Gear talk for the GAS-afflicted.

PRS Studio – The Narrows

PRS Studio – The Narrows

Aug 14, 2012

As some of you may have seen, I recently did a review of the PRS 20th Anniversary Singlecut Trem. If you read that one, you’ll quickly find out how much I rate PRS on build quality, coolness, yadda yadda yadda. So when I was thinking of interesting new things that I would like to look at, I said to myself – hey, I wonder what PRS is up to these days?

This.

This is the new incarnation of the PRS Studio.

And those weird little mini pickup things, those are the PRS Narrowfield 57/08 humbuckers.

Okay, let me explain that bit by bit.

57/08: A couple of years ago, apparently PRS found a huge stash of pickup wire from the 50s that were used in the original PAFs. This means, quite obviously, that there was some magical tone hiding in those bits of wire, just waiting to come out. So the clever folks at PRS went about designing a new humbucker which paid tribute to the original 50s pickups, but with a modern twist. In a shock marketing tactic, these pickups were named 57 (because of the 50s inspiredness) and 08 (because it was first introduced in 2008). Difficult stuff. I wish I was in the marketing business.

Narrowfield: I’ll let Paul (or generic marketing person) take this one.

“We wanted a 57/08™; to sound like a singlecoil, but the hum wasn’t acceptable,” Paul Reed Smith explains. “What we got was something that sounds like a humbucker, P90, singlecoil, and mini-humbucker – the best traits of all combined. We were ecstatic.” Welcome to the world of Narrowfield®, the latest step in the evolution of sound. It’s a new PRS format that uses the same wire as 57/08s®, but squeezes the width of the pickup from pole to pole and goes deeper. Looking for exceptional clarity? You found it. Yearning to hear that full-on pick attack? We’ve got you covered.

What does that mean? Basically, they made a tiny ass humbucker that you can’t swap out without routing, if you don’t like how it sounds.

I’m probably being a little cynical a little early on in the game, but that does seem like a huge design flaw to me, personally.

Anyway, more specs:

  • Mahogany body and neck, flame maple top. Lovely looking stuff as I expect from these guys.
  • Pattern Thin neck carve – a more consistent CNC pattern to make carving the neck easier and faster.
  • The new V12 finish – this is meant to be a new, thinner finish, for better resonance, and a more welcome, worn-in look/feel. So far, I’m inclined to agree with this. It feels and looks amazing. This one is finished in Black Gold Burst, as the hangtag tells me.
  • New bird inlays – gone are the days of pearl or abalone inlays, unfortunately. These dual layer birds are made of corian, which is a fancy name for synthetic material, which is a fancy name for plastic. Small amount of sad face. I like my birds with the bling bling.
  • 57/08 full sized humbucker in the bridge, splittable by push/pull.
  • 57/08 Narrowfield humbuckers in the middle and neck positions, all controlled by a 5-way switch.
  • Master tone, master volume.
  • PRS trem.

Before I go on, I’d like to say the usual big thanks to the great folks at NZ Rockshop for being kind enough to get this guitar into my eager little hands. You guys are great.

Just Push Play

Taking the guitar out of its case, it doesn’t disappoint at all. PRS workmanship is, as always, impeccable, and it just feels like an amazing, high quality instrument. Everything is neat and tidy, the factory setup is sleek and low, and the neck profile feels like a comfortable old friend. This is why I love PRS!

With my gushing PRS love out of the way, I moved on to actually playing the thing, plugged in.

Wow, these new Narrowfield pickups are something else. Much like the description says, they’re a sort of mix between mini humbucker, P90 and single coil. Of course, that can be a good thing or a bad thing depending on what you want your guitar to sound like. The neck pickup is deep like a humbucker but with a P90-esque chimey fatness. Flicking through the 5-way switch positions, the neck and middle Narrowfields combined give you a bit more snap and glassiness, much like the notch positions of a single-coil equipped Strat but a bit meatier.

Engaging the coil split on the bridge 57/08 humbucker presents a bit of a conundrum. Because the neck and middle Narrowfields sound like fat, hum-free single coils, you’d automatically think that it would be a good idea to use the coil split on the 57/08 to get a similar sort of tone across the board. Unfortunately, because the Narrowfields are actually humbuckers, splitting the bridge 57/08 ends up making it sound a bit weedy and soft in comparison. I found it better to leave it full humbucking mode, where it brought back more mids and volume, and sounded like the sweet, medium output 50s styled pickup they promised.

Enough talk, here are some clips going through the clean sounds. I used the Blackface model on the HD500 as usual, with a bit of reverb and compression added post. The pickup positions used were:

  • Neck
  • Neck + middle
  • Middle
  • Middle + split bridge
  • Bridge (full humbucker)
So what happens if you add a bit of gain in? The same general comments apply, except that I was a bit surprised that the Narrowfields sounded a bit darkier and woolier with overdrive, compared to what I’d expected based on the clean tones. They really are a bit of a curve ball in terms of tone! However, as a general comment, I found that the output levels between all the pickups matched really well, which is often a problem with humbucker/single/single layout guitars. Yes, I know that they’re all humbuckers, but like I said, the Narrowfields feel more in the single coil/P90 camp to me.

More clips, with the same sequence as above, but leaving the bridge humbucker in full mode at all times.

And again, but for some single note type stuff. I don’t know whether it’s because I’m getting a cold and my head is all blocked up, but these sound pretty similar to me. I promise I went through all the 5 positions.

