Classic Guitars, part 10: PRS Custom 24

In the mid-Seventies both of the guitar industry’s giants – Fender and Gibson – had lost their innovative edge and much of their corporate prestige. Both companies had been taken over by large corporations, and profit margins started to push quality control into the background.

Many discerning guitarists were starting to subscribe to the notion of ”They’re not making ’em like they used to”, which left the doors wide open to Far Eastern copy guitars, as well as to small boutique makers.

PRS Guitars, just like Hamer Guitars, took Gibson’s classic solidbody designs as a basis for their ”modern vintage” models.

With PRS Guitars it all started with a young Paul Reed Smith converting one spare bedroom at his childhood home into a workshop in 1975. By the next year he had already moved into a small workshop in Annapolis, and started attracting customers such as Ted Nugent and Peter Frampton. His first guitars were based closely on the double cutaway Gibson Les Paul Special, but featured humbucking pickups.

A few years down the road Paul Smith added fancy flame maple tops into the mix, and he managed to sell four of these guitars to Carlos Santana. Santana’s signature PRS models are still based on these original guitars.

But Smith wasn’t satisfied with simply producing refined versions of past Gibson-classics, so he set out to develop the ultimate solidbody guitar.

By 1985 Paul Smith had finalised his vision and started his own production facility. At the NAMM shows of 1985 Smith unveiled the PRS Custom 24 – the model that has defined the whole brand to this day. The new guitar ingeniously combined the best features of a Gibson Les Paul Standard and a Fender Stratocaster, as well as including many of Smith’s own improvements – not least the smooth and reliable PRS-vibrato and his own (Schaller-made) locking tuners.

The PRS Custom 24 combines Gibson-style materials and construction with a Fender-like outline, balance and (in most cases) a vibrato bridge. Added into the mix are a middle-of-the-road 25-inch (63.5 cm) scale length – about halfway between the softer Gibson (24.75″/62.9 cm) and the harder Fender (25.5″/64.8 cm) scale lengths – as well as two PRS-humbuckers with coil-splits.

Originally the Custom 24 came equipped with two knobs and one mini-switch. The knob closest to the bridge pickup was (and still is) the master volume control, with the second knob actually being a five-way rotary pickup selector, and not a control pot. The mini-switch was called the Sweet Switch, and served in lieu of a regular tone control, by giving you a set tone with rolled-off highs.

The Sweet Switch was replaced by a regular tone control around 1989, and these days many Customs also feature a regular five-way pickup selector.

Over the years PRS have changed many details in the construction, harware and electronics of their guitars, but the Custom 24 still carries the essence of what PRS Guitars are all about – it is a beautiful, yet practical quality instrument. Or as Carlos Santana put it in an interview with Paul Reed Smith a few years ago: ”It’s a guitar that gives you no excuses not to play to the best of your abilities.”

Classic Guitars, part 9: Fender Jazzmaster and Jaguar

The Fender Jazzmaster was introduced in 1958 as a conscious effort to broaden Fender’s user base and appeal.

The company’s first efforts – the now legendary Telecaster and Stratocaster models – had already proven to be successful, but were then still widely perceived as bright-sounding guitars for Country & Western, as well as early Rock ’n’ Roll. Now Leo Fender and his team were aiming for the more ”serious” guitarists of the Jazz and Easy Listening genres.

Fender kept the standard long Fender-scale (25.5″), but – for the first time – added a rosewood fingerboard. The reasons for the rosewood board were both cosmetic – it looked classier than the lacquered maple of previous models – as well for tonal reasons, with rosewood imbuing the sound with a warmer timbre. The Jazzmaster was also the company’s first guitar with an enlarged version of the Strat-headstock, which was meant to combat dead spots and wolf-tones.

The body was a brand-new design premiering the company’s patented offset waist feature, meant to improve balance, especially when playing seated.

A new, front-mounted vibrato with a softer, spongier action (meant as a direct competitor to Bigsby’s models) was also devised. The vibrato – which worked with a separate, rocking bridge – was easy to adjust from the front, and also featured a locking mechanism for disabling the system (and keeping the guitar in tune even after a string breakage).

The most important changes took place in the electronics of the Jazzmaster: The pickups were clearly Fender’s attempt at getting a Gibson P-90 -type tonality, with the wide and flat coils. The controls featured two different circuits, with the normal circuit offering a 3-way toggle switch, as well as a master volume and tone control. A slide switch on the scratchplate’s upper shoulder engaged the so-called Rhythm Circuit, which switched on only the neck pickup going through its own set of volume and tone controls (above the neck pickup).

After a first wave of enthusiasm over Fender’s new top-of-the-line guitar, the Jazzmaster’s success sadly waned. Most conservative Jazz guitarists wouldn’t touch Fender’s ”plank” with a barge pole, and still considered the sound as too bright, while the company’s usual customers were perfectly happy with their more straightforward Strats and Teles.

