509 vs Semi-Hollow special

Discussion in 'Electric Instruments' started by althea, Oct 10, 2019.

  1. althea

    althea New Member

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    I was originally on the hunt for a PRS 509 but then ran into the Semi-Hollow Special. I am now down the rabbit hole of not being able to decide between these two instruments. I have played each briefly but not side by side. One of the big problems is that is it nearly impossible to find a place to play both of them together to compare and buying online feels like a crap shoot.
    I have only been able to find one thread comparing the 509 to the semi-hollow special and would truly appreciate more input.
    The other dilemma is that there is nice Semi-Hollow Special I found online yet it has a figured maple neck and maple fret board. Since I am unable to actually test ride I am wondering if anyone can share opinions on the maple vs rosewood fret board. It looks nice but I am reluctant to make a move since I am used to the rosewood fret boards on my other PRS guitars.
    Any help or input would be appreciated.
     
  2. AP515

    AP515 Mostly Normal

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    Go to your local store and play a maple Strat neck and see what you think.
     
  3. althea

    althea New Member

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    I have a strat with a maple fret board. It works well in that context but I'm used to rosewood on a PRS so it's holding me back from a potential purchase. I realize it's all just personal preference. This was just to get other opinions from those who prefer or don't prefer the maple fret board just to add to my thinking. Would a maple fret board hold anyone else back from a purchase?
    Anyway, the main dilemma is between the 509 or the Semi-Hollow Special...
     
  4. AP515

    AP515 Mostly Normal

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    My CE22 has a maple neck with a rosewood fretboard so I can't make the exact same scenario for you, but I really like the high frequencies coming from the maple neck. As for feel, I think because you already know you like the feel of the maple fretboard on your Strat, it should be about the same on a PRS. My Strat is maple as well and I think it feels great. I like the PRS carve better, but the maple fretboard is smooth and easy to play.
     
  5. shinksma

    shinksma What? I get a title?

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    I have both a 509 and SH Special. The SH Special is a "stock" variety, with hog body & neck and RW board. The 509 is a WL run, with maple neck & FB, plus a Swamp Ash body. Both have maple caps. So...I'm not sure anything that I say after this is useful for a true comparison.

    Nonetheless:

    They are two different beasts, that's for sure. The different scale length and the nature of the pickups (and how they are wired/switched) are significant in and of themselves. The 509 is a little longer at 25.25" scale vs 25". The neck and bridge humbuckers on the SH Special make it a little more traditional sounding compared to the "pairs of single coils" on the 509. And the middle pickups are different of course: NF HB vs a true single coil. And how the middle pickup combines with the others is different on the two models.

    I love maple necks and fretboards. But I also like regular hog/RW combos, obviously. I am of the opinion (however placebo-affected it may be) that they feel different and sound different. Maple seems to allow me to play quicker, and has a snappier tone, whereas the hog/RW combo is a bit warmer and smoother, and maybe sustains a bit more?

    I would imagine that a maple neck & FB on a SH Special would be a great combo. To the point where I am tempted to get one eventually (after all the other PRS GAS is satisfied).

    I don't think you could go wrong in any particular case. But I am a guitar slut: if it looks good and feels good, I'll be happy and play it.
     
  6. Rider1260

    Rider1260 New Member

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    The 509 is going to have more single coil options ( voices ) ( I have a 513 ) it is also more than likely heavier than the SSH and has a longer scale.
    I really like my 513 and what jamming and only bringing one guitar the 513 would be it more often than not.
    The SSH is a tone monster very warm sounding to my ear the only single coil setting are the bridge and or neck tapped so only 1 and 5 can be single coil ( or Multi Tap if you prefer ) positions 2 and 4 add the center narrowfield and position 3 is both 58/15mts ( I LOVE position 3 and flicking between the different taps )
    If you want a guitar that 100% feels PRS then go Special Semi Hollow , If you want a guitar that can be a bit of all world then the 509 is the one for you or be smart and just be smart and just get both :)
     
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  7. bodia

    bodia Authorities said.....best leave it.....unsolved

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    I with these two. I have both, but my 509 is from the same WL run as Shinksma's. Definitely able to get closer to those single coils sounds on the 509. I'd really be interested to hear how that maple neck/board sounds on the SSH. I'd think the neck would make more of a difference than the fretboard. In the end, if I had to pick one to keep, it would be really, really hard. You can't go wrong either way. They are both phenomenal instruments.
     
  8. althea

    althea New Member

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    Yes, thank you. I am also extremely interested how it would sound with the maple neck/board. I wish I didn't have to buy it to find out - but I'm tempted.
    And, yes, it is very hard to pick one. That is why I appreciate this discussion and everybody's input. I am leaning toward the SSH, I think. From what little I have heard, the single coil sounds from the SSH seem as impressive as the 509 (??) and I still want a beefy humbucker when desired. I just wish I could play it with the maple neck/board before dropping so much $.
     