For some crunchy medium gain rhythm, I found that the bridge 57/08 humbucker really did well, with it’s vintage style output letting just enough crunch through but retaining good note definition. Here I used the Plexi model, check it out:

 

The awkward truth about nu-metal

Now, let’s talk about the elephant in the room. Due to an unfortunate series of events that transpired in the late 90s and early 2000s, the PRS brand name may forever be tainted by its association with those forgotten sons of heavy metal – what history will call, nu-metal.

In those dark times, it was okay to tune your guitar to Drop D, lay a finger across the fretboard while chugging away on your right hand, and call it a song. It was okay to put your feet together, forgetting all that our forefathers taught us about the legendary 80s power stance, and instead do a bit of a squat and rock out with your guitar by your knees. It was okay to wear DJ headphones although you weren’t a DJ.

It was okay to be… Brad Delson.

Oh, I jest. I actually have a soft spot for the ol’ Linkin Park, since they were the one of the only real forms of rock on the radio when I was an angsty teenager. But I do find it funny how PRS struggled to break away from that nu-metal association for the better part of a decade.

It also didn’t really help that the ramen-haired musical travesty that is Chad Kroeger continues to besmirch their name by using PRS guitars.

Anyway – tangent. What I meant to say was, if you picked up any PRS guitar from the 90s/00s, if it was a Custom 22 or 24 it probably had the Dragon or HFS pickups in them. Combining that with a Mesa Rectifier, and you were in instant nu-metal land. I thought I would test that theory to see whether this trend continues with the 57/08 pickups, and you know what?

It doesn’t. I couldn’t manage to get a high-gain tone out of it that I liked. I tried a whole bunch of different things, and without getting into fiddly EQing, all the high gain sounds I got were just woofy and not very good to listen to. Here’s an example of what I mean – hell, someone might like it, but personally, I didn’t.

 

Finito

So there you have it – the PRS Studio. An amazing looking and playing offering from PRS, with a unique slant on the pickups which will probably be the polarizing factor.

Think about one if you:

  • Like P90-style tones but don’t like hum.
  • Are interested in a hybrid pickup tonality upon which you can build your own unique sounds.
  • Want a versatile guitar that can mimic single coils, P90s and humbuckers, without the volume drop that usually comes with split coil positions.
  • Are mostly a clean to medium gain player.

Probably give it a miss if you:

  • Need the higher gain. Unfortunately, I often err on the side of heavier tones for my own music, so I don’t think this is a guitar that would work for me.
  • Like experimenting with replacement pickups – with the Narrowfields being an in-between size, you’re either stuck with them or forced to permanently route/modify the body.

I’m a bit torn as to how to score this guitar. On the one hand, it’s another stunning player from PRS, and I’d like to give them points for daring to try new and innovative things. I also really like the “fat single coil without hum” vibe of the Narrowfield pickups. On the other hand, the innovation also turns into a limitation, stopping you from exploring other pickup flavours…

Let’s call it… 3.75 F*ck Yeahs. And yes, I’ve been too lazy to put up the right pics because I haven’t made one that can do 0.75 yet, haha.

Cool cool cool.That’s it for me this time, stay tuned – there’s plenty more in the pipeline! Our first bass review, some dual overdrives, more guitars, more awesome.

Samurai out!

 

 

 

Comments

  1. those pups sound interesting. More importantly why does your website insist I date hot young filipino women?

  2. Google Adsense, brother. I’m not responsible for what you’ve been searching for, hahaha.

  3. At least it wasn’t asking if you wanted to join a U2 tribute band.

  4. A Coldplay tribute band, that’s what the world needs. PTUI

  5. Additional facts: The close distance between the poles of the Narrowfield pickups and the correspondingly taller bobbins are what makes them sound more single-coily (hence the relevance of the name). The unfortunate inconvenience of the proprietary size/shape is a consequence of this. PRS have never been much concerned with aftermarket compatibility, they want you to run PRS pickups.

    The corian (stone/resin) inlays are all part of this Lacey Act freakout. Pearl and Abalone are now potentially restricted for import/export in many countries. I might have to stock up!

    1. thesamurai says:

      Thanks, knowledgeable luthier man!! Much appreciated. I realized the thing about the closer spacing, but I didn’t know that taller bobbins also make a difference. I don’t really mind the corian stuff but as you know I’m partial to a bit of mother of pearl meself.

  6. Hamish (@hamo_d) says:

    What did you use for the high gain clip?

    1. thesamurai says:

      Bridge pickup + Recto model, if memory serves. It was okay for soloing etc but just didn’t fancy it for rhythm work.

  7. Percy Ottershaw says:

    I often wonder if the P90’s are really suited to high gain on a thicker bodied LP/PRS type guitar – seem to work OK on the thinner SG but could be the increased bass response to the bigger body mass stuffs things up and creates muddiness. As for swapsies what about the Gibson firebird or nighthawk style mini humbuckers – would they fit without routing??? Sad to say you website has NOT found me any fillipinos to date – s’pose the wife will be happy eh?

    1. thesamurai says:

      I think it just depends on the guitar + pickup combo. P90s seem to come in a very wide range of winding styles, from the underwound boutique P90s that have reduced hum but also reduced raunch, to the overwound modern Gibson ones that seem to be all raunch and not as much body.

      The best ones I’ve had so far? http://sixstringsamurai.co.nz/2012/05/26/fret-king-esprit-3-one-shape-to-rule-them-all/ :)

  8. […] PRS Narrowfield ‘buckers. If you want to hear what they sound like, we did a review of the PRS Studio awhile back which featured […]


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