“The SE range is leading the charge in terms of new PRS model additions”: PRS SE CE 24, SE Swamp Ash Special and SE Custom 24 Quilt review

With no signature artists involved, the first wave of new PRS SE guitars for 2024 includes a couple of old favorites and a posh makeover for the classic Custom 24

PRS's new-for-2024 SE line guitars
(Image: © Future / Phil Barker)

Guitar World Verdict

We all hear things differently, but to sum up, the Custom 24 is your classic-to-modern rock friend with some clear single-coil options. If you need more ‘single coil’ but are still after the rock, it’d be the CE 24 we’d suggest. And if you want more of a Fender-y bolt on with some kick then the Swamp Ash Special might be your best option. There’s no shortage of choice… in fact, perhaps there’s too much!

Pros

  • +

    Three well-built takes on PRS classics.

  • +

    CE 24 is moddable and super versatile.

  • +

    Swamp Ash Special has a great satin-smooth neck.

  • +

    Exceptional and versatile tones.

  • +

    Custom 24 Quilt hard to fault.

Cons

  • -

    Are the quilt finishes a little Las Vegas?

  • -

    Swamp Ash Special is a little heavy.

  • -

    The Special's three-way toggle limits switching options.

  • -

    We'd like more rolled edges on the CE 24 fingerboard.

  • -

    And more classic colors too.

You can trust Guitar World Our expert reviewers spend hours testing and comparing guitar products so you can choose the best for you. Find out more about how we test.

For the past couple of years, we’ve been treated to milestone additions to the PRS SE line in the form of John Mayer’s Silver Sky and David Grissom’s DGT. For 2024, there’s not a signature artist in sight, but three new additions will certainly be of interest, especially to players who have followed PRS’s near 40-year history.

Two of our Indonesian-made trio are bolt-ons – the CE 24 and Swamp Ash Special – which join the Silver Sky, the first SE bolt-on. If you know your PRSes, you’ll remember that the CE (originally the Classic Electric) was the first bolt-on PRS electric guitar and also the most affordable on its launch in 1988. 

With its alder body and maple neck and fingerboard, it was originally a more Fender-like PRS. But the market said no, and by the mid-90s it used the standard maple-topped mahogany body with just a maple neck. It’s dropped in and out of production over the years and returned to the USA line in 2016, albeit with a shallower top carve, where it remains today along with its rather fetching semi-hollow variant.

The Swamp Ash Special debuted in 1996 with a swamp ash body, maple neck and fingerboard, vibrato, and a HSH pickup configuration. At that point, it attempted to occupy the ‘Fender’ slot in the lineup. It lasted until 2009 and was replaced for 2010 with the 25th Anniversary version, featuring a trio of then-new Narrowfield humbuckers, followed by its last hurrah between 2011 and 2012 as the Swamp Ash Special Narrowfield. 

PRS SE Swamp Ash Special

(Image credit: Future / Phil Barker)

More recently, swamp ash has made a comeback into PRS’s USA line with the Fiore and, of course, the 2023 T-style NF-53 and the Myles Kennedy signature. Like the CE 24, it’s the first time the Swamp Ash Special has been offered in the SE line.

Our third model, the Custom 24 Quilt, goes back to the original 24-fret 1985 Custom and has been in the SE line since 2009, while its current style dates back to its last makeover in 2021.

To be honest, it’s a cosmetic upgrade of the standard model with a quilted instead of flamed maple veneer body top and headstock facing. Unlike the standard SE Custom, however, the headstock, fingerboard, and top body edge are all bound (more like the SE Standard 24-08 or the SE 594 models), plus we get an ebony fingerboard. Whatever, it’s bit of posh to balance the blue-collar bolt-ons.

Similar Strokes

PRS SE Custom 24 Quilted

All three new SE models use the same 85/15 ‘S’ open‑coil humbuckers and the all-steel ‘moulded’ (we’d call it cast) vibrato that’s also used on the USA S2 models and the USA‑made CE 24. (Image credit: Future / Phil Barker)

Aside from the neck fixing, our new trio shares more similarities than differences. All use the classic PRS 635mm (25-inch) scale length, the same 254mm (10-inch) fingerboard radius, medium gauge frets, and Wide Thin neck profiles.

All three have maple necks, too: the Custom’s is a three-piece longitudinal laminate, effectively quarter-sawn and gloss finished; the CE 24 and Swamp Ash Special have a one-piece slab-sawn shaft with scarf-jointed headstock – the Swamp Ash Special’s headstock is left plain, while the CE has a thin black plastic matte-finished facing.

