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Paul Reed Smith PRS CE 24 Electric Guitar 

The Classic Returns
 


by Phil O'Keefe






Paul Reed Smith, like most major guitar companies, builds a variety of different models at different price points in both US-based and offshore manufacturing facilities, including both bolt-on and set neck guitars. Historically one of their more popular models was the USA made, bolt-on CE 24. Originally introduced back in 1988, it has been out of the lineup since 2008. Sitting in between the somewhat more stripped down S2 models and the set-neck Core models like the Custom 24 on the price and features scale, they have long been considered real workhorse instruments; rugged, durable and affordable enough for on-stage use while retaining much of the playability, beauty and sonic allure of the higher-end PRS models. Now PRS have brought this classic back while making a few changes and updates. Let's take one for a test drive.   



 


What You Need To Know

  • The Paul Reed Smith CE 24 is a double-cutaway solid body electric guitar that is made in Stevensville Maryland USA. The body is mahogany, and it has a richly figured maple cap. The overall body thickness is 1 3/4", with the maple cap measuring 1/2" thick for a maple to mahogany ratio of 1:2.5.
  • The double-cutaway design of the body is graceful and very similar in shape to that of the Custom 24, although slightly thinner and with some subtle differences in the contours of the top, and without the recessed areas around the controls. The body is curved and contoured and exceptionally comfortable to hold.

  • The body is finished in gloss nitrocellulose lacquer, and comes in a variety of colors including Ruby, Amber, Trampas Green, Vintage Sunburst, Grey Black, McCarty Tobacco Sunburst, Whale Blue, and a gorgeous Dark Cherry Sunburst, which is the color of the review guitar.

  • The edge of the maple top is left natural around the edges, giving the top a naturally bound look, although no actual binding is used.

 

  • The controls are mounted from the rear and are covered by a plate that sits on top of the body rather than being recessed into it. A similar cover hides the springs and mechanism of the onboard PRS-designed vibrato. The vibrato is non-locking, but it still does a very good job at returning to pitch.


 

  • The bolt-on maple neck is a three-piece unit, with separate pieces used for the main central part of the neck as well as the headstock and heel sections. It is finished with a silky feeling satin nitrocellulose lacquer that feels wonderful as your hand glides over it.

  • The 24 fret neck has a East-Indian rosewood fingerboard that is adorned with the iconic PRS "bird" inlays. They appear to be made from an ivory substitute of some sort, but are actually a custom acrylic material according to the folks at PRS - let's hope an over-eager Customs agent doesn't mistake it for ivory!


 

  • The 24 frets themselves are standard PRS frets ( .104" x .047") and are expertly installed and finished. The setup of the guitar was studio-ready right out of the box, with impeccable intonation and very comfortable low action that was completely buzz-free.

  • The scale length is 25", putting it roughly midway between a Strat (25.5") and a Les Paul (24.75"). The CE 24 comes with what PRS call a "Pattern Thin" neck; this is very similar, if not identical to the previous "Wide Thin" profile. The review unit's neck measured 43.54mm (1.714") W and 20.52mm (0.8079") D at the first fret, and 51.90mm (2.043") W and 22.15mm (0.8720") D at the 12th fret.

  • The nut is made from a proprietary nut material that is imbued with bronze powder to maximize the guitar’s tonal resonance, and the hand-carved nut's placement is compensated to provide accurate intonation across the fretboard.
  • The PRS-branded locking tuning machines have a 14:1 gear ratio and feel smooth and precise in use. I need to take a moment to comment about the tuning stability of the CE 24 - it's very solid. Whether you bend strings a lot or use the bar, or just hit the dang thing hard when you play, you'll appreciate how well it resists going out of tune.

 

  • The CE 24 features PRS 85/15 pickups in both the bridge and neck positions. These are really cool sounding pickups that have the power and authority you'd expect from a good humbucker, but a bit of extra reach in both the bass and treble regions, giving them an almost "high-fidelity" sound. The sound is detailed and clear enough to easily make out all the notes in complex chord voicings, even when using lots of distortion.

 

  • With basic master volume and master tone controls and a three-position toggle switch for pickup selection, PRS has kept the electronics relatively simple without compromising versatility. The tone control has a push / pull switch built-in that activates the coil split function on both pickups simultaneously, giving you the ability to get single coil tones. Just pull it up and out to go to single coil mode.

 

 

 

  • There's a slight drop in volume when switching to single coil mode, but the noise level stays relatively low; the coil tap isn't completely removing the second coil, but only a part of it. Going to single coil mode won't turn the CE 24 into a Strat or Tele; as they do when they're running in humbucker mode, the 85/15 pickups in the CE 24 have their own sonic vibe in single coil mode that isn't really a copy of anything else, but is still very cool.
  • The Paul Reed Smith CE 24 comes with a PRS Limited Lifetime Warranty, the details of which can be seen here.



Limitations

  • Only one neck type is offered; the Pattern Regular neck profile is not available on the PRS CE 24.