The biggest genuine problem with Jazzmasters lies in their singlecoil pickups, which take in a lot of extraneous hum and interference (just like P-90’s do).

Modern players also tend to complain about the vibrato system’s flimsy bridge saddles, although, in fairness, one should note that this is mostly due to our modern light string gauges. The Jazzmaster-vibrato had been designed at a time when ”light gauge” meant an 012-set with a wound g-string.

Today the Jazzmaster’s appeal lies mostly in the alternative field, and not too many name players spring to mind:

Thurston Moore and Lee Ranaldo (Sonic Youth), J Mascis (Dinosaur Jr.), as well as British songwriter Elvis Costello are the most well-known Jazzmaster players.


In 1962 Fender took the Jazzmaster as the basis for a brand-new model, geared towards Surf and Pop guitarists – called the Fender Jaguar.

The Jaguar was Fender’s first guitar with 22 frets, and it featured a relatively short scale of 24″ (even shorter than Gibson’s usual 24.75″). The general look stayed in place, but the Jaguar was adorned with glitzy chrome control plates.

Fender took the criticisms over the Jazzmaster-pickups to heart and designed new pickups for the Jaguar. The new units are reminiscent of Strat-pickups, but feature slightly higher coils, as well as metal shielding plates that enclose most of the pickups’ bottom and sides.

The normal/Rhythm-circuit set-up stayed in place, but the normal circuit now featured three slide switches – an on/off-switch for each pickup, plus a ”strangle” switch that cuts all bottom end from the output signal.

The Jaguar originally also came equipped with a detachable mechanical string mute, which wasn’t well-received by guitar players.

Sadly, the Jaguar’s fate followed along the Jazzmaster’s lines – after a first wave of success sales dwindled in the wake of the British Invasion.

The most famous names associated with the Fender Jaguar are Carl Wilson (The Beach Boys), Kurt Cobain (Nirvana) and Johnny Marr (The Smiths, Modest Mouse).

As with the Jazzmaster, the Jaguar has seen a resurgence of sorts over the past few years, with many new and modified versions springing up, such as the Fender Blacktop Jaguar HH.

Klassikkokitarat, osa 5: Gibson ES-335

Vuonna 1958 ilmestynyt ES-335 on yksi Gibsonin suurimmista myyntimenestyksistä ja firman toiseksi pisin yhtäjaksoisesti tuotannossa oleva sähkökitara (ES-175 jazzkitara on tullut ulos 1949).

Silloinen Gibsonin pomo Ted McCarty on sanonut useissa haastatteluissa, että ES-335 oli hänen mielestään hänen paras saavutus – sekä ergonomialtaan että soundiltaan.

ES-335:n ohut runko on valmistettu muotoon prässätystä vaahteravanerista. Vaikka kitaran ulkonäkö muistuttaa perinteistä jazzkitaraa, on malli kuitenkin lankkukitaran ja onttokoppaisen jazzmallin välimaastossa.

Puoliakustisen kitaran rungossa on nimittäin sustainea pidentävä, ja feedbackin ulinalta suojava keskipalkki, joka kulkee koko matkan kaulalta toiselle hihnatapille.

Keskipalkki mahdollistaa myös Gibson-lankkukitaroista tutun palkkimaisen kieltenpitimen käyttöä, mikä lisää hieman soinnin kiinteyttä.

Ontot sivuosat taas tuovat ES-335-tyyliseen kitaraan avoimemman keskialueen ja pyöreämmän atakin, jos vertaa vaikkapa Les Pauliin.

Verraten ison koppansa ansiosta perinteinen puoliakustinen ei ole ehkä sopivin valinta pienikokoiselle aloittelijalle (alle 160 cm), mutta muille suhteellisen kevyt ja hyvin balansoiva ergonominen malli sopii hyvin.

Gibsonin tytäryhtiö Epiphone on jo 1960-luvulla teyhnyt omia variaatioita ES-335 teemasta – esimerkiksi alkuperäismallia prameampi Sheraton (vaalea kitara tässä jutussa) tai pikkuhumbuckerilla varustettu Riviera, jolla on hieman kirkkaampi soundi.

Yllättävän edullinen Epiphone Dot Studio -malli taas on uudempaa tuotantoa, ja se tarjoaa ES-335:n konseptin sopivasti pelkistetyssä muodossa. Runko on tässä mahonkivanerista, ja kolmiasentoisen kytkimen lisäksi on tarjolla ainoastaan master volume ja master tone -säätimet.


Itsekin pidän suuresti puoliakustisista kitaroista.

Tässä yksi kuva minun Epiphone Casinosta ja minun japanilaisesta Kasuga ES-335 -kopiosta (valmistettu joskus 70/80-luvun taitteessa):

Niiden soundeja voi kuunnella tässä.


Pidä blogia WordPress.comissa.

Ylös ↑