PRS SE Silver Sky Maple review – how much difference does a maple fingerboard really make?

John Mayer’s latest affordable signature model trades a rosewood board for maple, but does the SE Silver Sky Maple really sound any different?

PRS Silver Sky SE Maple, photo by Adam Gasson

PRS Silver Sky SE Maple. Image: Adam Gasson

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Review Overview

Our rating


Our verdict

The sonic differences might be negligible but the SE Silver Sky Maple further pulls the S-type format into step with modern design languages – the coolest Silver Sky yet?

$849/£789, prsguitars.com

It’s no exaggeration to say that PRS Silver Sky is the most important ‘new’ guitar design of the last decade – I put the word ‘new’ in quotes there of course, because we all know that the Silver Sky was Paul Reed Smith and John Mayer’s attempt to replicate the magic of John’s beloved Fender Strats but with some tweaks and refinements that – according to Mayer at leastFender were unwilling to make.

You do wonder if Fender might regret that inflexibility, because in the four years since the original US-made Silver Sky was revealed, the guitar has become a phenomenon – PRS couldn’t make them fast enough at the Maryland factory, and various innovative limited-run colourways and a maple-necked version didn’t do much to dampen that hype.

In fact, by the end of 2021, more Silver Sky guitars were sold on the Reverb platform than any US-made Fender Stratocaster – PRS had a hit on its hands the likes of which the brand had never seen in its near-40-year history, and quickly became one of the best S-types on the market.

PRS Silver Sky SE Maple, photo by Adam Gasson
PRS Silver Sky SE Maple. Image: Adam Gasson

A huge part of this is the man himself of course – Mayer is the ultimate modern guitar tastemaker, and if he thinks that something is cool or interesting, the guitar culture ultimately tends to get on board (contrast this with the mixed reception of PRS’s NF53 ‘Telecaster’ earlier this year without the JM stamp of cool).

As a result it was no surprise when PRS launched the SE version of the Silver Sky last year to huge fanfare, a resoundingly positive reception, and now a maple-fingerboard version.

The SE Silver Sky Maple is otherwise pretty much identical to the guitar that Michael looked at back at the start of 2022, so you get the same poplar body, the same trio of PRS 635JM “S” single-coil pickups, the same two-point PRS tremolo (set up flush, as John likes it), the same distinctive knurled knobs and grey-buttoned tuners… you get the picture.

The only difference here is that neck, which is a multi-ply maple affair with maple board. The 25.5” scale-length is the same, as are the 22 frets and the in-between 8.5” radius. Instead of the white birds on the rosewood version, we have grey ones that match the tuners and truss-rod cover, and the only other difference is the three new colours the Maple comes in – the Overland Grey you see here, plus Nylon Blue and Summit Purple.

PRS Silver Sky SE Maple, photo by Adam Gasson
PRS Silver Sky SE Maple. Image: Adam Gasson

Silver Sky SE Maple vs Rosewood – what’s the difference?

My trusty 2004 50th Anniversary Strat has been my maple-boarded companion for very nearly 20 years now, so let the word go forth that I am definitely a maple-board S-type kinda guy, but there’s something quite clinical about the way PRS has chosen to go about it on this SE Silver Sky.

That’s not a bad thing per se, but there’s a definite contrast in the tint on the neck finish compared to the rosewood-boarded version – it feels more unfinished all over, giving the maple more of a ‘Scandinavian furniture’ vibe than the warm, almost orange-y hue that a finished maple neck and board might have.

Obviously that’s not a criticism – while the look won’t vibe with some players, it does make the guitar feel more in keeping with the clean, sharp lines of modern tech design language, which is something John told me he’s always thinking about when it comes to guitar design.

PRS Silver Sky SE Maple, photo by Adam Gasson
PRS Silver Sky SE Maple. Image: Adam Gasson

There’s a definite outcome to this however – despite both necks ostensibly having the same matt finish, the maple one feels quite different. It has the borderline unfinished smoothness that some players will love for its playability, but others might feel is a little under-done for a guitar that troubles the top end of a grand at retail.

There’s also a definite contrast between the two ostensibly identical neck shapes – the Maple and Rosewood share identical neck dimensions on the spec sheet (1 41/64″ wide and 27/32″ deep at the nut) but the Maple version feels notably more substantial.

On closer inspection it certainly feels like the maple neck has more pronounced shoulders than the rosewood version, making it feel a little bit more of a baseball bat – it’s subtle but undeniable. Again, this isn’t a criticism – plenty of players will find this preferable to the regular Silver Sky, but it’s worth knowing before you go in.

Does the Silver SE Sky Maple sound different to the rosewood?

In short, not really. Some people might talk about the sonic differences between the two materials, or opine that the maple offers increased attack – not to be a fingerboard truther, but those people must have exposed their ears to many fewer loud gigs than mine, because I genuinely cannot hear any appreciable difference that you couldn’t also put down to the slight variances of pickup winding and the like. So if you’re playing an SE Silver Sky and are pining for something sonically different, don’t hang your hopes on this being transformative.

The 635JM “S” pickups do sound great, however – especially with clean tones they’re warm, clear and percussive, giving you all the sumptuous Mayer-y tones you’d expect plus some SRV and Hendrix-isms to boot. Adding a bit of gain to proceedings causes things to compress in a pleasingly lo-fi way, though fans of top-end clarity might prefer it if things weren’t quite so squashed.

Should I buy a PRS SE Silver Sky Maple?

Ultimately, whether you pull the trigger on the Maple SE Silver Sky versus its rosewood-boarded elder sibling is really down to personal taste. They’re almost identical guitars aside from the variances mentioned above, and a few other caveats. One minor quibble compared to the rosewood board version – the fret dress isn’t quite as good. There’s no sharp ends or anything, but it’s not as tidy as on the rosewood board version – could just be a Friday afternoon job, could be a teething problem on the production line, but it doesn’t hamper playability for me, your mileage may vary of course. The other thing that I’m not mad keen on is the new grey bird inlays – they look great from a distance but up close there’s a fair bit of glue seepage around the edges that looks a little untidy.

These are really small things however – it’s worth remembering this guitar was on sale for less that $700 during Black Friday sales, and that remains one of the most impressive bargains in modern guitar.

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