By Adam Perlmutter
Given PRS’ longstanding reputation for the playability of its high-performance electric guitars, it comes as no surprise that the company’s latest steel-string offering, the Angelus SE A30E, feels incredibly easy to navigate. It’s as easy to play low-position barre chords as it is to bend the third string by a whole step, and overall the guitar just seems built for speed. But not at the expense of sound: The Angelus has a clear and resonant voice, with plenty of overtones and sustain, that lends itself to all styles.
A Hybrid Build
The Angelus has an interesting look, borrowing an asymmetric headstock and birds-in-flight fretboard inlays from PRS’s electric guitars. But what’s more interesting about the guitar isn’t apparent at first glance. Instead of the usual X-bracing, the guitar sports a hybrid pattern in which the X pattern works in concert with fan bracing on the belly of the top. After Paul Reed Smith himself encountered a particularly loud and bass-intense guitar built in the 1800s by Antonio Torres, he was inspired to borrow from its construction and had the luthier Steve Fischer design this pattern that is now standard in all PRS acoustic guitars.
Other than the bracing, the Angelus is fairly straightforward. With a lower bout of 15.5 inches and a 4 1/8-inch body depth, the guitar is slightly wider and deeper than a standard 000/OM. It’s a comfortable body size that sits as nicely on the lap as it does in standing position. Our test model weighed in at just under five pounds, and some players will find the Angelus to be on the heavy side.
The guitar is well-built but not perfect. Its finish is smoothly polished but feels a little thick and overly glossy, in the way, to be fair, that guitars in its class tend to. The frets are neatly dressed and polished, but the factory setup could be better: When I play with accents, there’s a bit of string buzzing happening, mostly on the lower frets of strings three through six.
Up for Anything
The Angelus has a sound that’s lush compared to other examples in its price range. There’s good separation between the notes in all registers, and the natural harmonics up and down the neck have a brilliant shimmer and sparkle. The guitar might not be as loud as some, but it makes up for this with that healthy amount of sustain.
The instrument is quite adaptable. From bluesy fingerstyle accompaniment in E to chord-melody soloing on jazz standards to Celtic fare in DADGAD and open-C tunings to modal, flatpicked improvisations, it sounds clear and articulate. Many players will like the guitar’s transparency of sound, but the lack of strong personality to be a drawback; for instance, the guitar, lacking a thumping bass, probably wouldn’t be right for a bluegrass picker.
The Angelus is equipped with an undersaddle pickup whose tone and volume controls are mounted discretely under the soundboard at the soundhole—the unit’s nine-volt battery is housed in a fabric pocket that is affixed to the neck block via a Velcro strap. While changing the battery requires the hassle of loosening the strings, the preamp’s design is definitely an aesthetic improvement over the common enclosure mounted to the guitar’s bass bout.
Plugged into a Fender Acoustasonic amplifier, the Angelus’s electronics perform very well. The sound is both natural and complex, without any of the boxy character associated with undersaddle pickups.
And the threshold for feedback is high—sitting four feet from the amp, I was able to play very loudly before experiencing any howling noises.
PRS’s Angelus SE A30E has definitely got a lot going for it: top-notch playability and a very agreeable voice that reproduces well thanks to the guitar’s high-quality electronics.
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At about $829 street, it’s definitely worthy of consideration for any player looking for a go-to guitar that covers lots of territory, and it would make a terrific instrument for learning.
Solid spruce top with PRS X-Brace/Classical Hybrid Design
Rosewood back and sides
High-gloss natural finish
1 21/32-inch nut
PRS SE Tuners
D’Addario EXP16 strings (12–53)
Bone nut and saddle
Undersaddle pickup with volume and tone controls
Made in Korea.