Jun 18, 2012
In 1952, the very first Goldtop Les Pauls hit the streets, and a revolution was born. Over the years, many guitars have worn the goldtop finish, and it has always been a nod to history, elegance and downright basic pimptasticness. Yes, that is a word I made up.
Fast forward to the contemporary guitar makers of today, and I daresay you’ll be hard pressed to find anyone else who has made as much impact on the guitar world as Paul Reed Smith. Not since Leo Fender and Les Paul has anyone really created compelling guitar designs that have integrated themselves into the mainstream consciousness. PRS guitars have been seen in the hands of such eminent guitar masters such as Carlos Santana, Dave Weiner (Steve Vai’s second guitarist – a cool guy with a hilarious name with chops to burn) and Chad Kroeg…. hahaha no I couldn’t even type that one without bursting out laughing.
Anyway – if there’s one thing Paul Reed Smith is, it’s an innovator. With the Singlecut, he took the classic LP-style design and made it his own. Not content with that, he decided to step things up a notch to give us something that had been whispered about in secret but never brought to fruition – a singlecut design with a trem, that didn’t suck!!
Enter the Singlecut Trem
While the original Singlecut was a beefy, thick-slab bodied affair that paid tribute to, and arguably equalled the original Les Paul in terms of tone, the Singlecut Trem is something altogether different. The first thing that strikes me is that it is much more distinctively “PRS” feeling – the thick body is slimmed down to McCarty-esque dimensions, the control layout is much more familiar, and so on. The vintage style tuners of the Singlecut are abandoned in favour of PRS standard locking tuners. 20th Anniversary means this beautiful goldtop gets the Artist package inlays of birds in flight. Absolutely beautiful – check it out.
- Mahogany body and neck stained amber, beautiful grain
- Carved maple top
- Rosewood fretboard with 20th Anniversary Birds in Flight inlays (paua/abalone)
- Goldtop finish
- PRS #6 Treble and Bass pickups
- 14:1 ratio PRS Phase II low mass locking tuners
- PRS 6-screw trem
- 25″ scale
Fit and finish
With PRS, I expect nothing but excellence. Every PRS guitar I’ve owned has been of consistently high quality, and this is no different. The goldtop finish is immaculate, the inlays are done with razor-sharp perfection, and everything is just so. However, when I first got it, the previous owner had set up the trem so that it was sitting flush to the body, and as a result the trem could only dive, and the strings were basically touching the fretboard!
After some adjustment I got it to a decent height where I could both play comfortably, and use the trem.
Word of caution!! If you’re adjusting a PRS trem for the first time, it’s very important to loosen all tension on the bridge before you take a screwdriver to it. The PRS trem pivots on 6 brass screws with special notches machined into them just under the head, and apparently if you adjust these without taking the tension off, you’ll ruin the knife edge – so be very careful. You need all the notches to line up with the holes in the bridge.
Looks awesome – check.
Unplugged sound? Surprisingly bright, but very acoustically lively. I like it. Check.
Neck shape? Comfortable, easy to play. Seems like PRS Wide thin but I’ll double… check. (See what I did there? Hah)
Body weight – a bit heavier than I’d expect it to be, considering that it’s thinner than most LPs! This is good – apparently SCT bodies were not weight relieved, so at least that should compensate for some of the lost thickness.
All ready to go!
Plug in, baby
One thing I’d read about these guitars online was that the PRS #6 pickups in them sucked. As with everything on the net, I took it with a grain of salt and figured, how bad could it be? PRS are generally pretty good at matching their pickups to guitars.
Oh, how I was wrong.
#6 pickups are definitely not the best match for this guitar. The neck pickup is not bad, a little dark for my liking, but the bridge pickup, oy veh. It’s too thin sounding, very flat, very bland. I’m not saying it couldn’t sound good in another guitar, but it’s definitely NOT a good match for this one. The internet speaks truth!