  • No hard shell case is included. While a nice padded gig bag is, an instrument of this quality should be traveling around in nicer luggage - especially at this price point. The CE 24 will fit into the standard PRS hardshell case (Part # ACC-4255, $209.99 US, MSRP), which can be purchased as an option from authorized retailers or from the PRS online store.


Conclusions

What are you looking for in a guitar? Some instruments are so ornate that most of us would be scared to death to take them out of their cases much less use one out on the road, but there's no denying that visual appeal matters on stage, just as it does to many guitarists when considering any instrument. The CE 24 is certainly not lacking in aesthetic appeal. In fact, while beauty is subjective, I think it's a very beautiful guitar. The top on the review unit is highly flamed and shows a lot of complexity in the figuring, and the Dark Cherry finish is simply stunning when viewed in person. 

Fans of sonic versatility will also appreciate the CE 24. The 85/15 humbuckers offer a detailed and almost hi-fi clean tone with a full-throated roar when driven hard, yet they also provide you with appealing single coil tones too. It's a workhorse guitar that is equally at home on stage or in the studio, and one that can provide you with a wide range of tones that can work with practically any genre.

If you aren't very familiar with the CE 24, what may make the biggest impression is the level of thought that went into the ergonomics of this guitar. The playing experience is very similar to the visual one; it feels familiar yet unique, smooth, refined and controllable, and everything falls under your hands as you'd want and expect, from the volume control that's placed so it's never in your way, yet close enough to allow you to easily manipulate it as you're playing, to the way the body is shaped and contoured. I love how comfortable the rear cutout on the body is, yet it isn't so deep that the guitar rolls away from you when you're playing it. Attention to things like the way the top transitions into the lower cutaway and is routed so that there's plenty of room for your hand to pivot and vibrato notes even on the highest reaches of its sleek 24 fret neck show that PRS put a lot of thought into making an uncommonly playable instrument, and there's no question that the CE 24 is exactly that.

The vibrato on this guitar is wonderfully smooth and it returns to pitch better than most non-locking tremolos do; a factor that in conjunction with the proprietary nut material and compensated placement and  the smooth PRS locking tuners no doubt contributes to the guitar's excellent tuning stability. It's also got a bar that is nicely rounded and perfectly angled, and slips straight into the bridge without needing to be threaded in, and it stays where you leave it until you move it!

Many guitars in this class feature gloss finishes on their necks, but the satin of the CE 24's neck is so smooth and silky you have to wonder why more necks aren't finished like this instead. At 25" the scale length falls between Fender and Gibson, and players of both will probably find it comfortable, although it does add to the slightly different and unique playing vibe. What you don't get is any kind of a choice of neck width; unlike some other models in the PRS lineup, the CE 24 only comes with one neck option - the new "Pattern Thin", which is essentially the same as the old "Wide Thin." Fans of the thicker Pattern Regular neck are out of luck. In the past I've been personally less than thrilled with the shape of the PRS necks I've briefly auditioned since I have rather short fingers, but I have to say I greatly enjoyed my time with the CE 24 and while I'd love it if they made a slightly less wide version of this same neck profile, I came to appreciate and really enjoy it as-is. The neck is plenty thin from front to back, and although it's a touch wider across the fretboard than I usually prefer the shoulders of the neck aren't overly chunky and the fingerboard edges are nicely rolled, both of which make it easier to play, even if you have somewhat smaller hands. 

As with the Not Gibson / Not Fender scale length, the sound of the PRS CE 24 is also has its own thing going on. The 85/15 pickups have an extended bandwidth and somewhat "hi-fi" sound to them compared to many humbuckers, with a little bit "more" at both the high and low ends of the frequency spectrum. The CE 24 has wonderful clarity; complex chord voicings are easily discerned, even when using copious amounts of distortion. Engaging the coil tap doesn't turn the CE 24 into a Tele or Strat, but it does allow you to cover some of that same sonic territory while retaining a bit more girth (and less noise) than many single coils have.

If you're looking for something a little different but still want a high-quality US-built guitar with a lot of versatility, excellent ergonomics and playability and great looks too, but want it all at a reasonably realistic price that's low enough that you'll actually use the guitar instead of putting it into a glass case and just staring at it, check out the return of the Paul Reed Smith CE 24. The birds are back in CE bolt-on form and they're packing plenty of beauty, brains and brawn. Kind of makes you wonder why on earth  PRS ever discontinued this excellent model to begin with, doesn't it?


Resources

Paul Reed Smith CE-24 electric guitar ($1,999.00 MSRP)

Paul Reed Smith's product web page


You can purchase the PRS CE-24 from:

Sweetwater  

















__________________________________________________

 


Phil O'Keefe is a multi-instrumentalist, recording engineer / producer and the Senior Editor of Harmony Central. He has engineered, produced and performed on countless recording sessions in a diverse range of styles, with artists such as Alien Ant Farm, Jules Day, Voodoo Glow Skulls, John McGill, Michael Knott and Alexa's Wish. He is a former featured monthly columnist for EQ magazine, and his articles and product reviews have also appeared in Keyboard, Electronic Musician and Guitar Player magazines.  

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AlamoJoe  |  July 05, 2016 at 9:49 pm
Splendid review Phil!
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