany of sorts. I really believe the DGT is this generation’s 59 Les Paul Standard only incredibly more versatile. In fact I felt so strongly on how great this guitar was, that I e-mailed David Grissom himself and told him job “well done”. David e-mailed me back and said how much he appreciated my comments and that he likes to see his guitar in the hands of “players”. Somehow I know he’s going to get his wish – in big way.

(any guitar gear heads can email me with questions/comments at: pgarvey222 (at) yahoo dot com.)

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Okay… jealousy sets in… 🙂 Thanks to Paul for this wonderful, personal analysis!!!

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