Love Wasn't In My Special Plan.

LSchefman

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As my then-teenage daughter once said, "Ya know, you just never know. You know?" :)

I bought a Special Semi-Hollow last fall. I wasn't looking for anything special (excuse the pun), what I wanted was something different to use as an occasional spice in a track. My original plan was to have a guitar I'd use in moments of creative desperation, when I need to think and play in a different way, i.e., every once in a blue moon.

The Special I bought is about as far out of my wheelhouse as any guitar I could imagine living with.

It has an ebony fretboard. I prefer rosewood.

It has coil tap switches. I figured I'd get very little use out of them. I didn't use the taps much on any of my other PRS Guitars.

The finish is so far out of my zone of comfort that I almost didn't buy the guitar for that reason alone. Erm..blue with a purple burst? I named it the Gothic Special for its goth-girl-hair color.

But there were a couple of things I figured I'd like:

It has a semi-hollow body. I knew I'd like that, because I had a semi-hollow CU22 Ltd 11 a decade or so ago. It has three pickups, one of which, the narrowfield middle pickup is my favorite middle pickup. The 5-way blade is a necessity to get max benefit from the three pickups.

Once I decided to get away from my norm, I picked the guitar for its features, so the finish became an afterthought. And there aren't a lot of these out in the wild. So I bought it. Call it a tone-experimenting buy, and you'd be pretty close. It's nice to have an 'every so often' guitar, or so I thought.

Fast-forward nine months...

I've spent some quality time with the Special. I've played it more than any of my other guitars since I got it. I've learned to work with its features and learn more about its nuances, and how to get useful sounds with it. Bottom line, I grok it, at least as much as my ability allows in the context of my own sound palette.

I guess you could say the guitar has broken me in, rather than the other way around! But I'd make one additional observation - not only not to judge a book by its cover, so to speak, but you really don't know for sure about an instrument until you've lived with it, played it enough to understand what you can do with it, or not do with it, etc.

Today I was practicing with it, working out some ideas, and I realized it's an incredibly great guitar. I love playing it. Instead of an occasional piece, it's a mainstay.

'Once in a blue moon' has become my new normal. I'm going to have to rename it: Blue Moon.


;)
 

Collywobbles

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Hi Les - I am interested in how it sounds acoustically... is it louder than, say, a solid CU24? I know it's an eletric guitar but having trashed my hearing I wonder if something like this might work instead of a full acoustic (which I've never liked playing). One of the things I love about my old (and very ratty) '88 Sig (think posh Custom 24) is that it's very loud (for an electric guitar) acoustically. I'm tempted by a Special Semi-Hollow in for sale in teh UK ATM. Also amplified - what does the semi-hollow bit add, if anything?
Thanks in advance:)
CW
 

LSchefman

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I have one more 'love observation' to make.

I have a PS CU24 30th Anniversary model. Its tone is beautiful. When I think of which guitar to play with my HXDA, I generally pick the McCarty Singlecut, because they seem to go together like peanut butter and jelly. But...

This is the video that convinced me to get the HXDA. I haven't heard it in a long time, but noticed it again the other day. Have you ever heard a more buttery, gorgeous, bridge pickup tone than Nicky Moroch playing a CU24 with the HXDA?

If there's a tone that's often 'in my head', it's this one:

 

LSchefman

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Hi Les - I am interested in how it sounds acoustically... is it louder than, say, a solid CU24? I know it's an eletric guitar but having trashed my hearing I wonder if something like this might work instead of a full acoustic (which I've never liked playing). One of the things I love about my old (and very ratty) '88 Sig (think posh Custom 24) is that it's very loud (for an electric guitar) acoustically. I'm tempted by a Special Semi-Hollow in for sale in teh UK ATM. Also amplified - what does the semi-hollow bit add, if anything?
Thanks in advance:)
CW
Interesting questions!

I just strummed my Special and the PS 30th CU24 back-to-back. I should mention that I lucked out with my CU24 - it sounds beautiful, and has a nice resonance.

The Special seems louder, especially in the midrange and treble when it's strummed acoustically. But not all that much louder, only a little bit louder! And the perceived loudness might simply be the result of a different tonal balance and the resonant peak I'll get into in a moment.

My thinking is that a true acoustic guitar is so fundamentally different from the Special that (for me) substituting it for an acoustic would be out of the question. And it's certainly not loud enough to substitute for an acoustic unless you basically don't care what a real acoustic sounds like.

The semi-hollow construction creates a resonant peak in the frequency response.

