written by Gitabushi
Paul Reed Smith.
If you know anything about guitars, you’ve probably heard of Paul Reed Smith guitars. He did something amazing: he turned a basement startup into THE major player in the guitar manufacturing business.
I could write pages of history and explanation if, you know, I knew any of it. But I’m too lazy to research, so if you want to more about how Paul Reed Smith became a household name, we can consider it the audience participation portion of the blog.
Let’s just say that Paul Reed Smith is the guitar for rich guys in their 40s who always wished they were rockstars. The guitar of aging dentists everywhere.
But also the guitar for actual musicians who want something special.
Paul Reed Smith guitars have a vintage sound, beautiful figured wood tops with crazy transparent finishes, thicker necks, and impeccable workmanship. You almost can’t go wrong with a Paul Reed Smith.
That’s why they are expensive. But also why they are lust-worthy.
The one I want to focus on today is the 25th Anniversary Swamp Ash Special. I have this thing for swamp ash. If you believe that wood makes a difference in tone (and I mostly do, sorta), then swamp ash is supposed to give a little extra sparkle or rasp to single coil pickups. I fancy I can tell the difference between swamp ash and alder, but the impact of wood on tone is something we can argue about some other time. The point is even if there is no sonic difference, swamp ash is lighter than most woods. Which is kind of cool.
But the other nice thing about swamp ash is it gives a very nice grain, when used with transparent finishes. Here are some pictures:
If you recognize the couch/pillows, it is because the blue one was one I owned.
Another thing I liked about it was the silhouette bird inlays, as opposed to the full inlays most Paul Reed Smiths have.
I’ve owned a few Paul Reed Smith guitars, but never kept them. They do sound like good vintage Les Pauls, but that’s a problem: I don’t really like good vintage Les Paul tones. Overdriven, sure. But the over-saturated neck-position humbucker sound isn’t one I like coming out of my amp. Paul Reed Smith guitars even seem to emphasize that (as compared to the Seymour Duncan ’59 when in the neck position). Sometimes you can get humbuckers that are wound to sound like really fat, dark single coils. My Yamaha PAC 921 is one like that. But not Paul Reed Smith. They sound muffled and oversaturated to me. People that like that sound call it “warm”, but that doesn’t make sense, because a “hot” pickup should be bright and shrill, which means that “warm” is on the opposite side of the tonal spectrum from “hot”. smdh
Many Paul Reed Smith guitars have coil splits, which helps.
But then Paul Reed Smith developed the Narrowfield pickups. Not really a breakthrough in concept, since mini-humbuckers and P-90s (humbucker length windings on a single-coil bobbin) have been around for decades, but still a welcome development as they sound twangy like a single coil, but lack the hum single coils bring when used singly.
Here’s a good video:
So why didn’t I keep the blue one?
I don’t know, actually. I loved it. It played well, sounded great, was comfortable, and was pretty. And yet, I found myself always reaching for my Mercury Head, Warmoth, and Yamahas. As I was saying to a friend the other day regarding a guitar I was thinking of buying, “It looks good and sounds great, and clear is a #1 guitar. My problem is I already have more than a dozen #1 guitars!”
I do kind of miss it, but not enough to seek one out again. If I could keep only one guitar, I would have been satisfied with it. But there was something that kept it from being my favorite guitar, and I’m not sure what it was. Still: Lust-worthy.