Price paid: £ 1900
Purchased from: Guitar Village
Sound — 9
This is where it gets interesting. The 408 pickups are new - they are cambered to match the radiusing of the fretboard and when you coil tap it PRS say you also engage an extra 1500 coils to maintain the volume. And it works - the volume is remarkably consistent when you switch to single coil. The electronics are totally silent as you'd expect. And the 9 positions spoil you for choice. As Brent Mason is best known as a country guitarist you can be assured that the pickups have all the Texas twang you could want. They also clean up really well for both Telecaster and Stratocaster sounds. I really like the single coil in the mid position, you can get some great tone when in positions 2 and 4, particularly if you overdrive the humbuckers - which I did on a Fender Tweed to great effect. Incredibly versatile, as are most PRS, but with a bit more character and 'cream' in the sound than say the Narrowfield pickups on the NF3. The tremolo has enough space to allow two semi-tone bends one way and full on dives the other. But the construction stops you pulling anything more than a full tone upwards with the bar. For country, folk, blues and a "Fender" style sound this is a great guitar. Not as full on as a Les Paul for growl and bite, but a clean and strong attack with really responsive pickups.
Overall Impression — 10
Another amazing guitar from the guys at PRS. Like many of their models it covers a lot of ground - it doesn't go all the way to heavy metal without a few pedals to beef it up, but it does go way down south into blues and country, with a great sound for amped up folk too. To my mind this plus my SG covers the spectrum, I've played it most though my Tweed amp, but it sounds equally good through my Mesa Boogie for some crunchy blues. I've been playing for over 20 years and this is one of the best first impressions of any guitar I've ever tried - I'd definitely buy another if this one was stolen - no hesitation. I have a Fender Deluxe with Texas pickups which has now been relegated to back-up to this guitar for part of my repertoire. That's how good it is. The number of settings and the no-volume loss coil tap are the best bits. The Korina and Maple make the sound a little fuller than most Fender style guitars, but that's okay because it allows a little more crunch and you can roll it back with the tone control. I tried it next to a couple of Custom Shop Fenders, a P22 and a P24. No contest - this was the easy winner.
Reliability & Durability — 9
Only had it a week. So perhaps early days. Good solid construction and the PRS locking tuners are great. They keep their tune even after a good thrashing. The finish is V12, so good and hardwearing and the case is a really solid piece of kit. One thing I'd note is that it didn't have scratch-plate or back plate protectors (those thin plastic thingies) on when I got it. So you may want to watch that if your buying from a shop where others have tried it. All the buttons and switches are solid and I like the mini switches for the coil taps - good solid action and in a great intuitive position - because there was no volume drop I found myself using them more and switching positions on the 5-way less than I would on other guitars.
Action, Fit & Finish — 10
The guitar was immaculately set up. The neck is one of the most forgiving I've played - the shape and smoothness really help articulation. The shape of the 408 pickups means they literally follow the strings and so are really hard to mess up. Each was also individually, and well, set up and the middle single coil was adjusted to compete with the humbuckers either side. On close inspection the finish was perfect, no marks of any kind. The action was what I'd call "easy" not as light as my first Yamaha electric, but certainly not firm - about the same as you find on an SG - so you know you're playing but way easy enough to shred.
Features — 10
The Brent Mason Signature guitar is a new model from PRS for 2013. Made in their US factory. Those who know their models will recognise several features. The body is Korina and the same shape as the NF3, with a bolt on maple neck using the same cut and fittings as the NF3. There are two options for the fretboard - maple or rosewood. I prefer the maple as I think it goes better with the overall shape and colour. There are 22 frets on a PRS pattern neck similar to a Fender C, same width but perhaps a hair slimmer in depth? And medium fat fretwire. The bird inlays are nicely finished, but the materials depend on the fretboard. The scratchplate is again the same shape as the NF3, in a three layer black-white-black laminate. PRS locking tuners and tremolo as you'd expect. Now the pickups... It had the same pickups as the 408 (another new PRS model) - so a humbucker front and back, but with an added 305 single coil in the mid position. There is one tone and volume and a Traditional five way switch. In addition each 408 has a coil tap controlled by a mini switch found between the volume and the 5 way switch - giving you 9 different pickup settings. The guitar comes with the usual case candy and a good quality flight case. The one I have is in a "white wash" but plenty of other colours are out there. The white wash lets just a hint of the Korina grain through - it's a lovely effect working extremely well with the maple neck. It's vaguely reminiscent of a Fender body shape and C shape neck but feels a lot sturdier.