The Big Review: PRS SE Silver Sky, one of the world’s most popular guitars gets a budget-friendly variation
Does PRS’s fresh-finished new SE model fly as high as the Silver Sky? We get ready for takeoff
Image: Adam Gasson
Is it an exaggeration to call John Mayer’s Silver Sky signature PRS instrument the most controversial electric guitar of the 21st century? We don’t think so. The instrument certainly caused a furore online when the first pictures were leaked. However, the fact that more Silver Skies were sold on Reverb last year than US Fender Stratocasters is an indication that something has captured the imagination of players with the wherewithal to own one. Or several.
The eventual arrival of a more budget-friendly SE version of the John Mayer instrument was all but inevitable and, praise be, we have one right here. Removing the guitar from the PRS SE-branded gigbag reveals a colour that PRS have dubbed Dragon Fruit, an attractive shade of pinkish-purpley-red. Three alternative pastel colourways are also available should this brave fuchsia be a little too bright.
Since the 1950s there have been hundreds of subtle and not so subtle variations on the double-cutaway, three-pickup, bolt-on-neck instrument, in both budget and boutique permutations. While the Silver Sky’s Fullerton ancestry is obvious in the body shape, there is enough here to separate it from a Fender guitar. The sculpted horns and slightly more brutalist styling denote a body that is a Maryland rather than Californian design.
Something must have been sacrificed in order to meet this price point. But aside from the off-shore construction, poplar body, non-locking tuners and 635JM S pickups, at first sight there is little to suggest that this is a lower-range guitar. Fit and finish are as immaculate as we expect from PRS, the set-up is slinky and the instrument feels seriously good against the body, perfectly balanced on the strap and very comfortable.
The neck is a delight. Based on a vintage carve, it has been tweaked by PRS to provide a compelling, hand-filling interface to sonic joy. The guitar feels fast, the action is perfectly judged for Strat fans and we can’t help feeling that the gently back-angled reversed PRS headstock – as incongruous as it might look at first – is contributing to a far less stiff feel to the strings than we expected from the 25.5-inch scale length. The rosewood fretboard looks a little thirsty at first but nothing that a drop of lemon oil couldn’t cure, and the small birds inlays remind us of exactly what we are playing.
Plugging straight into an early 1990s Cornford Hurricane, we work our way from the neck pickup downwards. This guitar does not mess about and neither will we: it’s very good. All five positions sound full, warm and immediate. The instrument’s voice remains balanced with no sharp jumps in volume or tonal character as you change pickups, no doubt due to the fact that the same model has been used in all three positions. Not only that but it’s an objectively beautiful sound coming from a modern, elegant take on a design that we’ve probably all owned at some point in one form or another.
The neck pickup has a particularly hi-fi response to it. It’s very detailed but creamy enough for us to zone out into a long and tasteful doublestop exploration, which gets steadily less retrained as we change positions to include the middle pickup and inject some verve into a merciless version of Little Wing.
Next is the middle pickup, which frankly is worth the price of entry on its own. While we don’t subscribe to the same rugged individualism of players such as punk icon Lenny Kaye (Patti Smith), who regularly plays middle-pickup only guitars, we do feel slightly guilty at having underused this now glaringly obvious sweet spot.
While Leo Fender’s original design resulted in an often ungovernable bridge pickup, the SE Silver Sky has a dedicated tone control that allows us to back off the glassier highs – if there had been any, of course. In this position, the pickup is closer to a low-output P-90 in response than we’d usually expect. There’s a pleasing roundness to the front of the note but articulation is maintained throughout. It’s not an easy balance to pull off.
The only thing missing – and here we are seriously nitpicking – might be the possibility of neck and bridge pickups together. But you could always do a cheeky rewire should you wish.
Winding up the gain reveals ideal tones for Hodinkee-inflected yacht-pop phrasing, and the 8.5-inch radius fretboard (the US model comes in at a far more vintage 7.25 inches) makes bends, vibrato and, perhaps most importantly, those little slide inflections so beloved of Instagram neo-soul guitarists, an absolute joy. A Vemuram Jan Ray slipped between axe and amp gives us even more bite and an extremely expensive sounding voice: Powerchords ring out, it chugs, it screams, it does all the things and it does them very well indeed.
The hardware feels smooth too: the tuners may be non-locking but they’re business-like and smooth; the nut is well cut; the chunky switch tip is less fiddly than those you’d usually find south of a single-coil trifecta; and no matter how aggressive we get with the slide-in vibrato bar, the guitar stays in tune. It’s set for down-shifts only and works beautifully for everything from Jeff Beck-style melodic gargling to absolute hooligan SRV abuse. Not that you’d want to.
The difficulty with signature models based on classic vintage designs is that players bring their own preconceptions of what the instrument should be regardless of the strength of their ardour for the artist in question. That said, regardless of whether your budget is more Casio Classic than Richard Mille, this is a hell of a guitar that could easily be any player’s first choice. And damn it, we want one.
- PRICE £895 (includes PRS SE gigbag)
- DESCRIPTION 6 String electric guitar, made in Indonesia
- BUILD solid double-cutaway poplar body, bolt-on maple neck, rosewood fretboard with 8.5” radius, double-acting PRS truss rod, small birds inlays, signature SE headstock decal
- HARDWARE 2-point steel vibrato, vintage-style tuners, PRS composite nut
- ELECTRONICS x3 635JM S single-coil pickups, volume and two tone controls, 5-way blade pickup switch
- SCALE LENGTH 25.5” / 647.7mm
- NECK WIDTH 41.275mm at nut, 51.5mm at 12th fret
- NECK DEPTH 22mm at first fret, 24mm at 12th fret
- STRING SPACING 35.6mm at nut, 54mm at bridge
- WEIGHT 3.45kg/7.6lb
- FINISH Dragon Fruit gloss (as reviewed), Ever Green, Moon White, Stone Blue
- LEFT-HANDERS No
- CONTACT prsguitars.com, andertons.co.uk