The Signature PRS Tone

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Nov 21, 2023
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The recent PRS hate threads had me thinking...

Is there even such a thing?
Can your mind's ear hear it?
Can you identify one in the mix?

For some reason, my mind's ear always goes back to Jen Turner(Natalie Merchant-Tigerlilly).

I'm not throwing shade on PRS at all; I am most definitely a fan.

I think most haters are traditionalists; they are used to, what their used to. They hate on what they can't pigeonhole.
With me, I've always strived for and admired things people cannot pigeonhole.

This isn't meant as another PRS hate thread...
More of a, 'what does the PRS tone mean/sound like to you' kind of thing.

Thoughts?
 
I have not heard every single combination of woods / pups / adjustments so this is not a very informed reply...but in my mind PRSs sound buttery, elegant and non gritty or fuzzy, very articulated even using high gain. Even if the actual sound changes from model to model that set of features is the common constant for me.

Having said that, would I be able to identify one in a mix? Jeez, I don't think so. Surely I would have suspects, but my failure rate would surely be high.
 
I have not heard every single combination of woods / pups / adjustments so this is not a very informed reply...but in my mind PRSs sound buttery, elegant and non gritty or fuzzy, very articulated even using high gain. Even if the actual sound changes from model to model that set of features is the common constant for me.

Having said that, would I be able to identify one in a mix? Jeez, I don't think so. Surely I would have suspects, but my failure rate would surely be high.
To me, you just described Jen Turner's tone perfectly...
From my small example of 3 SEs; the common constant you described, is there.
 
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Everything In The Chain Effects The "Signature Tone" So It Is Virtually Impossible To Blindly Pick Out Any Specific Thing In That Chain.

No Two Guitars Are Identical From Any Brand. Each Guitar Is Unique. That Being Said, I Like The Build Quality, Look, Feel, Consistency Of My PRS Guitars.
 
Everything In The Chain Effects The "Signature Tone" So It Is Virtually Impossible To Blindly Pick Out Any Specific Thing In That Chain.

No Two Guitars Are Identical From Any Brand. Each Guitar Is Unique. That Being Said, I Like The Build Quality, Look, Feel, Consistency Of My PRS Guitars.
I agree to a certain extent; so, just change guitars in the "chain".

Does a Strat not have a idealized signature sound? A Les Paul? A Tele? No matter the chain...?

What is the idealized 'tone' of a PRS?

The inability to describe it, is what I'm getting at, in a way. The haters want homogeneous...
 
I agree to a certain extent; so, just change guitars in the "chain".

Does a Strat not have a idealized signature sound? A Les Paul? A Tele? No matter the chain...?

What is the idealized 'tone' of a PRS?

The inability to describe it, is what I'm getting at, in a way. The haters want homogeneous...
"Idealized Signature Sounds?"

Yes And No. Many People Thought Some Led Zeppelin Tones Were Les Paul's When In Fact They Were Tele's.

Many Guitars Have What You Would Call A "Signature Tone" If That Guitar Is Is Within The Realm Of What You Are Attempting To Define. For Example, I Have A Tele That Does The Typical Signature Tele Sounds Most Would Associate With Tele's. I Also Have A Tele That Has Double Humbuckers And A Trem And Can Not Do Tele Twang But Sure Can Do Death Metal Tones Like A Champ. Is It Not Also A Tele? Of Course It Is. I Have PRS Guitars That Sound Like All Kinds Of Things. They Sound Good Which Is Ideal To Me. :)
 
To me the idealized PRS 'tone' has more to do with the PUPS than the guitar. So do all other guitars pretty much. Slap some EMGs in a strat and those 'strat' tones are gone.
That's the thing...
I have a few Strat-builds with EMG SAs: still sounds Strat-ish to me.

/rhetorical/
Is there an active pickup set that claims to get the PRS tone?
 
The only real differences anyone is going to hear is difference between single coil and humbucker pickups as well as neck and bridge position sounds. I doubt that anyone is going to be able to tell that a PRS with humbuckers was used instead of a Les Paul with humbuckers. You can EQ things and every pedal as well as the amp you plug into are going to affect the tone.

I don't feel like my PRS guitars have a signature sound. I can set up my rig and then swap guitars and I will hear a difference. I can't say there is a signature sound though. I can't say that all of my PRS guitars are more responsive in a specific midrange than my other guitars. I can say that gain roll off when using the volume knob seems smoother with my PRS guitars, but I think part of that is the low or no friction pots. I am a big fan of those. I do have other guitars that respond as well but the knobs turn harder...

So am going to say, no signature sound and nobody is going to pick one out of a mix.
 
PRS do have a distinctive tone compared to Gibson or Fender to me, although not necessarily something I could quantify or qualify necessarily, so it all could just be psychoacoustics, or pseudopsychoacoustics if you prefer :)

I always figured perhaps the tendency towards unique scale lengths might have at least part to do with that.

