PRS Vela Review Paul Reed Smith S2 Vela

I've been intrigued by the new S2 models for quite a while but the Vela is the first one I thought looked good enough to have a go with. The attraction of the S2 line is that they are made in Stevensville, Maryland but, finally, at a price nearly everybody can afford. The Vela with dots comes in right around the price of a Fender American Standard Strat. However, being familiar with what Fender is putting out these days, this Vela is a notch above a Strat in terms of fit, finish, and playability; this Vela plays better right out of the box than my EJ Strat which cost quite a bit more and took a bit of tweaking to get settled in.

Here's mine taking a nap (later, I'll read it some Herman Melville)

The first thing you notice is the ridiculous weight of the guitar: right at 6 pounds. It is so light and resonant that it feels as if the guitar will float right out of your hands when you strum a G chord.

Secondly, this might be, acoustically, the loudest non-hollowbody electric guitar I remember playing. It is just plain loud and vibrant. Hit a chord and the tuning pegs feel like butterflies fluttering in your fingers. I lost, maybe, a bit of volume when I replaced the PRS-branded D'Addario strings (my god, those strings are tight and unforgiving) with a set of Mangan 10-46 and I lost a bit more when I lowered the action. But it is still remarkably alive.

Intonation was absolutely perfect out of the box and, sticking with a set of 10s, I found no need to adjust the saddles. The pesky B-string tuning problem that plagues a lot of guitars was solved years ago by PRS by moving the nut closer to the first fret and chords sound in-tune up and down the length of the neck.

With its offset body, the Vela is superbly well-balanced. It feels great hanging from a strap or sitting on your leg.

The Pattern Regular neck carve (with 25" scale length) feels fantastic with no sharp edges due to the hand-rolled fingerboard and the neck-body joint provides effortless access to the 22nd fret.
The Pattern Regular differs from the Pattern by 1/32" narrower width at the nut.

Pattern neck: think West Street
Pattern Regular neck: think Virginia Ave.

After a week of possession I went ahead and adjusted the action and it's ridiculously low and slinky.

The nickel frets (medium jumbos) are a cross between vintage and modern. Not too short, not too wide, just right. This is some of the best fretwork I've seen in this price range: perfectly dressed and polished providing effortless play. The only thing better, perhaps, are the frets on my old Parker NiteFly.

All the materials and parts exude quality and the guitar punches above its price tag. You're getting an American-made, set-neck PRS for less than an American Standard Strat!

The pickups are clanky and spanky with a nice amount of chime and grit. They sound fantastic and I was especially impressed by the split coil sound of the bridge pickup -- it's not only useful but actually sounds great, which is quite a feat. The bridge humbucker is a Korean-made replica of the US Starla which is an AlNiCo design that aims for Gretsch Filtertron territory while the neck single coil conjures up the Dynasonic vibe. Keep in mind, PRS had contemplated going with TV Jones pickups before designing their own Starla model. In keeping with a quasi-Gretsch sound, the guitar has less sustain than any of the core US models you've played. Call up your inner Chet, however, and you're going to be in heaven.

The plate bridge is a new thing for PRS (a little mini Tele thing going on) but if you go back far enough in PRS history you will find the three strings per brass barrel saddle design (I'm thinking specifically of the Sorcerer's Apprentice). And, finally, locking tuners (similar to phase II models) round out the package.

Maybe a Floyd option will be available soon: I see that none other than Vernon Reid has taken possession of a Vela with a Floyd and a hex pickup.

I dig the vintage cherry finish with the large dots -- it gives off a kind of old school Gibson vibe but much cooler than anything Gibson is churning out in this price range today.

It would have been nice to have the new V12 clear coat on this guitar (it has the old poly and acrylic 'dipped in glass' treatment of yesteryear) but it is very nice, nonetheless.

Really, the only downer regarding this guitar is the gig bag. I have bags that came with a Parker NiteFly and a Suhr Modern Satin and this PRS bag is definitely not in the same class.

About half the hardware bits and pieces are shared from the PRS core models (e.g., the nut is the same brass-impregnated model as found on my Artist grade SC58) and the remainder, including pickups, are sourced from S. Korea but designed by PRS.

In this sound clip (24 bit, uncompressed .wav) I have the neck pickup panned left; the neck and bridge (single coil) panned right; bridge pickup (humbucker) up the middle for the little lead line; and behind it, coming in and out, you might detect the neck and bridge (humbucker) cleaned up and doing a strumming pattern. The amp is an ENGL Retro UAD plugin.

Anyway, the S2 Vela is a killer guitar and highly recommended.