When I first pick up Paul Reed Smith’s SE A10E, with its narrow nut and sleek low action, not to mention its asymmetric headstock and super shiny finish, the guitar feels more like an electric than an acoustic. But a few cursory strums reveal the SE A10E to have the warm and woody sound characteristic of a good all-mahogany guitar.
Out of the box, the SE A10E plays extremely well. Its slightly chunky neck—comparable in profile to a typical 1950s solid-body electric—is easy to cradle in all registers, whether I’m playing full barre chords or single-note runs. And, though at 12 1/32 inches, the nut is a hair narrower than on a standard Gibson electric, the fretboard doesn’t feel at all cramped.
An aficionado of prewar flattops won’t necessarily be wowed by the SE A10E’s overall voice; it seems to lack a certain complexity and character. But it does have an assertive, punchy midrange; a tight, clear treble; and a round, solid bass.
Given its even sound, the SE A10E accommodates a wide range of stylistic approaches.
It responds equally well to everything from bluegrass-style cross-picking in the open position, to vigorous strumming in drop-D tuning, to chord-melody arrangements of jazz standards.
Clearly the SE A10E isn’t a guitar that’s pitched at the fingerstyle player, but it does fare quite well in this context—again, despite the skinny nut. The instrument refuses to muddy up when placed in lowered tunings like DADGAD and open-G, and fingerpicked improvisations in these tunings benefit from the instrument’s clarity and balance.
The SE A10E comes complete with an undersaddle pickup whose tone and volume controls are positioned conveniently, tucked inside the soundhole. Plugged into a Fender Acoustasonic amplifier via a quarter-inch jack at the endpin, the electronics system delivers a good approximation of the guitar’s natural acoustic sound.
A Hybrid Machine
Presided over by the luthier Paul Reed Smith, PRS Guitars has been making high-performance electric guitars since the mid-1980s but didn’t enter the acoustic market until 2009. The SE A10E is PRS’s first all-mahogany guitar and, like the company’s other acoustic offerings, it borrows design trademarks from the electric series, such as the idiosyncratic headstock and the birds-in-flight fretboard inlays.
The SE A10E also shares a unique bracing pattern with other PRS acoustics. Its solid top is supported with a hybrid of Torres-style fan bracing used on classical guitars and the X-pattern traditionally seen on steel-string guitars—a design that Smith conceived of after he played an original Torres whose sound he found explosive.
The SE A10E is available in two finishes—tortoise shell and black. Our review model came in the former. The coloring, a deep brown-maroon, feels heavy and oversaturated. It partially obscures the grain of the mahogany and makes it difficult to see the body’s black binding.
PRS’s American-made instruments are known for their superlative craftsmanship. The build quality on the SE A10E is good overall but doesn’t quite measure up. The fretwork is clean and tidy, as is the slotting on the bone nut and saddle. But there’s the occasional dimpling in the finish, and inside the guitar, excess glue is apparent around the bracing and kerfing.
These small anomalies of craftsmanship are easily overlooked, though, given the SE A10E’s low street price of $599. Having smooth playability and tonal balance, the guitar would make a no-brainer for an electric player looking for a comfortable acoustic, or a studio musician in search of an inexpensive guitar that will sit nicely in a mix.
BODY: Solid mahogany top with proprietary X-brace/classical hybrid design; mahogany back and sides; rosewood bridge; gloss finish.
NECK: Mahogany neck; rosewood fretboard; 25.25-inch scale length; 12 1/32-inch nut width; gloss finish; PRS SE tuners
OTHER: Undersaddle pickup with volume and tone controls; D’Addario light phosphor-bronze strings (.012–.053); hardshell case.
PRICE: $599 street
MADE IN: Korea