A resonant peak occurs just at the break point where the high frequencies start to roll off. It's typical of any instrument with body cavities, and you mostly perceive it in the upper mids, giving the instrument a slightly more vowel-like sound on certain settings when it's amplified. It's there but more subtle on the bridge pickup alone, but it becomes much more noticeable as you switch to the 2,3 and 4 positions, and there's noticeably more resonance and roundness in the neck pickup as well.

However, the Special's resonant peak is less pronounced than the resonant peak on a true hollow body guitar, or even a dual-chamber semi-hollow like a 335.

Hopefully this helps a little. But a recording is worth a zillion words, and this one from PRS does a very good job of showing what the guitar does:

 

Silvertree

I love the smell of a PRS case in the morning.
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Messages
324
Interesting questions!

I just strummed my Special and the PS 30th CU24 back-to-back. I should mention that I lucked out with my CU24 - it sounds beautiful, and has a nice resonance.

The Special seems louder, especially in the midrange and treble when it's strummed acoustically. But not all that much louder, only a little bit louder! And the perceived loudness might simply be the result of a different tonal balance and the resonant peak I'll get into in a moment.

My thinking is that a true acoustic guitar is so fundamentally different from the Special that (for me) substituting it for an acoustic would be out of the question. And it's certainly not loud enough to substitute for an acoustic unless you basically don't care what a real acoustic sounds like.

The semi-hollow construction creates a resonant peak in the frequency response.

A resonant peak occurs just at the break point where the high frequencies start to roll off. It's typical of any instrument with body cavities, and you mostly perceive it in the upper mids, giving the instrument a slightly more vowel-like sound on certain settings when it's amplified. It's there but more subtle on the bridge pickup alone, but it becomes much more noticeable as you switch to the 2,3 and 4 positions, and there's noticeably more resonance and roundness in the neck pickup as well.

However, the Special's resonant peak is less pronounced than the resonant peak on a true hollow body guitar, or even a dual-chamber semi-hollow like a 335.

Hopefully this helps a little. But a recording is worth a zillion words, and this one from PRS does a very good job of showing what the guitar does:

You aren’t doing anything to quell my want for a Special 22, Les. I have been trying to hold out because of the MEV I have on order but reading this post didn’t help.
 

Collywobbles

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Oct 17, 2017
Messages
456
Interesting questions!

I just strummed my Special and the PS 30th CU24 back-to-back. I should mention that I lucked out with my CU24 - it sounds beautiful, and has a nice resonance.

The Special seems louder, especially in the midrange and treble when it's strummed acoustically. But not all that much louder, only a little bit louder! And the perceived loudness might simply be the result of a different tonal balance and the resonant peak I'll get into in a moment.

My thinking is that a true acoustic guitar is so fundamentally different from the Special that (for me) substituting it for an acoustic would be out of the question. And it's certainly not loud enough to substitute for an acoustic unless you basically don't care what a real acoustic sounds like.

The semi-hollow construction creates a resonant peak in the frequency response.

A resonant peak occurs just at the break point where the high frequencies start to roll off. It's typical of any instrument with body cavities, and you mostly perceive it in the upper mids, giving the instrument a slightly more vowel-like sound on certain settings when it's amplified. It's there but more subtle on the bridge pickup alone, but it becomes much more noticeable as you switch to the 2,3 and 4 positions, and there's noticeably more resonance and roundness in the neck pickup as well.

However, the Special's resonant peak is less pronounced than the resonant peak on a true hollow body guitar, or even a dual-chamber semi-hollow like a 335.

Hopefully this helps a little. But a recording is worth a zillion words, and this one from PRS does a very good job of showing what the guitar does:


Thanks for the detailed and thoughtful reply Les - much appreciated (ditto taking the time to try your two guitars back to back fo rme). I have had a few acoustics but never liked them (so all sold) and I would say am an electric guitar player through and through. My hope / thought is that the Special (or similar) might be loud enough for me to play unamplifed when practising etc and in turn that might protect my (fairly damaged and getting worse) hearing a bit. Based on what you said it's not going to be a massive difference (my Sig is likewise very resonant) but probably worth me making the effort to go try one. Thanks again. Tinitus is a pain!
 

LSchefman

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You aren’t doing anything to quell my want for a Special 22, Les. I have been trying to hold out because of the MEV I have on order but reading this post didn’t help.
Interestingly enough, I have that PS 20th Anniversary guitar that's similar to the MEV, but doesn't have the coil split switches; the middle pickup is different, and the mahogany back is a little bit fatter and the scale length is 24.594. I'd imagine the differences between my PS20 and what you have coming in aren't all that large.

The PS20 is different enough from the Special that I was able to justify having both. But as we'd no doubt agree, 'justify' can be a tricky little term! And its meaning is so personal to wants/needs/etc.