PRS SE CE 24

(Image credit: Future / Phil Barker)

Both bolt-ons have very little toning to the finish and look ‘whiter’ than our reference SE Silver Sky. Hardware and the 85/15 ‘S’ humbucking pickups are also identical – the Swamp Ash Special, of course, adds that middle single coil and has two fewer frets.

One fundamental aspect of the new-design CE 24 and Swamp Ash Special is the actual neck join. On the original models, although the material changed from mahogany to maple, the necks were identical to the glued-in models, just screwed in; the heel was on the neck and an extension ran under the neck pickup, deep into the body.

Here, like the recent Silver Sky and Fiore, the neck is more Fender-like, stopping at the end of the fingerboard and sitting in a cavity on top of a heel that’s pulled out from the body. 

PRS SE CE 24

(Image credit: Future / Phil Barker)

You’ll notice that to achieve this, the inner line of the bass-side horn curves into the neck. PRS reminds us this actually goes back to the 513 from 2004 (and subsequent models such as the 305 and 509), whose body was pulled out to form a longer heel, though it did use a glued-in neck. 

“It’s a stronger neck joint,” Paul Reed Smith told us at the time. “[The body] holds onto the neck further out under the heel. We were trying to get more of the sound of the Singlecut Trem but on a double-cut guitar.”

“When we were designing these guitars, I took an early prototype home and carved the heel by hand,” says Jack Higginbotham, PRS’s COO, today. “The engineering team here made some improvements and programmed that shape for our partners at PT Cort. We think players will appreciate the ease of access this design brings.”

Although that original Classic Electric/CE featured a two-piece alder body, which was then offered with a maple cap, our new SE CE 24 follows the switch from alder to mahogany back from the mid-90s. We can’t see that through the opaque black back color, however.

PRS SE Swamp Ash Special

(Image credit: Future / Phil Barker)

Nevertheless, it’s pretty clear through the natural back of the SE Custom Quilt that the bodies here are three pieces with a plain maple cap that’s faced with the figured or quilt veneer.

The CE 24 is the only one of our trio that has another original PRS hallmark – the natural edge ‘binding.’ The Swamp Ash Special’s body is very slightly thinner in depth at 44mm (the other two are 46mm) and is three-piece by the look of it, plus there’s no natural edge or binding.

The CE 24 has four color options, the Swamp Ash Special and Custom only three, and fairly obviously there are no opaque top colors, although both the CE 24 and Swamp Ash Special are offered in Vintage Sunburst, with cream switch tips and pickup rings, and amber speed knobs that recall PRS’s earlier style.

Feel & Sounds

PRS SE Custom 24 Quilted

The standard PRS neck join – originally used on both glued-in neck and bolt-on neck models – means the neck extends into the body under the neck pickup. (Image credit: Future / Phil Barker)

Our three guitars arrive perfectly set up from PRS Europe and up to a point really do feel very similar indeed. The fretwork, all from the standard SE size, is nicely done, while the vibrato stability is impressive with minimal string stretching.

There’s a slight weight variance with the CE 24 being the lightest at 3.34kg (7.35lb), the Swamp Ash Special the heaviest at 3.86kg (8.49lb), and the Custom 24 in the middle at 3.43kg (7.55lb).

With only the SE Standard 24-08 below it on the price list at £675, the new SE CE 24 is very good value for money in anyone’s book

The surprise here is the Swamp Ash Special because swamp ash is known as a lightweight wood, as evidenced by the sub-3kg NF-53 and Myles Kennedy models we looked at earlier in the year. However, an early Fiore we reviewed weighed 3.96kg (8.71lb), so ‘variable’ might be a better way to refer to its reputation.

The 22-fret fingerboard of the Swamp Ash Special means the neck sits slightly further into the body than the 24-fretters and allows the neck pickup to be placed further away from the bridge. Many will prefer the satin feel on the neck backs of the CE 24 and Swamp Ash Special, too, over the very shiny, glossed feel of the Custom 24, though we’d probably run a fine abrasive pad over those bolt-ons, just to smooth the slightly papery feel as if it had been played in a little.

PRS SE CE 24

Once called the ‘McCarty’ electronics, this control style dates back to the mid-90s; where the three-way toggle selects the humbuckers, which can be partially split via the pull-switch tone control. (Image credit: Future / Phil Barker)

The necks all use PRS’s long-running Wide Thin profile and they’re pretty similar, dimensionally. All have 36mm string spacing at the friction-reducing nut, and the string spacing at the bridge is 52.5mm. Actual nut widths are 43mm: the CE 24 is slightly under at 42.85mm, and the Swamp Ash Special and Custom are slightly over at 43.38mm and 43.3mm respectively. 