Luckily, I had a Zhangbucker Brownbucker spare, which I quickly chucked in.
A whatbucker whonow???
Zhangbucker is a boutique pickup winding company, run by a white guy called David Plummer who inexplicably goes by the very not white guy sounding name of Zhang Li Qun. The Brownbucker, as you may have guessed it, is NOT their “dipped in the toilet” special, but a hot wound PAF-style pickup, wound to get that EVH brownsound.
Unfortunately, I don’t really “believe” in doing toneclips for non-stock guitars – I started doing some for the SCT and then realized that it wasn’t going to be representative of what you’d get if you bought one anyway, since it would probably already have different pickups in, or you’d most likely want to swap them out ASAP.
So I’m going to have to excite you, you know, with words and shit. Will do my best.
Plugging into the Samurai Standard Plexi model on the HD500, you can immediately see where the Brownbucker gets its name from – it’s warm, a little spongy but has great bark and commanding high end presence that can slice through any mix. I actually found myself turning down the tone knob just a touch when not playing lead stuff. Cleans up really well too, for slightly hairy cleans, but for dedicated cleans it’s probably a little hot to really sound amazing. No matter – what are neck pickups for, right?
Flipping over to the neck pickup yields an instantly darker sound. A bit more smoky blues, but also a little muddy, if I’m being perfectly honest. I can see how a Seymour Duncan Alnico II Pro would do really well in the neck position, and hell, I’ve got one or two sitting in my parts box, but at the moment I just don’t have the time to chuck it in! And it’s nowhere near as dire as the stock bridge pickup was anyway. Completely useable.
Activate the coil split, and the neck pickup becomes wonderfully crisp with a good bit of sparkle. This was probably my favourite tone from the neck pickup. Does a pretty good impression of a single coil – funky rhythms and bluesy bending sounded great through it.
And then, I ripped through the entire Van Halen back catalogue, with supreme ease.
No. I’m lying. I can’t play Van Halen. I can probably play bass as well as young Wolfgang though (badoom tish, try the veal etc). But anyway, high gain is where it’s at, and you can play anything from nu-metal to classic rock to singing, searing, soaring leads with this guitar. The slimmer body and trem configuration temper the thump of mahogany to give it a bit more treble balance to cut through, and damn does it sound good. Amazebix.
Waggle that stick
Now, something that people are constantly debating is whether you can actually get a tremolo-equipped guitar (tangent – why is it called a tremolo? Tremolo is volume based, rather than pitch based… anyway I digress)… what was I saying? Oh right. Can you get a trem-equipped guitar to return to pitch perfectly if it’s not double locking? (i.e. doesn’t have a Floyd)
Paul Reed Smith seems to think so. Combine a well-engineered bridge, a well lubed nut (ahem) and locking tuners, and Bob is your in-tune uncle. This seems to be a growing trend among guitar makers who want to offer the flexibility of a trem system while retaining tuning stability, and not having to route as much wood out of the guitar body.
Bottom line – the PRS system works. Chronic dive-bombing and subtle flutters both saw the trem return perfectly to tune. I’m sure with heavy abuse you could manage to drive it out of tune… but you probably should try to play with a bit more restraint and taste, haha. I jest.
Last words (but not in a funerary type of way)
Very cool. Not content with creating a true “Les Paul killer” (to use a very tired cliche), Paul Reed Smith has succeeded in creating an animal that is true to both the classic heritage and his own design sensibilities. It looks ready to rock out but plays like a beautiful modern instrument. It has a tone that is distinctly its own, but with a good throwback to the meatiest sounding guitar in rock.
4.0 Fuck Yeahs
A very cool guitar, but points off for the bad pickup matching on PRS’s part. Wowrarecollectible factor – the PRS SCT has been discontinued since 2007, and goldtop is quite an unusual finish for a PRS. Also, 20th Anniversary specs make it +1 cool to gear nerds like me.