Best Paul Reed Smith (PRS) Guitars – 2020 Ultimate Round-up

In many ways, Maryland-based PRS Guitars has become the equal of long-time U.S. brands Gibson and Fender.

Founder, Paul Reed Smith is a world-renowned master luthier who created PRS Guitars in 1985.

He has many popular guitars and lines known for great build quality, good looks, and gobs of usable tone. Most have either 22 or 24 frets, and all play very well.

What is a PRS Guitar?

A PRS guitar has some common elements. Those include a set neck, maple neck with rosewood fingerboard, a maple top, a mahogany body, and a trademarked headstock design with three tuners on either side. Most are standard six-string guitars with two proprietary PRS humbuckers. Some guitars also have single-coil pickups, especially the models more geared toward competing directly with popular Fender models.

A patented PRS tremolo bridge, PRS tuners, and PRS pickups make the guitars truly formidable. Many come with coil-splitting capability on humbuckers and coil-tapping on the single coils to give you even more tonal variations. The neck scale usually is 25 inches with a relatively thin and flat build.

How Do PRS Guitars Compare to the Competition?

Touring professionals are embracing PRS Guitars in greater numbers. You get your money’s worth with any PRS model, whether you buy one of the more bargain-priced models or a high-end professional guitar. You can use high-end models in the studio for outstanding tonal quality. But the more bargain-priced models easily hold their own while performing live without risking your most-prized guitars.

Why Are These the Best of the Year?

The guitars featured in our review of the best PRS Guitars all feature the same standard bits of excellence. The excellence starts at the core with high-quality tonewoods for the neck, body, fingerboard, and cap, where applicable. Other common great ingredients include proprietary pickups, nimble neck, solid tuners, and a now-iconic headstock.

No matter which PRS Guitar you prefer, they all have several very significant advantages that make them truly great guitars. Those include the:

High-Quality Pickups – either humbuckers or single coils work great with PRS technology going into each.

Imminently Playable Neck and Bridge – the neck generally is a flat set neck with a rosewood fingerboard. A patent-pending bridge tremolo graces the better model.

Classic Tonewoods – a mahogany body, mahogany or maple neck, a maple cap on those so equipped, and a rosewood fingerboard help to deliver classic tones.

Paul Reed Smith SE Custom 22 Electric Guitar is made of beveled maple top with flame maple veneer; back wood: mahogany

Great Tuners – PRS-designed tuners compete with Grover with excellent an 18-to-1 tuning ratio that makes adjustments quick, simple, and lasting.

Headstock – the PRS headstock does a great job of enabling straight-through stringing to the appropriate tuner. That helps to hold and adjust the tune better than even a classic Gibson headstock.

Even with all those great ingredients going into every PRS Guitar model, the best thing about them is the bang for the buck that you get. Any quality guitar is worth a look. The more affordable it is, the greater the overall value. All of the PRS Guitars listed are outstanding models that deliver high-quality sound and encourage to learn and play more.

Review of the Best PRS Guitars

PRS Guitars truly have become very popular due to their combination of quality and affordability. All good guitars are worth an investment. The following are particularly outstanding examples.

PRS Paul Reed Smith SE Custom 22 Electric Guitar with Gig Bag, Whale Blue

PROS

  • PRS tremolo bridge holds tune well
  • Quality PRS 85/15S humbucker pickups and tuners
  • Dual cutaway body gives excellent access to the highest frets
  • Maple cap and neck with mahogany body deliver classic humbucker tones

CONS

  • Only one tone and volume knob for both humbuckers
  • Thick neck heel interferes with thumb placement beneath the neck while playing high notes

What Recent Buyers Report

The SE Custom 22 is one of the best bang-for-the-buck guitars available. You get great tonewoods, fantastic build quality, and quality pickups. The maple neck is thin, flat, and imminently playable along its rosewood fingerboard. You even get the PRS bird-taking-flight inlays along the frets, and the guitar holds tune very well. 

Why it Stands Out to Us

When most quality guitars run well over $1,000, the PRS SE Custom 22 gives you professional quality in a guitar priced well below $1,000. It is a great starter guitar that you could customize into a monster. The guitar has excellent tuners, humbuckers, an adjustable bridge, and patented tremolo system.

Who Will Use This Most

Anyone looking for a quality guitar with which he or she truly can grow as a budding guitarist. This also is a great guitar for playing live gigs without risking losing or breaking an extremely costly guitar. If you play a lot of bar gigs, this is a good candidate for live shows.

Bottom Line

The combination of price and quality make it a truly outstanding guitar. You get excellent build, quality components, classic tone woods, and a maple cap. It also is a great canvas for future customizing – or leaving as-is for a lifetime of quality playing.

PRS Paul Reed Smith SE 245 Standard Electric Guitar, Tobacco Sunburst

PROS

  • PRS-designed tuners
  • Most affordable of the bunch
  • Neck binding adds classy touch
  • Les Paul-style single cutaway body design
  • Classic mahogany body, maple neck, and rosewood fingerboard

CONS

  • No tremolo
  • Stoptail bridge does not enable intonation adjustments

What Recent Buyers Report

This is a solid basic guitar with a pair of PRS-designed 245 humbucker pickups. So, as long as you are looking for high-end sound from an affordably built guitar, the PRS SE 245 Standard is a solid option. 

