To me, when someone uses the word “stripped” to mean or “pared down to the bone,” it conjures visions of naked-wood furniture with its finish chemically removed, or perhaps a car up on cinderblocks and forcibly deprived of its wheels, stereo system, and hood ornament. “Stripped” ain’t pretty. But apparently PRS Guitars and I have different definitions of the word, because their “Stripped” 58, a recent addition to the permanent catalog—and whose sister model, the SC 58, won the Musikmesse International Press Award for Best Electric Guitar 2011/2012—looks to me like a finely appointed and wholly complete instrument.
There’s nothing bare-bones about this guitar, unless of course compare it to a regular, or “unstripped” SC 58, and then only side by side. But, really, how often is that going to happen? All I know is that what PRS calls “Stripped,” I call a really nice guitar. (And to be fair, PRS puts the word in quotes—perhaps they are being just a tad ironic?)
But PRS wants you to know that this is not their full-on SC 58, whose discount, or street, price starts at $3,836.00—more than $1,350 more expensive. Rather, the “Stripped” 58 is all about tone, quality, and comfort. So it’s not a luxury guitar, but one that will appeal to professional musicians who want a first-rate instrument to record with or to take on the road. And one you will cherish but not be afraid to hand off to a guest performer.
The SC is a single-cut guitar with a mahogany body, carved flame maple top with a McCarty sunburst, covered with a V12 finish. It sports nickel hardware (including exposed-gear Phase III locking tuners, see Fig. 1), two 57/08 PRS pickups, a PRS two-piece bridge, two volume and two tone controls (with lampshade-style knobs), and a 3-way pickup switch on the upper bout (see Fig. 2). The neck is mahogany, with a 22-fret rosewood fretboard, and a dot inlay on the fretboard (birds are optional) complete the picture of this straightforward guitar.
Fig. 1: The "Stripped" 58 features Phase III locking tuners (with open-back gears) on an unadorned headstock.
Fig. 2: Close-up of the carved maple top, McCarty sunburst, V12 finish, 57/08 pickups, two-piece bridge, and lampshade control knobs.
The neck is a short-scale (24.5"), which accounts for the “comfort” aspect, because even though it has a modified Wide/Fat profile, the frets are closer together (especially benefitting the left-hand when playing the lower frets) and the strings have slightly looser tension (good for string bending) than on longer-scale guitars . At 24.5", the “Stripped” 58 is shorter than the Les Paul and other Gibsons (24.75"), other PRS’s (25.0"), and Strats and other Fenders (25.5").
Another new feature of the “Stripped” 58 is the V12 finish, introduced by PRS in 2010, a thin, hard, clear covering that will not crack or react with thinners, reports the manufacturer. In development for over a decade, the finish is described by PRS as “halfway between acrylic and nitro but with a classic feel all its own.” Paul Reed Smith himself says, “PRS models with this new finish feel like old instruments.”
It took me a long time to plug in the “Stripped” 58 because the playability experience was so enchanting. I don't have large hands, but I was completely at ease playing the "Stripped" 58 for long periods, even when relentlessly strumming down-the-neck full barre chords. Once I ventured to the middle of the neck or played lead from the 5th fret through the 15th, it was like a hot knife through butter left in the sun.
The neck is substantial enough for full-chord grips and blues leads where you really want to dig in, backed by some meat underneath. I’ve always preferred PRS’s Wide Fat profile to their Wide Thin, as it seems more “classic” to me. (The monikers “wide” and “fat” are just PRS’s names; these necks are really middle-ground when it comes to relative girths of other manufacturers’ neck profiles.) The Pattern shape is a modified Wide Fat that has a slightly flatter radius up top, which enhances playability, especially for fast playing and smooth string bending. Whatever the spec differences in the Wide Fat profile versus the new Pattern shape, the overall effect is that the neck feels graceful, and seems to offer a little more left-hand facility, but not at the expense of the substance necessary for gripping big chords down the neck or chewing up the fingerboard with mid- and high-neck lead passages.
The two-piece bridge—a new design from PRS that also appears on the SC 58 and JA-15—is made of solid aluminum with brass for the saddles, threaded bridge posts, and knurled thumbwheels. The tailpiece is an open-slot design, enabling fast string changes, and is anchored by two brass studs (see Fig. 2). The chunky brass saddles are adjustable, as are the large knurled wheels, which enable you to change your 58’s setup quite easily. But my review model (set up with 10’s) needed no adjustment out of the box—at least for the way I play, and for several of my friends who tried out the instrument. As a final thought, the nickel and brass colors work really well together aesthetically.
Fig. 2. The two-piece PRS bridge, made out of aluminum and brass (saddles, posts, studs, and thumbwheels), offers excellent vibration transfer and adjustability.
The pickups are PRS’s own 57/08’s. These produce a decidedly more “vintage” sound than other humbuckers out there, and with a slightly lower output. Pickup aficionados will immediately recognize that a lower output yields a slightly cleaner, fuller sound—one that can be tweaked to desired distortion extremes through amp settings or pedal applications. The clear advantages of a lower-output pickup, for me, are two: they are closer in sound to the coveted PAF pickup sound, and they clean up real nicely with just a slight rollback on a volume knob.
The 57/08’s are not only well-matched to the guitar they serve (an alternative for those looking for a Les Paul paradigm, but not necessarily a Gibson Les Paul), but are among my favorite PRS’s period.
Plugged through both 6L6 and EL84-based amps, I was able to get crisp clean tones, warm and singing sustained leads, and everything in between. Tone is always a matter of taste, but the difference between these pickups and some common third-party replacements I have in my other humbucker-equipped guitars is notable. Again, it’s a desirable mix between vintage Gibson humbuckers, PAFs and something yet again, courtesy of PRS. It’s a great all-around sound for electric blues, classic rock, garage- and pop-rock, and country.
If your aesthetic tastes require your appointments to match your tone, you should look toward PRS’s full-blown SC 58s, and their myriad options. On the other hand, if you think PRS has done a fine job in their pre-selection of tops (with a 10 as an option), McCarty burst, V12 finish, dot inlay (with birds as an option), and the rest, the “Stripped” 58 will meet your every critical demand for tone and playability. There is a sleek coherence to the design and playability of the "Stripped" 58, and the tone rocks. The fact that the Stripped 58 includes modern innovations (Pattern neck profile, Phase III tuners, two-piece bridge) as well as tried-and-tried tone deliverers (57/08 pickups) shows that this guitar is not “hobbled” when compared to its luxury counterparts in the PRS line, and can compete with any high-end axe by any maker on the market. Because in addition to meeting your professional demands, the “Stripped" 58 will exceed your expectations and delight your ears as well as your fingers.
Jon Chappell is a guitarist and the Senior Editor of Harmony Central. He has contributed numerous musical pieces to film and TV, including Northern Exposure, Walker, Texas Ranger, All My Children, and the feature film Bleeding Hearts, directed by actor-dancer Gregory Hines. He is the author of The Recording Guitarist: A Guide for Home and Studio (Hal Leonard), Essential Scales & Modes (Backbeat Books), and Build Your Own PC Recording Studio (McGraw-Hill), and has written six books in the popular Dummies series (Wiley Publishing).