Likewise, the 1st-fret depths are a shade under 21mm, and at the 12th fret they’re slightly over 22mm. In the hand, the C profile feels a little bigger than the dimensions suggest and, aside from the CE 24 needing a little more fingerboard edge rolling (it feels a little sharp), these Wide Thins come across as pretty mainstream do-it-all shapes.

PRS SE Custom 24 Quilted

Part of the Custom 24’s Quilt makeover is the quilted maple veneer headstock facing, which is color-matched to the body. The headstock, fingerboard and top body edge are also bound. (Image credit: Future / Phil Barker)

And yet despite the specification similarities, this really is a disparate-sounding trio. At one extreme is the Custom 24, which has a really strong, strident voice at the bridge that's clear and powerful. The neck has that same undercurrent, but with some expected vocal warmth and there’s good bounce from the middle both-on pairing. It’s balanced and pretty big-sounding, which makes for a strong start. 

But with a switch to a subtly different neck pickup position, a maple fingerboard and different neck construction, the Swamp Ash Special adds some more rootsy character. It’s somehow a little deeper sounding with a smidgeon of sparkle – very much that ‘hot rod bolt-on’ vibe and the closest to our original 1988 maple/alder Classic Electric. 

The actual SE CE 24 sort of sits in the middle, being a little ‘looser’ sounding than the Custom but with less of that scooped sparkle. It’s a bit more direct sounding, though it’s not quite as strong and strident as the Custom.

PRS SE Swamp Ash Special

(Image credit: Future / Phil Barker)

Listening to the additional sounds with the tone controls’ pull-switches up and we have some further different shades. The simple full coil-splits of the Custom sound the brightest, and just pulling back the volume a tad helps to soften that bright edge. It’s less bright on the CE 24 and the partial coil-splits do sound subtly fuller, too. 

But again, the Swamp Ash Special is the most notably different. With the pickup toggle in the ‘neck’ position we get the slug coil of the neck pickup with the middle single coil. 

There’s plenty of Fender-y bounce here, and even in the ‘bridge’ position – with the full bridge humbucker and middle single coil – there’s that unmistakable Strat-iness, with a little bit of kick. In the middle ‘both on’ position that voices the slug coil of the neck pickup, the middle single coil and the full bridge humbucker, it’s slightly sweeter perhaps than the ‘neck’ selection, but, for us, it’s the least successful voice here.

Verdict

There’s little doubt that the SE range is leading the charge in terms of new PRS model additions. While we lose the Standard 24, Mira, Starla and Custom 22 Semi-Hollow from the line-up for the start of 2024, aside from our three reviewed additions, there are four new lefties to swell the ranks. It’s an impressive range.

With only the SE Standard 24-08 below it on the price list at £675, the new SE CE 24 is very good value for money in anyone’s book, not least that the standard SE Custom 24 has (four screws aside) a very similar spec and costs nearly 50 percent more. 

The Custom 24 Quilt might basically only be a posh upgrade to the standard Custom 24, but it only adds £100, and if you want a taste of the USA Core level ‘real thing,’ it’s a very impressive guitar.

PRS SE CE-24

The new CE and Swamp Ash Special neck join is different from the original guitars. Here, the heel design originates from the 513 and the neck stops before the neck pickup. (Image credit: Future / Phil Barker)

The Swamp Ash Special might be a game of two halves. While it captures the souped-up Fender-y vibe of the original model with strong humbucker sounds and very evocative mixes, some players might simply have preferred a standard five-way lever pickup selector switch with a pull-switch tone control. 

This is particularly true with regard to those who enjoy a bit of DIY modding, as that toggle switch is quite limiting for any future upgrades. It’s also closer to the Custom in terms of price, and the weightiest of our trio.

We all hear things differently, but to sum up, the Custom 24 is your classic-to-modern rock friend with some clear single-coil options. If you need more ‘single coil’ but are still after the rock, it’d be the CE 24 we’d suggest. And if you want more of a Fender-y bolt on with some kick then the Swamp Ash Special might be your best option. There’s no shortage of choice… in fact, perhaps there’s too much!  