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  9. veinbuster

    veinbuster Freeze zone

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    It sounds like SSH is the one for you.

    I wouldn’t avoid the guitar because of maple neck and fingerboard. My SAS has that combo and is a great guitar. I think Shinksma described it well. I think the maple suits a 3 pickup guitar nicely.
     
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  10. Mozzi

    Mozzi https://imgur.com/user/BAMozzy

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    This has been asked quite a bit...

    Both are very different and excel in different ways:-

    The PRS 509 is more like a Super strat that is designed to be a 1 guitar to cover multiple tones that can help for those that want a Les Paul, a Tele and a Strat in one instrument. Whilst it doesn't quite master all and offer quite the same options as those 3 instruments would - unsurprisingly as they are also quite different, its a great versatile guitar in that you could take just this to a gig instead of multiple guitars.

    The PRS Special is very much a Custom 22 semi-hollow with more options. You get all the options that a Custom 22-08 (if they made one) would offer with the added ability to tweak/refine the tone further by utilising the Narrowfield with either Humbuckers. If the bridge is too bright when paired with the neck, using the Narrowfield with the neck instead may be more what you want. It basically adds more options to refine your 'double humbucker' tones because the Narrowfield is only utilised with either Humbucker Pick-ups so you are only getting a lot more options to refine the double humbucker sounds essentially.

    This is what separates the two - one trying to be a few different guitars in one whilst the other offering a lot more options to refine your diuble humbucker tones. Its up to you as to what you are looking for but buying one doesn't make buying the other unnecessary. Neither tread on each others toes and the 509, as versatile as it is doesn't offer the double humbucker option as the middle selection just gives you the middle single coil. You can't (without modding) have that 'both humbuckers on' position that all double humbucker only guitars offer. That's the area that the Special sits and excels. You can't use the Narrowfield on its own and it has more of a Humbucker sound so even if you use it with the tapped neck/bridge, it still has a double humbucker-ish tone. As you can see, the 509 that doesn't have any double humbucker is very different to the Special so it comes down to what you need.

    If the plan is to get both, look at getting the Special whilst you can as they are limited edition and so will become more difficult to find new. If you don't plan on getting both, go with the one that suits your needs the most. Are you looking for a 3 in 1 guitar or a guitar with more options to refine and fine tune the tone you were after?
     
  11. althea

    althea New Member

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    Thanks,
    Yes. Thank you for this confidence boost!
     
  12. althea

    althea New Member

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    Thank you, Mozzi. Now I'm confused. My understanding was that the Narrowfield is a single coil. When I had the chance to play one briefly, when in position 2 or 4 there is a very noticeable single coil sound even if the two humbuckers are not tapped. Then tapping one of the humbuckers just kicks in a bit more single coil sound. It sure seemed that way. Is this not correct??
     
  13. shinksma

    shinksma What? I get a title?

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    The NF pickup is a true humbucker, in the sense that it is two coils configured to cancel hum. But it is built to offer really narrow spacing of the poles for the coils (thus the name), therefore it can sound a bit more like a (humless) single coil.
     
  14. Mozzi

    Mozzi https://imgur.com/user/BAMozzy

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    I think it sounds more fuller than a Single coil and don't get what I would call a Single Coil sound. They are basically a 57/08 in a narrower format - at least that's my understanding and as for the Humbuckers, they are tapped and not split either. If you think they are more Single Coil then that's for you to decide and I won't tell you what you should be hearing but to my ears, I don't think you get that Fender quack for example when you split the Humbucker and use it in conjunction with the Narrowfield - I still think it sounds as though there is a humbucker in play.

    My 509 for example sound much more Single Coil and running it as a SSS gives a bit of a tele-ish bridge with more stratty middle/neck. If I want something that can cover the tele/stratty sounds in my rig, I would reach for my 509. The Special to me is a custom 22 with more options. The Narrowfield is thicker sounding than a Single coil - which to be expected as its supposed to be the same windings as a 57/08 but in a narrower format. That does change the sound from the standard 57/08 but it doesn't turn it into a single coil - it is still 2 coils.

    Although they use the same wire as the full-sized 57/08 'buckers, these sense a narrower portion of the string - like a single-coil - and have a less specific tonal intent: they're not hum-cancelling single-coils, nor single-coil-sized humbuckers meant to emulate a full-sized humbucker (although you can't help thinking that here).
    "The Narrowfields sound like really clear, beautiful humbuckers," says Paul Reed Smith summing up how he hears the tonal differences. "I think that the Narrowfield is the best sounding baby humbucker I've ever heard." These two paragraphs are taken from https://www.musicradar.com/reviews/guitars/prs-25th-anniversary-swamp-ash-special-narrowfield-280146 and also says that these are 'hum cancelling' too like a Humbucker.