I'm not one that buys into pickups being the only contributing factor to tone. a JB in the bridge of an esp horizon vs. a les paul sounds pretty different to me (yes with similar setups in terms of string/pickup height). And on the flipside, even when I change pickups in a guitar I find that the guitar tends to still have a certain character that remains no matter what. And of course the player is always one of the biggest contributing factors ;)

YMMV tho
 
Mid-focused and ultra sharp clarity. A lot of non-musicians I’ve played in front of call it bell-like. I find this characteristic holds true of the brand regardless of pickup/guitar or genre (blues, rock, metal, jazz, etc). As a player I would say it’s the most transparent set of instruments I’ve played/owned. That perception seems to fall in line with the PRS design philosophy and I’ve heard others describe it similarly. For me that’s what I think the PRS tone is and yes I can pick it out fairly consistently, especially live.
 
PRS do have a distinctive tone compared to Gibson or Fender to me, although not necessarily something I could quantify or qualify necessarily, so it all could just be psychoacoustics, or pseudopsychoacoustics if you prefer :)

I always figured perhaps the tendency towards unique scale lengths might have at least part to do with that.

I'm not one that buys into pickups being the only contributing factor to tone. a JB in the bridge of an esp horizon vs. a les paul sounds pretty different to me (yes with similar setups in terms of string/pickup height). And on the flipside, even when I change pickups in a guitar I find that the guitar tends to still have a certain character that remains no matter what. And of course the player is always one of the biggest contributing factors ;)

YMMV tho
I would suggest that every guitar has a resonant frequency once it is assembled. You can change pickups all day long and that resonant frequency is still going to be there. It is kind of the fingerprint of the guitar and as with fingerprints it is individual. You can take 5 guitars of the same model and they will all sound a bit different. Where the big question comes in is, do all of the PRS guitars have the same fingerprint? My bet is, no. It is how the individual pieces of wood come together that creates that resonance. I believe you will find the difference you mentioned about putting a JB in a PRS or a LP to be the same with 5 of the same brand and model of guitar.
 
Mid-focused and ultra sharp clarity. A lot of non-musicians I’ve played in front of call it bell-like. I find this characteristic holds true of the brand regardless of pickup/guitar or genre (blues, rock, metal, jazz, etc). As a player I would say it’s the most transparent set of instruments I’ve played/owned. That perception seems to fall in line with the PRS design philosophy and I’ve heard others describe it similarly. For me that’s what I think the PRS tone is and yes I can pick it out fairly consistently, especially live.
I would think everyone could pick it out live, when you can see the guitar. I have a number of examples of guitars of other brands that ring out clearly with great note definition just like my PRS core guitars do. How that translates to something people hear is all about your rig, pedals, amp etc. I mentioned in another thread that the rig I play is very touch sensitive and delivers very detailed tones, to the point that if you have slop in your playing, you are going to hear it. I have let many people play my guitar through my rig and they all say the same things. It sounds fantastic but lets the clams be heard. I get this tone and clarity with every guitar I run through it. There are many factors in getting a tone like this.

I would challenge anyone to tell me what the guitar is that I am playing if they can't see it and we take out the obvious things like single coil vs humbucker vs neck and bridge pickups. I am betting that with the ears only, nobody would be able to tell. The amount of gain that is used has a great effect on this as well. The more gain you add, it will be more difficult to tell. This is one thing people seem to leave out of these discussions.
 
I would think everyone could pick it out live, when you can see the guitar. I have a number of examples of guitars of other brands that ring out clearly with great note definition just like my PRS core guitars do. How that translates to something people hear is all about your rig, pedals, amp etc. I mentioned in another thread that the rig I play is very touch sensitive and delivers very detailed tones, to the point that if you have slop in your playing, you are going to hear it. I have let many people play my guitar through my rig and they all say the same things. It sounds fantastic but lets the clams be heard. I get this tone and clarity with every guitar I run through it. There are many factors in getting a tone like this.

I would challenge anyone to tell me what the guitar is that I am playing if they can't see it and we take out the obvious things like single coil vs humbucker vs neck and bridge pickups. I am betting that with the ears only, nobody would be able to tell. The amount of gain that is used has a great effect on this as well. The more gain you add, it will be more difficult to tell. This is one thing people seem to leave out of these discussions.
You bring up good points and I sincerely enjoy the conversation. My point on live music was where I can’t see the guitar as that’s a dead giveaway. The way I could best describe it is there’s a mid range hump in like a 594 that’s different from a les paul and different from turning on a tube screamer or punching up the mids on a Marshall. In a mix especially in digitally recorded media all of this nuance gets swallowed up. I spent a long afternoon playing different high end guitars when I decided on my first PRS. I had my drummer buddy, his girlfriend and my girlfriend with me. The ladies didn’t play music and weren’t involved in the industry. They could hear the difference between the PRS and the Gibson and the Ernie Ball. Would they have heard a difference between the silver sky and a 60s strat? Probably not. But I mean a prs Custom 24 plugged into a rectifier was a tone that defined a generation. Tremontis rock tone has dominated the genre for more than a decade. Santana is legendary. While all those tones are different I find to my ears that they’re a more mid focused and “clear” (audio balance) version of what they’re based off of (gibson les paul classic with 500t, custom 24 vs les paul, etc). I agree most people would have no idea what instrument is being used on a blind play through in a mix and you can alter your tone via other parts of your signal chain. And good points on the gain too, it masks the tone with saturation.
 
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