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I was particularly fortunate to grow up during a time when high-quality, American-made guitars were both plentiful and affordable in this country.
Back in 1974, when I was shopping for my first electric, I could choose from Strats, Teles, Les Paul Specials and Les Paul Juniors models from the Fifties, Jaguars, Jazzmasters and SGs from the early Sixties, or any number of great American guitars that I could afford with my life savings of $250 (about $1,200 in today’s currency values). These guitars were used of course, but they still were within my means well before the vintage guitar market placed instruments like those out of the average working guitarist’s reach.
With only a few rare exceptions, new high-quality, American-made guitars have always been priced notably higher than most imports. While the quality of import guitars has improved considerably since the days when I sought my first ax, most players still feel that guitars made in the U.S. remain the standard of excellence.
With the introduction of the new S2 Series from PRS Guitars, I can safely say that the long-awaited day when a guitar maker creates an affordable American-made instrument that even a discriminating pro would be proud to own has finally arrived.
The PRS S2 Series currently consists of three models: the S2 Custom 24, the S2 Mira, and the S2 Starla. All three are made at the PRS factory in Maryland where their namesake flagship counterparts are also built, but the materials and manufacturing techniques differ slightly. For example, the S2 Custom 24’s bird fretboard inlays are an opaque white material instead of the dazzling abalone used on the regular Custom 24. The S2 Custom 24 also has a more angular bevel on its book-matched figured maple top, which also is not bound. The pickups, electronics and hardware of all three models also differ from those of their higher priced upper-echelon models.
However, all three S2 Series models are impressive in their own right. Each has a beveled mahogany body, with the S2 Custom 24 also featuring the aforementioned book-matched figured top. The S2 Custom 24 also has a 24-fret neck with a 25-inch scale, while the S2 Mira and S2 Starla feature 22 fret necks with 25-inch scales. All three models offer a mahogany neck with a rosewood fretboard and the comfortable Pattern Regular profile. Each model features a volume control, a push/pull coil-split tone control and a three-position blade pickup selector, but the pickups vary: the S2 Custom 24 has S2 HFS Treble and S2 Vintage Bass humbuckers, while the Starla and Mira feature their own namesake S2 Treble and Bass humbuckers. Beyond body shape, the other key difference between the three S2 models is the PRS tremolo on the S2 Custom 24, PRS stoptail on the S2 Mira, and Tune-o-matic bridge/Bigsby B50 vibrato on the S2 Starla.
Any guitarist who has ever bonded with a high-quality instrument knows that there is an indescribable quality to it that’s much more than the sum of its parts. That’s the kind of vibe that the PRS S2 Series guitars give off. Even though they’re made from materials similar to PRS’s less expensive imported SE models, they just have an edge when it comes to feel, playability, tone and overall appeal.
With its thin, beveled mahogany slab body, dual humbuckers and deep double cutaways, the S2 Mira reminded me of my personal first guitar, a mid-Sixties SG. Plugging it in, I couldn’t resist banging out a few AC/DC riffs, and it responded in kind with its perfect, aggressive snarl and singing midrange. The S2 Custom 24’s tone is slightly more mellow and refined, but it’s still a hard-rocking beast that offers everything from the throaty midrange roar of a vintage sunburst to the slinky single-coil spank of a Strat when its coils are split (and the stellar PRS Tremolo is employed judiciously). The S2 Starla offers the most distinctive voice of the three, thanks to its Bigsby vibrato, which gives the guitar a characteristic twangy resonance and facilitates those super-cool spy-theme chord dives that seem to melt into the ether.
If I had to choose just one, I’d go with the S2 Mira for having the lowest price of the three and its nostalgic vibe, but at these low prices, it’s not out of the question to save up a little longer to afford all three.
Street Prices S2 Mira, $1,179; S2 Starla, $1,249; S2 Custom 24, $1,399
Manufacturer PRS Guitars, prsguitars.com
Made at the PRS Guitars factory in Maryland, the S2 Series guitars are based on several flagship PRS models but with streamlined features and labor-saving construction techniques.
The S2 Custom 24 is a stripped-down version of the Custom 24, featuring an asymmetrical, beveled, figured maple top, a mahogany body and streamlined controls.
The S2 Mira has a thin mahogany slab double-cutaway body, plus two custom-voiced S2 Mira Treble and Bass humbuckers.
The S2 Starla exudes vintage vibe with its Bigsby B50 vibrato, Tune-o-matic bridge and single-cut body shape.
The Bottom Line
With the introduction of its S2 Series, PRS Guitars delivers the best possible value for guitarists who demand a high-quality, high-performance instrument made in the good ol’ U. S. of A.