From the June 2018 issue of Acoustic Guitar | BY BILL LEIGH


Though best known for its solidbody electrics, Paul Reed Smith Guitars has long been a builder of quality acoustics. This year PRS added six new acoustics to its SE line of instruments, which are built in Asia rather than at the company’s Maryland headquarters. Though they take conceptual cues from the company’s high-end domestic Private Stock series, all six are under $1,000.

Three of the new SEs—the A20E, A40E, and A50E—are in the Angelus body style, which features a smooth Venetian cutaway for easy upper-register access. The remaining three—the TX20E, TX40E, and TX50E—have the moderately full-figured Tonare Grand body shape. All feature solid spruce tops, ebony fingerboards, bone nuts and saddles, and Fishman GT1 electronics, with volume and tone controls neatly hidden behind the upper edge of the soundhole. Aiming for a warm, balanced tone, the A20E and TX20E have mahogany back and sides; the 40s have Ovangkol back and sides for full, lush tone; and the A50E and TX50E have back and sides of figured maple that yield a brighter sound.

PRS sent the mahogany TX20E and notably fancier figured maple A50E for review, covering both ends of the SE spectrum. The two guitars have definite similarities, as well as distinct differences. Build quality of Chinese-made acoustic guitars has steadily improved in recent years, and both of these instruments are fine examples of that evolution. From endpin to headstock, woodwork to hardware, both instruments showed practically perfect fit and finish, and exceptional construction and attention to detail.

Tonare Grand TX20E

On the more conservative looking TX20E, understated black binding lines the edge between the Sitka spruce top and the coffee tones of its mahogany body, as well as along the back edge and fingerboard. Fine mahogany grain shows through the smooth gloss finish, which felt comfortable in my hands on both body and neck. PRS’s signature birds-in-flight fret markers soar along the handsome ebony fretboard. Closed-back tuners sit closely but not uncomfortably on the back of the asymmetrical PRS headstock. Along the neck, the frets are perfectly seated, finished, and polished for a completely unfettered playing experience. Like its relative, the AX20E, the TX20E features traditional steel-string X-style bracing.

Set up in PRS’s Stevensville, Maryland, factory, the TX20E arrived with moderately low action that made the instrument immensely playable across the entire fretboard. The guitar felt well balanced across the strings and up the neck, and the acoustic sound was also even with a distinct bias toward the upper midrange. Strummed chords sounded clear and warm, with pleasing overtones and crystalline resonances floating over a tight, modest low end. Fingerpicked passages revealed the instrument’s sweetness and dynamic sensitivity. Single notes came through true and clear, with a bit of notable zing. There was no low-mid mud to be found; in an ensemble, the TX20E’s mids and highs would cut through easily.

The Fishman GT1 pickup system combines an undersaddle transducer and a soundhole-mounted preamp, with a 9-volt battery box and output jack located about four inches south of the bottom strap button. Amplified, the TX20E manifested glimmering highs and a bottom end that was balanced, if a bit subdued. Palm-muted chords showcased the Tonare’s broad dynamic range. The overtones of strummed and plucked chords sounded heavenly with a smattering of reverb. Overall, the TX20E’s sound featured its forward upper mids and radiant overtone shimmer.

Angelus A50E

Along with its cutaway-lacking cousin, the TX50E, the A50E has a more ostentatious attitude. Real abalone purfling lines the solid Sikta top and decorates the soundhole, while the avian fret markers are presented in more colorful abalone. A thin stripe of the multihued shell runs down the center of the back and bottom, bisecting waves of maple grain, and complemented with a soft burst finish on the back. The resulting visual is striking, yet tasteful; it’s not overly flashy. Compared to the mahogany TX20E, the A50E’s black binding stands out more against the butterscotch and auburn tones of the stained figured maple back and sides, completing the instrument’s snazzy outfit. The internal structure features the same hybrid bracing that’s used in PRS’s Private Stock acoustics—a combination of X-style steel-string bracing across the center and fanned classical-style bracing along the belly. Also finished in high gloss, the A50E had the same balanced, comfortable feel as the TX20E, aside from the Venetian cutaway. PRS set up the instrument with comfortably playable action, though my tester was a bit higher than the TX20E.


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Sonically, the maple bodied A50E is bright and forward reaching, with a tight bottom end, an even midrange, and glittery highs. Like the TX20E, it lacks low-mid oomph, opting instead for a balanced sound with prominent highs that cut through. Strummed chords sparkled while fingerpicked passages produced luminous sonorities. Plugged in, the Fishman GT1 captured and conveyed the instrument’s naturally bright character and dynamic responsiveness.

Both the PRS TX20E and A50E are exquisitely built instruments with sonic signatures that speak with clarity and resonance. At these prices, PRS’s new family of SE acoustic guitars is definitely worth a try.


PRS SE TX20E

BODY Solid spruce top with X-bracing; laminated mahogany back and sides; ebony bridge; bone saddle; black and white plastic binding; gloss finish

NECK 25.3″-scale mahogany neck; 20-fret ebony fingerboard with bird inlays and 11.81″ radius; 1-11/16″-wide bone nut; sealed gear tuners

ELECTRONICS Fishman GT1  OTHER Hardshell case  PRICE $599 street

MADE IN China

prsguitars.com


PRS SE A50E

BODY Solid spruce top with PRS hybrid X and classical bracing; laminated maple back and sides; abalone rosette and purfling with black and white plastic binding; ebony bridge with bone saddle; gloss finish

NECK 25.3″-scale mahogany neck; 20-fret ebony fingerboard with bird inlays and 11.81″ radius; 1-11/16″-wide bone nut; sealed gear tuners

ELECTRONICS Fishman GT1  OTHER Hardshell case  PRICE $899 street

MADE IN China

prsguitars.com


This article originally appeared in the June 2018 issue of Acoustic Guitar magazine.

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