PRS Guitars might be most celebrated for its high-end electrics, but in recent years, the company has been offering acoustic players a lot of bang for the buck with its SE Series steel-strings. These flattops are now available in three sizes—Angelus Cutaway, Tonare Grand, and Tonare Parlor—each with several different tonewood options. They are distinctive-looking guitars, incorporating details borrowed from their electric counterparts, like PRS’ trademark bird fretboard inlays. At the same time, the SEs incorporate the hybrid X/classical bracing pattern found in the Private Stock instruments PRS makes in very limited numbers in its Maryland shop. From the Angelus series, I checked out the new SE A20E and was impressed as much by its easy playability as its bright yet flexible tonal range.
Compact and Comfortable
With its Angelus Cutaway body, the SE A20E has a lower bout of 15.5 inches, close in size to a standard 14-fret dreadnought. The guitar is constructed entirely of mahogany (solid top and laminated back and sides) and, like all the other SE acoustics, features the aforementioned hybrid X/classical bracing that is said to allow the top to vibrate more freely, translating to enhanced projection and sound.
The review model arrived with low action, which is ideal for me. But I did hear some slight buzzing across all six strings at the second fret and higher. Depending on your playing style, the guitar could benefit from a professional setup out of the box. Otherwise, the SE A20E’s playability is smooth. While the neck shape is described as wide-fat, it feels relatively slender and fast, an effect enhanced by its inviting satin finish and good fretwork, free from the sharp edges sometimes found on instruments at this price point.
Striking Looks and Good Resonances
Visually speaking, the SE A20E makes a statement fresh out of the case with its glossy black top and asymmetric headstock. The guitar’s unique aesthetic is further defined by those trademark bird inlays across the fretboard, and the body is accented by crème binding as well as the classy touch of herringbone purfling and rosette detailing. But the SE A20E is not merely well-appointed. Once you begin to play it, it becomes immediately apparent that it has just as much to offer sonically.
The SE A20E is noticeably resonant, with a strong midrange and clear highs. And although the low end is slightly less audible, you can still sense its presence underneath the more impressive mid-to-high frequency ranges. As would be expected for an instrument of its size, the guitar has good projection and volume. It rings out enthusiastically when strummed; the notes are clear and pronounced, with good string separation in chords, giving way to satisfying overtones.
With a flatpick, I tried playing some songs of my own, which fall into the folk-rock category, as well as some tunes like “Stickshifts and Safetybelts” by Cake and the solo from Sublime’s “Santeria.” Each accented melody line cut through with impressive clarity, producing tones that sat comfortably in the midrange but were still couched in a good balance of registers.
As for fingerpicking, without the use of acrylic nails or a thumb pick, the dynamic stays soft and gentle. I enjoy playing classical pieces by composers like J.S. Bach, Francisco Tárrega, and Nikita Koshkin on steel-string guitars; in this context, the SE A20E’s midrange and high end come out together in nuanced layers, giving the compositions a unique texture.
The SE A20E is outfitted with a PRS-voiced Fishman Sonitone undersaddle pickup, which has the usual thumbwheel volume and tone controls positioned conveniently underneath the soundhole. And it arguably sounds even better amplified than it does unplugged. Almost anything below the highest tone setting sounds great; the low setting gives off a bold, vivid tone without being overpowering, and the mid setting has a fitting roundness to it.
The Bottom Line
The PRS SE A20E boasts an adaptable tonal palette along with good comfort and playability, not to mention a distinctive appearance. The guitar responds equally well to flatpicking and fingerpicking, and, given its excellent amplified sound, it is a great option for any guitarist looking for a nice all-purpose acoustic on a limited budget.
BODY Angelus Cutaway shape; solid mahogany top; layered mahogany back and sides; hybrid
X/classical bracing; ebony bridge; bone saddle with 2-7/32″ string spacing; glossy top finish with satin back and sides
NECK Mahogany neck; double-acting truss rod; wide-fat profile; 1-11/16″ bone nut; 25.3″ scale length; ebony fretboard; bird inlays
OTHER PRS Classic Acoustic strings 80/20, light (012–.053); PRS-voiced Fishman Sonitone electronics; gig bag
MADE IN China
PRICE $699 street
This article originally appeared in the January/February 2023 issue of Acoustic Guitar magazine.