By Kate Koenig
Paul Reed Smith Guitars distinguishes itself as a brand that prioritizes style alongside quality craftsmanship. The company’s charismatic, boldly defined identity is clearly seen in its electric guitars, with their eye-catching finishes and inlay work—which is why it’s so interesting to see and feel that personality on a PRS acoustic.
The 2019 SE T60E is a Tonare Grand, one of two acoustic body types that PRS produces (see a review of the other, the Angelus, in AG‘s February 2019 issue) with PRS’ signature asymmetric headstock, abalone birds-in-flight fretboard markers, and a touch of curly maple. Like the Angelus, the Tonare Grand features PRS’ unique hybrid X/Classical bracing, which is designed just how it sounds: The top half is a classic X-brace, which, among other things, provides the guitar with a construction that can support steel strings. The fan bracing on the bottom half allows for a thinner soundboard, resulting in a strong bass response; a warmer, earthier sound; faster attack; and a greater dynamic range. In other words, PRS’ hybrid bracing offers the best of both worlds.
What first stands out about the SE T60E’s appearance is the striking contrast between the blonde Sitka spruce top, the dark ziricote back and sides, and the reddish ocher of the mahogany neck—all accented by a curly maple binding around the top and back, the fretboard, and the face of the headstock. Not the most common tonewood, ziricote has only been seen on the much costlier PRS Private Stock models up until now.
The fretboard and bridge are ebony, and the nut and saddle are bone. The body and neck have a polyurethane finish, giving the guitar a polished, head-to-toe luster. Suggestive of Southeast Asian aesthetic, abalone is used not only in the classic bird inlays along the fretboard but also along the guitar’s spine, purfling, and rosette.
The neck has the wide/fat profile used on all PRS acoustics, and it doesn’t feel sticky like some with a poly finish do. I have small hands, so I tend to prefer thinner necks, but the wide/fat profile definitely gives you more hand more support when going for some of those fingerpicking licks and when wrapping your thumb around the neck—which can be better for endurance.
A Vintage Voice
The SE T60E was designed with vintage guitars in mind, to have a full, rounded-out dynamic range that favors the low end and midrange (something helped by the use of ziricote). The sound is big but is also spread out evenly—making it versatile without being too in-your-face and clearly lending itself to a range of styles.
As a singer/songwriter with a penchant for bright, unusually voiced chord shapes, I found that it can take some more precise picking to get these harmonies to ring out on the SE T60E; a broader, looser strum that includes the lower strings can sometimes bowl over the middle strings. The upside to this, however, is that the three main divisions of frequency are equally powerful—when played with precision, specific sets of strings will reliably ring out. The guitar follows through on its intention to serve the kindly requests of its owner—but kind of like a computer, it works best when given the correct commands.
Fingerpicked pieces played up and down the neck are spoken with clear diction, a strength as respectively suited to the range as the bellow of the husky low end, and the common-man oration of the mids. The piece I play at the beginning of the video above, Francisco Tarrega’s “Marieta Mazurka,” is a testament to that mid- to high-end clarity, while the tune at the end, Nick Drake’s “Things Behind the Sun,” shows how lower-end fingerpicking is satisfyingly bold. So it’s evident that fingerpicking works across the fretboard; arguably, strumming in the open position sounds even better. To my ear, banging out chords in this register feels punchy and assertive, somehow echoing the persistence of folk or folk-rock through the ages. Barre chords offer a favorable contrast.
Down to the Wire
It’s always a nice bonus when you get a great acoustic that you can also plug in. The SE T60E is equipped with Fishman’s GT1. This electronics system is faithful to the sound of the guitar, but it’s a bit difficult to coax volume out of the system without getting distortion from the amp. I plugged the guitar into my 50-watt Roland Cube amp and tried it through both the regular line-in and the effects channel. Keeping the volume on the pickup in the middle and turning up the volume on the amp led to better results, but it was still tough to get very loud without muddying the sound.
On the effects channel, adding the chorus/delay effect (a combined effect on one of the two pots on the channel, the other being reverb) had a cool effect. The reverb also sounded great, especially with fingerpicking pieces. In fact, the electronics worked great with fingerpicking, just not with heavily strummed chords.
The SE T60E is a reliable, sturdy-sounding guitar that invites performers of all styles. It’s perfect for the acoustic-playing PRS fan, and anyone who wants to add a sharp stylistic statement and visual embellishment to their playing.
BODY Tonare Grand shape; solid Sitka spruce top; ziricote back and sides; PRS hybrid X/classical bracing; ebony bridge; bone saddle with 2-7/32″ string spacing; curly maple binding; abalone purfling, black/abalone rosette; gloss polyurethane finish
NECK 20-fret mahogany wide/fat neck; ebony fretboard with curly maple binding and abalone bird inlays; ebony headstock with curly maple binding; 25.3″ scale length; 1-11/16″ nut width; bone nut; gloss polyurethane finish
OTHER Fishman GT1 electronics; bone nut; PRS strings (.012–.053); PRS hardshell case
MADE IN China
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PRICE $1,049 street