    Like I said though, if you feel differently, hear things differently to me then go ahead and buy the guitar that works best for you. Its not my money, not me who is playing it or me that has to listen to you play it either. I have my 509 and Special and think the 509 is more a guitar trying to cover the ground that multiple guitars tread - the Les Paul, Tele, Strat in one - where as the Special is a Custom 22-08 with 4 extra (taking it up to 12) options to find or refine the 'double' humbucker tone you want. Of course the 57/08 Narrowfield isn't quite the same as the 57/08 full size humbucker but it still has the same basic construction with the same number of winds.
     
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  15. althea

    althea New Member

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    Thank you, Shinksma and Mozzi. This is very helpful info.
    Decisions, decisions.....
     
  16. Mozzi

    Mozzi https://imgur.com/user/BAMozzy

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    The point wasn't to put you off from buying the Special if that's where you were leaning more towards. At the end of the day, its only your opinion that matters. As I said, its your money, you that will be playing it etc so its only you that matters. No one can say you made the wrong choice and both are exceptional instruments. You know yourself better than any of us so the best thing to do if you are unsure is to A/B them yourself if you can. If you think the Special is the better fit, even close enough to a 'single' coil tone for you, it doesn't matter if I think its not close enough or my 509 is my Super Strat and better suited to that role - its you that matters not me.

    If you are thinking about adding both, that's going to give you 21 different Pickup options from just 2 guitars but the only advice I would give, is to make the Special the first choice - its a limited edition model so the choice to buy may well disappear where as the 509 has been around for a couple of years now so finding one shouldn't be as difficult.

    The decision isn't ours to make or to persuade you how to spend your money. All I was trying to do was show you that from my perspective, they are both different - a reason I also own both. https://forums.prsguitars.com/threads/question-special-ltd-vs-513.40073/ may help you too even though it started out as more of a 513 vs Special. There are other posts regarding the Special and the 509 in the forums so you may get more impressions of each which could help too....
     
  17. Bsic

    Bsic NaN

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    I got a special recently, and really dig it.

    The tapped HB sounds are unlike any other I've tried due to the MT pickups. They don't sound weak, thin, etc like most coil splits/taps. Retains the volume but rolls off the bass a bit and adds a little sparkle. Its not your typical single coil twang, its almost more like a P90 ish tone. Super usable.
     
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  18. bodia

    bodia Authorities said.....best leave it.....unsolved

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    To my ears, the NF is more akin to a P-90. Regardless, I really, really like them.
     
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  19. Mozzi

    Mozzi https://imgur.com/user/BAMozzy

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    I certainly don't dislike the Narrowfield in my Special or the 58/15 MT's whether in full humbucking mode or tapped. The purpose of my posts was more to explain the difference between the Special and a 509 as I see it. Both are great guitars but I do feel they are very different despite appearing to be relatively similar - both having split/tapped Humbuckers with a pick-up in-between. Both have the same 5 way switch with positions 2 and 4 adding the middle pick-up to either Humbucker but the big difference is that the 509 in position 3 lets you play just the middle pickup on its own where as the special, like any double humbucker guitar, engages both humbuckers together. With the 509, you can't pair both Humbuckers and with the Special you cannot use the NF on its own.

    That means you can run the 509 as a HSH, HSS, SSS or SSH and in my opinion, the SSS tones are much closer to a tele/strat than anything the Special can offer. Even if you tap both Humbuckers on the Special, with the NF too, it still sounds like there is a Humbucker in there - maybe not as much as say a full humbucker would but its not the same as a single coil like the 509 has in the middle. It doesn't matter if the Humbuckers when tapped sound just like a Single Coil, there is still that fuller sounding NF too.

    I often hear that one of the best Strat tones is the neck and middle, something that when the 509 neck is split, it comes reasonably close considering the difference in the build between it and a proper Strat, but tapping the neck and using the NF - essentially the same pick up selection, there is quite a difference. It still sounds like there is some HB-ish (P90 may well be a good analogy) sound coming through. If, as some here seem to think, the NF, which is a 57/08 humbucker - the same wire, same magnets etc just narrower - sounds more P90ish, then that still isn't the same as a 509 or Strat single coil middle pickup.

    To me, the 509 is a 3 instruments into 1 guitar - even if it can't do 'everything' a Les Paul, Tele or Strat could offer, it can still do a reasonable job and good enough that it could pass for all three in a covers band for example. I really don't feel the same about the Special. Its a Custom 22-08 (like the Custom 24-08) but with a few extra options to fine tune and give a few more options than a Custom 22-08 would if PRS brought that to market. Its an expanded Custom 22 - a guitar with more than the standard 5 options you normally get from a Custom 22. I don't think its trying to be a tele, a strat and a Les Paul all rolled into 1 instrument like the 509 is.

    That's not hating on the NF or the Special either, its just that I think that both the 509 and Special, like I also stated in the 513 vs Special thread, are different and have a different role. The 509 to be the guitar to take instead of 3 whilst the Special to be a Custom 22 with many more options than just the 5 you normally get...
     
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  20. althea

    althea New Member

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    All of this is great and helpful discussion. I appreciate the input of everyone. Thank you!
     
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