Why it Stands Out to Us

You get a quality guitar built overseas by LTD under license with PRS Guitars. PRS Guitars inspects each for quality before offering it up for sale so that buyers can buy one confidently knowing they are getting a well-built instrument.

Who Will Use This Most

The Custom 24 is a great guitar for beginner and intermediate players. You get a truly world-class, solid body electric guitar that does not cost a lot but outplays many guitars that do. The combination of playability, sound quality, and affordability make it an ideal guitar for touring musicians and playing bars. It plays great and will not cost a ton of money to fix or replace if it is damaged or stolen. 

Bottom Line

You get a very well-made guitar that is ideal for beginners and intermediates players who are still learning the craft. Once you hit a truly professional level, it still suits your needs perfectly well. If you want to customize it over time, it accepts upgrades quite readily. 

PRS Paul Reed Smith SE Kingfisher 4-String Bass Guitar with Gig Bag, Tortoise Shell

PROS

  • Hipshot bridge and tuners
  • Comfortable fit and design
  • Neck-through construction delivers more sustain
  • 34-inch scale length and 24 frets give you lots of range
  • Two Kingfisher 4B ‘H’ pickups that give you a thick low end, clear highs, and lots of classic tones

CONS

  • Very heavy at 15 pounds
  • Electronics are not the finest quality but do work

What Recent Buyers Report

The SE Kingfisher Bass delivers fantastic feel with solid pickups that produce thick and fat tones. You get a two-octave neck that makes this a truly outstanding bass that sounds and feels great to experienced and beginners alike. Many owners say they wind up replacing the stock pickups with top-line editions.

Why it Stands Out to Us

You get a professional-quality bass that sounds great with a through-neck construction that adds lots of sustain. Accepts a wide range of custom pickups to make it a wholly unique tool for your particular playing style.

Who Will Use This Most

This is a great bass for intermediate and professional players. It has an affordable price while delivering a truly outstanding bass guitar. It is perfect for gigging pros, especially after upgrading the pickups. You can buy this one while learning and keep it throughout your playing life. 

Bottom Line

This is a very solid bass that sounds and plays well in the hands of experienced bass players. Beginners could learn and grow with this bass but likely will opt for lower-priced models.

Best PRS Acoustic Guitar:
Paul Reed Smith SE Angelus AX20E

PRS Paul Reed Smith SE Angelus AX20E Full Size Single Cutaway Acoustic/Electric Guitar with Hard-Shell Case

PROS

  • Mahogany back and sides
  • Ebony bridge and fingerboard
  • Top made from solid Sitka spruce
  • Fishman Gt1 electronics support amplified playing
  • Single cutaway enables better playing on high notes

CONS

  • Large body
  • Not made in the USA, but still quality construction

What Recent Buyers Report

This is a fantastic acoustic guitar with a quality case for less than $700. You can choose the Angelus with the single cutaway or the Tonare, which has no cutaway. Either plays very well, and the single cutaway Angelus gives you better access to the high notes. 

Why it Stands Out to Us

It is a very well-made guitar with a solid spruce top instead of a laminated top. The Gt1 electronics work well with the volume and tone controls concealed inside the sound hole.  

 Who Will Use This Most

This is a great guitar for anyone looking for a high-quality acoustic that also works well with an amp and does not cost a lot. That makes it ideal for intermediate players who are still learning new songs and improving their chops. The better you become as a player, the better the guitar works for you. 

Bottom Line

This acoustic is better than most guitars that do not say “Martin” or “Taylor” on the head stock and is just as good as many that do. If you want just one acoustic to add to your collection, this would be a good one.

PRS Paul Reed Smith SE 277 Baritone Electric Guitar with Gig Bag, Fire Red Burst

PROS

  • Coil splitting delivers single-coil tones
  • Has a pair of 85/15 S PRS humbuckers
  • Makes down-tune playing much easier
  • 27.7-inch scale delivers deep low tones
  • Maple neck and top on a mahogany body with rosewood fingerboard

CONS

  • Not made in the USA, but its Korean build is good quality and keeps the price low
  • Mostly supports down-tuned playing for metal, funk, and similar genres, which can limit its appeal

What Recent Buyers Report

The SE 277 Baritone is an ideal guitar for playing heavy metal and low-droning folk-style songs. It is a great baritone guitar that holds tune very well while eliminating the need for drop tuning. It comes with a very well-designed neck that is long, relatively flat, and helps make it a lot easier to play very deep, low notes and tones.  

Why it Stands Out to Us

This is a great guitar for playing heavy metal and other genres that often require drop tuning. Instead of altering the tuning, you just string up normally and enjoy playing the naturally low and fat tones that this guitar produces.  PRS delivers quality tonewoods, humbuckers, PRS tuners, and a great neck at a very affordable price. 

