PRS Starla solidbody electric guitar
PRS Guitars, prsguitars.com
Originally published in Guitar World, Holiday 2009
The PRS Starla isn’t another sound-alike guitar but rather an instrument with its own signature voice and personality.
Paul Reed Smith has been on one heck of a roll lately. In addition to producing the finest guitars of his career, he recently expanded his company’s offerings with the introduction of new lines of amplifiers and acoustic guitars, both of which have received rave reviews. Equally impressive is the ongoing, and recently accelerated, growth of the company’s electric guitar line, which now boasts 21 different solidbody models alone (and that number doesn’t include PRS Signature, SE and Special Edition models).
What could possibly be the inspiration for PRS Guitars’ recent prolific output? Judging from the names of two of the company’s newest guitar models—the Mira and the Starla—my guess is some sort of feminine muse. I have no idea who the mysterious Mira and Starla may be, but their namesake guitars have influenced a fascinating direction for PRS, offering bold new tones, vintage-inspired styling and the lowest prices of any Maryland-made solidbodies in the PRS line (with the exception of the SE series).
The Starla introduces a couple of firsts for a PRS guitar: a Bigsby vibrato tailpiece and a Tune-o-matic-style bridge. Its single-cutaway body shape is similar to that of a PRS SC, but the Starla features a solid mahogany body with the top edges carved to a contour that’s halfway between a bevel and a German carve. The Starla’s styling takes cues from Gibson SG, Gretsch Corvette and perhaps even Epiphone Wilshire guitars, but the end result is as unique and distinct as any other model in the PRS line.
The Starla's body is crafted from a single piece of exceptionally light mahogany. The glued-in set neck is also mahogany and has a small, angled heel that provides ample strength and stability without getting in the way as you play up the neck. Whereas the Mira features 24 frets, the Starla has 22 and a 24 1/2–inch scale (the same as a 1959 Les Paul). PRS offers a choice of either dot or silhouette bird abalone inlays for the rosewood fingerboard and a wide variety of finish options that range from transparent vintage-style hues to bold colors and sparkling metal-flake glitz.
Designed by PRS for this guitar, the new Starla Treble and Starla Bass humbucking pickups have nickelplated covers, Alnico magnets and 12 exposed pole pieces. Controls on the Starla consist of master volume and tone knobs with a three-position blade-style pickup selector between them. The tone knob pulls up to engage the pickups’ coil-tap function. The Starla includes a stock Bigsby B5 vibrato tailpiece, but if Bigsby twang just ain’t your thang PRS also offers the Starla Stoptail model. The tuners are PRS’s own vintage-style models and feature exposed brass posts and small, cream-colored, tulip-shaped keys.
My first guitar, which I still own, was a 1964 Gibson SG Standard. The Starla, although it has a distinctly different voice, feels almost identical to that guitar, from its feather-like weight to its exceptionally fast wide-fat neck. Even though the PRS Starla has a single-cutaway body, it’s easy and comfortable to play all the way up the neck. The deep back contour makes the guitar even more comfortable to play than the SG during marathon jams.
The Bigsby B5 vibrato tailpiece is set up perfectly and absolutely refused to go out of tune even after deep dips of the bar and slight pitch increasing quivers. The controls are placed well out of the way, far enough that you have to do a bit of pinkie stretching to perform volume control tweaks or swells. The tone control is placed so far back that it’s nearly impossible to engage the coil tap in the middle of a song. I’d prefer an individual tap switch like the mini toggle switch featured on the PRS Mira, but the pull-knob configuration preserves the Starla’s sleek, elegant appearance.
The Starla Treble and Bass pickups aren’t as dark and beefy sounding as traditional full-sized humbuckers. Instead, they deliver a unique voice that’s like a hybrid of a Strat’s full, round and punchy bass, an SG’s assertive but smooth mids, and a Gretsch Filtertron or Rickenbacker pickup’s sparkling treble, percussive attack and twang. Every note remains crisp and articulate, even when you pile on excessive amounts of gain, which also causes layers of brilliant harmonic overtones to emerge. The coil tap produces outstanding single-coil tones that tame the mids and boost the highs slightly. The Starla’s expressive voice is best for classic or roots rock, blues and even more aggressive forms of country.
THE BOTTOM LINE
The PRS Starla isn’t another sound-alike guitar but rather an instrument with its own signature voice and personality. It’s a great addition to the collection of any studio guitarist looking for an instrument to complement classic Les Paul, Strat or Tele rhythm tones when laying down overdubs, and its unique lead voices could be the perfect solution for recording solos that cut through the mix without requiring excessive EQ compensation. It’s also a very versatile instrument for performers who want to venture into classic single-coil and humbucker territory without having to change guitars all night. The Starla’s tone is so unique and recognizable that players in the future will probably refer to its sound much in the same way that guitarists refer to those of the classics.
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