Price paid: $ 800
Purchased from: GC Boston
Features: Modeled after the popular PRS 2-Channel amps, the SE 30 puts the boutique vibe of the Maryland made amps in the hands of budget minded players. I have the head version of the SE 30, probably one of the first production runs made in late 2011. Features include 2 independent channels (rhythm and lead), spring reverb, a footswitch for channel selection and reverb on/off, an effects loop with a level selector for line or instrument level signal, 2 speaker outs with a 4/8/16 ohm selector, external bias points, and a 3-way off/standby/play switch. Each channel has a treb/mid/bass tone stack, bright switch, volume (gain) control, and a master volume, with one reverb control global for both channels. Aesthetic appointments include thick black vinyl covering, sturdy corner covers, a comfortable leather handle, super bright LED channel indicators, modern chickenhead knobs, and a rather plain PRS logo on the front grille. Paul's signature is present in smaller print on the front control panel, which is a nice touch for the SE line. Inside, 12ax7's Drive the preamp section, with 12at7's for the reverb, effects loop, and phase inverter. The power section holds 2 5881 tubes, which are similar to 6L6's, but are supposed to be smoother in the top end. Massive custom transformers round out the internals. Despite the transformers, the amp is reasonably light and easy to carry. Overall, this amp walks a fine line between boutiqe simplicity and modern channel-switching functionality. Though it may seem to be simple, few amps in this price range actually feature independent, fully adjustable channels, which for me was a major selling point. The SE 30 does lack the fancier tone shaping tools that many similarly priced amps have, but I soon discovered that anything I wanted could be accessed easily with the standard tone controls. Basically, it has everything you need and nothing you don't, and I can hear the difference of not having extra circuits sucking tone. I do wish there was a second master volume on the lead channel for a lead boost, but I have ways of getting around that. In total, a very nicely featured amp for my needs. // 8
Sound: Between its two channels, the SE 30 definitely has its own trademark sound. It's not a sonic chameleon like my Egnater Tweaker - it has its voice, and then can be adjusted within that voice to get sounds that fit nicely in the mix. I wouldn't say this amp is unusually loud for a 30 watt amp, but it does have a walloping amount of bass, not in an overpowering way, but in a very full sounding way. Even through a 1x12 cab, this amp will shake you to the core, my 40 watt Tweaker can't keep up in this sense (though the Tweaker is a great amp). My bandmates were couldn't believe the sound I was getting out of a single 12. We play a mix of originals and standard rock covers, and this amp covers the fare with ease. I use a couple of PRS SE's, a Fender Strat, and an Ibanez semi-hollow with the SE 30, and its voice compliments all of them nicely.
Paul Smith's philosophy on 2 channel amps is that neither channel should be a compromise to get the best sound out of the other, and it really shows with these PRS 2 channel amps. Both channels are ideal for what I want, finally I don't have to decide that my clean sound is "good enough" when I get the lead sound where I want it. The clean channel of the SE 30 is exactly what most players will want: glassy cleans, up to a decent blues or classic rock overdrive. I think it would be a challenge to find players that didn't love this channel. The clean sound is very Fender-esque, but with a slightly smoother high end that doesn't get too bright. The bright switch will bring back some of those higher frequencies, but it's still easy to keep the treble tamed and still get that glassy sound. The bass is also slightly looser than a Fender, which is great for fat, ringing overdriven chords. I'm very picky about Strat tones, and this amp gets the best sounds from my Strat that I've ever had, it's very professional sounding. The overdrive starts at a very smooth level, then advances to a nice classic rock level, and can even go into more gain. Unfortunately, at those higher gain settings, the overdrive sound of this channel gets grainy and rough, and the bass gets floppy, and the sound isn't very pleasing. But if you want more gain from this channel, putting a good overdrive pedal in front really opens it up. This channel is ideal for pedals, and it really takes tubescreamers like a gem, probably because of that extra little bit of depth.