 Who Will Use This Most

Heavy metal players will find this most useful. It likely would work well with slide guitar, too, although most who play seem to prefer heavy metal riffs.

 Bottom Line

If you like playing heavy metal and other niches that require down tuning, this is a perfect guitar. It delivers a lot of value for the money.

PRS Paul Reed Smith SE Custom 24 Electric Guitar with Gig Bag, Whale Blue

PROS

  • 24 frets to increase tonal potential
  • Flame maple cap adds more tone and sustain
  • Patent-pending tremolo bridge maintains tune better than most
  • Push/pull coil splitting control knobs give you far more tonal variety

CONS

  • Neck has a massive heel and no binding
  • Only one tone and one volume knob for both pickups

What Recent Buyers Report

The SE Custom 24 is a great guitar that feels and plays very well with a lightweight but solid body. The maple cap and humbucker pickups deliver eminently shapeable tone via two tone control knobs. PRS tuners hold and maintain tune with an 18-to-1 tuning ratio. The thin and flat neck is very ergonomic and makes it very easy to play any style.

Why it Stands Out to Us

This is a very well-built guitar imported from the Cort guitar factory in Indonesia and built for PRS Guitars. You get all the PRS Guitar quality at a more affordable build price due to the Indonesian origin. You can spend thousands of dollars more on a made-in-the-U.S.A. model, but the playing difference would be minimal. 

Who Will Use This Most

This is a great guitar for anyone ranging from a beginner to a touring professional. The closer you play to the audience, the more you should opt for one of these over costlier alternatives. Beginning and intermediate guitar players will enjoy having a quality guitar they can use for practice and occasional performances while improving their playing chops. 

Bottom Line

This is pretty much the same as the top-rated PRS SE Custom 22. But you get two more frets to add more notes to play. That gives you E on three different octaves on the first and sixth strings. 

Types of PRS Guitars

PRS Guitars generally adhere to one of three body styles. All use similar set necks and quality tonewoods. The pickups and tuners are first rate. But the body styles really make a difference. 

Double Cutaway Solid Body

The most common is the double cutaway that gives you the best access to the high notes. Instead of a lower horn created by a single cutaway to access the highest notes, the double cutaway makes it easier to play the lower notes high on the neck, too. It also reduces the body weight for added ergonomic benefits. 

Single Cutaway Solid Body

The success of the double cutaway eventually led to a popular single cutaway model. And there are some Strat-style PRS Guitars with single-coil pickups and other variations. A recent John Mayer tribute model generally is considered a Strat with PRS pickups and headstock. 

Semi-Hollow Body

While nearly all popular PRS Guitars are solid body, PRS Guitars builds a couple that are partially hollowed. There are no dedicated semi-hollow body models that compete with the Gibson, Guild, Gretsch, Ibanez, and other industry competitors. 

Conclusion

The combination of consistent quality and affordable price points make PRS Guitars very hard to beat. You get a great guitar that any student can learn to grow into a truly accomplished musician.

People Also Ask

The variety and wide appeal of PRS Guitars take many people by surprise. With quality components going into generally affordable guitars, many questions arise. These will answer many of them. 

How Much is a PRS Guitar? 

A PRS guitar ranges in cost from about $700 to several thousands of dollars. Most people will opt for those that range from about $700 to $2,000, with the higher prices likely going to touring professionals.

Who Plays a PRS Guitar?

Many widely recognized and highly accomplished guitarists use PRS Guitars. Those include Carlos Santana, who has played PRS Guitars almost exclusively since 1982. PRS even makes an affordable PRS Santana SE model, which is said to be the inspiration for the entire PRS SE line that followed. Other guitarists known to play PRS Guitars at least some of the time include Alex Lifeson, Dave Navarro, John Mayer, Mark Tremonti, and Bernie Marsden.

Why Are PRS Guitars so Expensive?

Depending on the model you buy, they are not expensive. An SE Standard can be found for well under $1,000. That includes many artist tribute models. High-end custom models, like any costly guitar, generally deliver exceptional electronics, tuners, pickups, and tonewoods. The higher grade of maple used and the more custom the guitar, the higher the price.

Are PRS Guitars Versatile?

PRS Guitars are very versatile due to the ability to accept custom pickups and use push/pull knobs for splitting humbuckers and tapping single coils. Like all well-built guitars that use quality electronics, you can get many tonal variations from a single guitar.

Who Owns PRS Guitars?

Santana clearly owns several, as do the other guitarists mentioned above, and many others. PRS Guitars are built for the serious guitar players. You do not need to be a professional, you just need to be serious about owning and playing quality guitars that really do provide a great deal of value.

How Do You Date a PRS Guitar?

All guitars and basses that PRS Guitars build include a prefix that tells you the year in which it was built. Single digits represent the respective year of the decade in which it was built. A 5 could be 1985, 1995, or 2005. The model type will narrow it down to the exact decade. Starting in 2008, PRS Guitars started using a two-digit prefix directly correlating to the production year. An 11 prefix means a 2011 manufacture date, for example.