Paul Reed Smith is an American Guitar maker who convinced former President of Gibson Guitars Ted Mcarty (also known as the creator of the Gibson Explorer and the Gibson ES-335), to make what some would argue as the best guitar ever built.
The entire idea behind these guitars was to take the best of Gibson and Fender and amalgamate these into a brand new guitar, the Paul Reed Smith Guitar.
When I first started looking into the best deals on PRS guitars, what I didn’t realize was that their are two entirely different brands of these guitars. First their is the original American Made Paul Reed Smith guitars, and the other is the PRS SE (Student Edition) made in Korea.
Now I just HAD to know if their were any key differences between these two as the original American Paul Reed Smith is so much more than the Korean model.
The American version can go anywhere from $2600 USD to $5300 USD. Whereas the Korean PRS SE you can get for under $1,000 USD.
So why the big jump in price? Here’s 4 things that makes the biggest difference.
The Body Top Wood – The Carved Maple
Both Guitars are made out of the same Mahogany back and Maple Top body, the difference here is that the American made guitars have a more pronounced bevel, a curvier part of the top of the body that is truly noticeable and a much thicker piece of Maple wood.
The Korean made guitars do have a curved bevel but not nearly as pronounced as the Korean counter part and it has a thinner layer of maple wood that changes the sound ever so slightly.
The 5 Switch Toggle vs the 3 Switch Toggle
Not sure why this was done but the American version has a 5 switch toggle whereas the Korean has a 3 switch toggle. Both carry the double coil pick-ups but the Korean made also allows the player to switch to a single coil pick up on the fly with coil taps. Which is a nice feature of the Korean models.
I personally like having the option of switching between hum-bucker and sing coil, as sometimes the song I am playing calls for it. Again I’m not sure why this was done. Perhaps their was some feedback on the Guitar and they made the changes on the Korean version?
Questions to answer for another post!
Inlays – and the Neck
This is where things start to get really interesting. The American version of the guitar is truly a piece of art. The inlays of the birds they use on the American model is just so much more aesthetically pleasing than the Korean version. You can really see the beauty of the inlays in the right light.
The frets are a little cheaper on the Korean version as well. Paul doesn’t use stainless steel for his frets because he does’t like the tone. The frets are made of a different material, but the Korean version uses a cheaper version of the same material that could cause the frets to indent over time.
The other major difference here too, is the Korean version has maple neck where the American model has a Mahogany neck. My guess is that the Maple neck is a more durable wood and this will create a stronger guitar. Great for students that tend to bang around their guitars going from one place to another (hence the PRS student edition?)
Electronics and Hardware
The electronics of the Korean model are definitely inferior to the American version. The Korean model uses alpha pots which is where the difference truly lies with these two guitars. Not to say that a guitar player can’t change out the pots and the electronics to get closer to the American version.
However, the Korean version still has a pretty hot output very similar to the American version but their is a noticeable difference.
As far as hardware their tow distinctive differences. The tuning pegs on the American model have locknuts where the Korean model does not a really nice really feature of the American model.
And for the tremolo system, the American model has a much stronger, better built all brass tremolo system, which is also better than the Korean PRS model.
Having said that it doesn’t mean that the Korean model has a crap tremolo system because it doesn’t. It’s still a great tremolo system just not as good as the American model.
The Over All Sound
There is a difference in the overall sound of these 2 guitars. The Korean model has a more ‘boxed in’ sound where the American version just seems to sing and sounds much brighter. The changes in the wood of the neck and the cheaper electronics used in the Korean model definitely has significant difference.
It takes a really good ear, as you can only hear the difference when you play these 2 guitars side by side.
As I mentioned earlier, the entire idea behind the PRS guitars is that Paul and Ted took the best of both the Fender Strat and the Gibson Les Paul to create the Paul Reed Smith. Paul and Ted take into consideration so many details its hard to put into words how this guitar plays.
The fact is the Korean PRS SE model is still a really incredible sounding guitar for the price. If you have the means the American model is still far superior, but the playablity of the PRS SE is still really nice to play.
Even though the PRS SE only has a 3 toggle switch for the pick-ups, having the extra feature of the coil tap to a single coil pick up adds an extra layer of flexibility.
For more details on the PRS SE model you can click here, and of you have any thoughts about this article please feel free to leave comments below, thanks!