The lead channel on the SE 30 is its own beast, tweaked to give the best gain sounds possible. There's A LOT of gain on tap, which really surprised me for a "boutique" amp, more by far than I use. To my ear, the distortion is very thick and penetrates down to all layers of the sound. Some amps seem to have all the breakup in the high frequencies, and when you roll off the treble, you lose a lot of the gain with it, but that's not the case with this amp. Even when I turn down the treble or roll back my guitar's tone, I still hear all the breakup. I can get much smoother leads now, because I can kill a lot of top end and not lose the Drive and sustain, which I really love.
Honestly, I think the distortion sound of this channel is what will make or break it for most players, some say this amp is "muddy" or poorly defined, but I think it's because a lot of people don't realize how much gain there is, and how thick it is, a little goes a long way. But that's going to happen with any amp, when you have that much gain, you can only go so far before you lose note definition. If it's too much for me (and it has happened, this thing has A LOT of gain), I just roll back my guitar's volume a notch or two and it's perfect, then when I hit a lead I turn it back up and it really rips. Anyways, aside from the gain sound, the EQ of this channel is fantastic. Whereas some amps have "sweet spots" on the EQ, this amp has useful tones all over the place, and is a breeze to adjust.
The highs are nice and smooth, probably due to the 5881 tubes keeping things tame, and the bass is tighter than the lead channel, good for palm muted riffs, but not quite tight heavy metal tight. But the real star of this channel is the mids. Some amps sound like an old TV or radio when the mids are cranked, but the SE 30 really fills out when the mids are emphasized. I used to be into the scooped tone, but I've moved on from that and this amp is perfect for that nice full lead sound. You can scoop the mids if you want, and it sounds pretty decent for a "boutique" amp, but with mids this good I never want to! I seldom use the bright switch on this channel, I find that distortion seems to bring out the highs on its own, so I guess it's nice to have it available, but I don't use it. Overall, from heavier rhythm parts to searing leads, this channel does it all with style, and it has all the depth and character to the distortion that I've been looking for, so I'm sold on it, as long as I keep the gain reasonable.
To round out the sounds of this amp, the global reverb is excellent. It's more subtle than a Fender reverb, but when you really turn it up, it's very deep and full sounding. I love the Fender reverb for clean tones, but this sounds great too, plus you can leave it on for the lead channel and it compliments the sound quite nicely there too. // 9
Reliability & Durability: Since these amps have only been out for about 6 months, I can't really say much from experience about their reliability and durability. I will say, if they're anything like my PRS guitars, they should hold up very well. PRS offers the same 5 year warranty on these amps as their domestic line, so it seems they're expecting them to last. All of the parts are rock solid, the craftsmanship that the company has been bragging up is very apparent in the SE amps. One of the things that keeps me coming back to PRS gear is the quality and attention to detail. Even the SE line is sent to the Maryland factory and inspected, play tested, set up, burned in, etc etc before being sent out, and it shows when you open the box. I'm going to give it an 8 since I don't have a couple years of use to back up my rating, but I'm expecting great things. // 8
Overall Impression: The SE 30 is a great go-to amp for players that want versatility and great tone without having to wade through a sea of buttons and knobs. I've been searching for a while for an amp that gives me great cleans and thick distortion with no compromises in either channel, and this amp has it. I play a pretty standard variety of music: rock, classic rock, blues, pop, and even some easier listening stuff like John Mayer and Norah Jones, and I would gig this amp with confidence for all of those styles. I definitely feel like I have a piece of boutique gear with the SE 30, and I'll be holding on to this one. Yes, it was a little pricey for an SE, but after playing it, this was an investment I was happy to make. Obviously I'm a pretty big PRS fan, but their gear is popular for a reason, players that use it love it, and this amp is no different. It sounds great all over the board, and is very forgiving when you play, not too bright or too bassy. If you think it's too simple of an amp to get the sound you're after, I highly recommend sitting down with one and giving it a shot, you might be surprised. I'm sure they're not for everyone, but I think a lot of players are going to love these amps for years to come. // 9