Specifications

PRS SE CE 24

PRS SE CE 24

(Image credit: Future / Phil Barker)
  • PRICE: $699 / £695 (inc gigbag)
  • ORIGIN: Indonesia
  • TYPE: Double-cutaway solidbody electric, bolt-on
  • BODY: Mahogany back with maple top (w/figured veneer facing) and shallow violin carve
  • NECK: Maple, Wide Thin profile, bolt-in
  • SCALE LENGTH: 635mm (25”)
  • NUT/WIDTH: Friction reducing/42.9mm
  • FINGERBOARD: Rosewood, ‘old school’ bird inlays, 254mm (10”) radius
  • FRETS: 24, medium
  • HARDWARE: PRS patented vibrato (cast), PRS designed non-locking tuners – nickel-plated
  • STRING SPACING, BRIDGE: 52.5mm
  • ELECTRONICS: PRS 85/15 ‘S’ Treble and Bass humbuckers (open coil, double black bobbins); 3-way toggle pickup selector switch, master volume and tone (w/ pull-switch to simultaneously coil-split both humbuckers) 
  • WEIGHT (kg/lb): 3.34/7.35
  • RANGE OPTIONS: See SE Swamp Ash Special. Third bolt-on in the SE range is the SE Silver Sky (£979). USA CE 24 costs £2,569
  • LEFT-HANDERS: Not this model
  • FINISHES: Black Cherry (as reviewed), Turquoise, Blood

PRS SE Swamp Ash Special

PRS SE Swamp Ash Special

(Image credit: Future / Phil Barker)
  • PRICE: $849 / £979 (inc gigbag)
  • ORIGIN: Indonesia
  • TYPE: Double-cutaway solidbody electric, bolt-on
  • BODY: Swamp ash w/ shallow violin top carve
  • NECK: Maple, Wide Thin profile, bolt-in
  • SCALE LENGTH: 635mm (25”)
  • NUT/WIDTH: Friction reducing/43.4mm
  • FINGERBOARD: Maple, laminated abalone bird inlays, 254mm (10”) radius
  • FRETS: 22, medium
  • HARDWARE: PRS patented vibrato (cast), PRS designed non-locking tuners – nickel-plated
  • STRING SPACING, BRIDGE: 52.5mm
  • ELECTRONICS: PRS 85/15 ‘S’ Treble and Bass humbuckers (open coil, double black bobbins); AS-01 single coil (middle), 3-way toggle pickup selector switch, master volume and tone (w/ pull‑switch to add in middle pickup plus, in center and neck positions, split the neck humbucker to single coil)
  • WEIGHT (kg/lb): 3.86/8.49
  • RANGE OPTIONS: The only other swamp ash guitars are in the USA range: Fiore (£2,829), NF-53, and Myles Kennedy signature (both £3,099)
  • LEFT-HANDERS: Not this model
  • FINISHES: Iri Blue (as reviewed) Charcoal, Vintage Sunburst

PRS SE Custom 24 Quilt

PRS SE Custom 24 Quilt

(Image credit: Future / Phil Barker)
  • PRICE: $999 / £1,079 (inc gigbag)
  • ORIGIN: Indonesia
  • TYPE: Double-cutaway solidbody electric
  • BODY: Mahogany back with maple top (w/ quilt maple veneer facing) and shallow violin carve
  • NECK: Maple, Wide Thin profile, glued-in
  • SCALE LENGTH: 635mm (25”)
  • NUT/WIDTH: Friction reducing/43.3mm
  • FINGERBOARD: Bound ebony, ‘old school’ bird inlays, 254mm (10”) radius
  • FRETS: 24, medium
  • HARDWARE: PRS patented vibrato (cast), PRS designed non-locking tuners – nickel-plated
  • STRING SPACING, BRIDGE: 52.5mm
  • ELECTRONICS: PRS 85/15 ‘S’ Treble and Bass humbuckers (open coil, double black bobbins); 3-way lever pickup selector switch, master volume, tone (w/ pull-switch to simultaneously coil-split both humbuckers) 
  • WEIGHT (kg/lb): 3.43/7.55
  • RANGE OPTIONS: Standard SE Custom 24 (£979); SE Custom 24-08 (£1,049), ‘Floyd’ version (£1,079)
  • LEFT-HANDERS: Not with quilt top; SE Standard 24-08 (£675), SE Custom 24 (£999), SE Custom 24-08 (£1,049) and SE Custom 24 Floyd (£1,079)
  • FINISHES: Turquoise (as reviewed), Violet, Black Gold Sunburst
  • CONTACT: PRS Guitars

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Dave Burrluck
Gear Reviews Editor, Guitarist

Dave Burrluck is one of the world’s most experienced guitar journalists, who started writing back in the '80s for International Musician and Recording World, co-founded The Guitar Magazine and has been the Gear Reviews Editor of Guitarist magazine for the past two decades. Along the way, Dave has been the sole author of The PRS Guitar Book and The Player's Guide to Guitar Maintenance as well as contributing to numerous other books on the electric guitar. Dave is an active gigging and recording musician and still finds time to make, repair and mod guitars, not least for Guitarist’s The Mod Squad.