I try to keep it down to one guitar a year, or less, if that helps at all. ;)

Thanks for the detailed and thoughtful reply Les - much appreciated (ditto taking the time to try your two guitars back to back fo rme). I have had a few acoustics but never liked them (so all sold) and I would say am an electric guitar player through and through. My hope / thought is that the Special (or similar) might be loud enough for me to play unamplifed when practising etc and in turn that might protect my (fairly damaged and getting worse) hearing a bit. Based on what you said it's not going to be a massive difference (my Sig is likewise very resonant) but probably worth me making the effort to go try one. Thanks again. Tinitus is a pain!
I'm so sorry you have the tinnitus issue! I hope there's a cure coming down the pike.

If I wanted a dual purpose electric that I could also use strummed acoustically, my choice would probably be something like a Hollowbody II; it'll be louder and have more acoustic-like resonances. Just my two cents.

Wait a minute…was this the guitar formerly known as THE WIZARD?:p:D
Yeah. I named it way too early. To justify a name, I think my guitars have to earn them somehow. In fact, only two are named!

I think the ebony board would add a little more focus and be perfect. I do like that Derek Trucks tone Brian had going in the beginning though.
Well, you know ebony - we hear similar things. The cool thing about ebony is that it reflects the pick attack a little more, so you get a bit more snap. The tradeoff is that the note decays faster with ebony than rosewood. However, with hollow or semi-hollow body guitars, the added snap seems about right. It's why I have an abony fretboard on my acoustic.

Of course we're talking nuance here, but tone is (to me) all about small differences. I really dug Brian's tone on that demo, too. It pretty much led me to buying the guitar.
 

veinbuster

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Thanks for the detailed and thoughtful reply Les - much appreciated (ditto taking the time to try your two guitars back to back fo rme). I have had a few acoustics but never liked them (so all sold) and I would say am an electric guitar player through and through. My hope / thought is that the Special (or similar) might be loud enough for me to play unamplifed when practising etc and in turn that might protect my (fairly damaged and getting worse) hearing a bit. Based on what you said it's not going to be a massive difference (my Sig is likewise very resonant) but probably worth me making the effort to go try one. Thanks again. Tinitus is a pain!
A semi hollow isn’t especially satisfying to play unplugged. A hollow body on the other hand, serves quite well.
 

LSchefman

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Blue Moon in the flesh…er…wood:

IaTodNX.jpg


I'm over being freaked out about the purple burst. I've come to like it.

I don't quite get why they did it, but I like it anyway. Maybe it needs ebony tuner buttons?

Or not.
 
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Moondog Wily

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Great!

But...

Never follow my advice. My advice totally sucks. I just basically throw it out there to see what will happen. ;)
Well, when I say it will help me on my next PRS decision, it would certainly be to do the opposite of what you like! So please continue so I know what to not do (all a joke of course for those who are not picking up on the sarcasm)!!
 

andy474x

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I think the finish on your Special is pretty dang cool. Can't say I'm the biggest fan of the burst finishes where the burst color comes totally out of left field (charcoal cherry burst, the "brisket burst" purple on charcoal, etc.), but everything being based in the blue family on yours makes it more classy and understated compared to the more extreme examples.

The SSH is a great guitar. I'm happy to have scored one that had the features I wanted, they're still hard to come by. Lots of tones, and none of them are exact clones of anything else, but they take inspiration from timeless classics and mix them together in a fantastic way. The core tone of a PRS, the jangle of semi hollow construction, bell like bottom end of a Strat, quack of 3-pickup guitars, among other things. Most of the time, when I have a guitar with coil splitting, I just prefer the authenticity of using the humbucker mode, rather than the imitation of a single coil. But I can't say there's a bad single coil sound in the SSH, probably due to the tapped pickups, rather than split, and the fact that the whole platform/build of the guitar supports great sounds of all kinds.

It's funny, I can record two takes of something with the SSH, and my 594, A/B them in isolation, and they don't sound all that different. More low mid and blooming note attack in the 594, but very much in the same family. But, throw them in the track, and I can easily pick out the one I prefer. That's how it was when I recorded the "Expanse" piece, used those two a lot, and it was never a tough decision about which guitar was the one for a certain part.

If I could (mildly) criticize the SSH for anything, it would be that I don't like it as much for lead tones as the 594, which has more mid push and fatness. But I would also say the SSH has a much wider variety of sounds, and they're easier to coax out of the guitar, too. Just like you, mine broke me in - I knew what ball park I would be in with it, but didn't really know where it would take me until I started to use it.
 
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