BY GREG OLWELL
As one of the dozen instruments I gathered for the “Beyond Rosewood” roundup of rosewood-free guitars in this magazine’s February 2019 issue, the PRS Angelus A60E was a visual standout. Abundant abalone inlays glimmered from all directions, fluttering like the bird position-marker inlays on the fretboard, while figured maple binding added a contrasting accent to the body’s top and back and the neck’s fingerboard and headstock. As I age, I’m less attracted to the flashier elements of guitar decoration, but surely, this guitar is pretty.
The ziricote used for the A60E’s back and sides was the guitar’s entry-point into that alt-wood roundup, and it is a strikingly beautiful wood. But the instrument’s beauty is only one part of the appeal. Given its sounds—and the fact that it’s a marquee guitar in PRS’s Chinese-built SE line—I wanted to give the A60E a more thorough review than I was able to during the roundup.
Based near the Chesapeake Bay on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, PRS has been making high-end electrics for decades now and some years ago began developing acoustic guitars as part of the premier Private Stock line. After refining the designs here in the United States, PRS expanded its SE import line to include acoustics. The entire line was recently revamped to improve the feel and tone across the board—and to eliminate rosewood. It now includes guitars with backs and sides of ovangkol, figured and quilted maple, and ziricote, all matched with solid Sitka spruce tops. Each wood combination is available with or without a cutaway (Angelus and Tonare shapes, respectively) and is outfitted with Fishman’s GT1 electronics package.
PRS has done things its own way from the time that luthier Paul Reed Smith began making guitars in his small shop in the mid-1970s, creating something identifiably his own with shapes and feels that merge the familiar with the new. The SE A60E shares this approach, which stifles my ability to spend too many words likening it to something familiar, and instead warrants taking this guitar on its own merits.
As anyone who has experience with PRS’ electrics knows, the company’s necks have a feel all their own. The Angelus has a neck shape PRS calls wide-fat, a name that is as accurate as it is plainly stated, and I found it comfortably full for my fretting hand and easy to play for extended sessions. It’s a bit meatier than many of the modern neck shapes often seen in this price range, but far from a baseball bat. The transition from the neck to the fingerboard was a little quick for my tastes and if it had been a little more rounded, I might have fallen in love with it. A strap button on the neck heel was a nice addition for making this guitar stage-ready.
To put the Angelus through its paces, I flatpicked and fingerpicked the guitar acoustically and amplified it through Boss Acoustic Singer Pro and Henriksen Bud amps. As I wrote in the alt-wood roundup, the SE A60E’s tone lands somewhere “between the clear, almost brittle sound of ebony and the warmer overtones of rosewood.” No matter how I played the Angelus, it delivered a nicely proportioned sound, with a spanky top end layered over a controlled bass and midrange. The low end wasn’t cavernous or boomy, which helped it feel balanced across the frequency range, especially useful for fingerstyle parts on open tunings and easy to control through a loud amp.
There’s considerable competition for buyer attention at this price point and with its revamped line of SE acoustics, PRS is hoping that some players will be into handsomely adorned acoustics that are ready for the stage. While the initial interest in these guitars might stem from PRS fans, the SE A60E Angelus will appeal to the broader pool of acoustic players looking for a playable, good-sounding guitar with a bit of flash, a unique look, and gorgeous woods.
BODY Angelus cutaway body shape; solid Sitka spruce top with hybrid X/classical bracing; ziricote back and sides; abalone and figured maple purfling; natural gloss polyurethane finish
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NECK 25.3″-scale mahogany neck, wide-fat shape; 20-fret ebony fingerboard with bird inlays; 1.69″ nut; chrome sealed gear tuners; natural gloss polyurethane finish
ELECTRONICS Fishman GT1 with volume and tone controls
OTHER Ebony bridge; bone nut and saddle; hardshell case; light gauge (.012–.053) strings
PRICE $1,099 (MAP)
MADE IN China