A few months’ gigging, recording and everything that goes with it – welcome to Guitarist’s longterm test reports PRS S2 Not-So-Super Eagle
The idea of building our own ‘PRS Super Eagle II’ started off as a bit of a jape, and some hours into the rebuild of a PRS S2 Custom 22 Semi-Hollow I was thinking I might have drawn the short straw. I’d started off by stripping the chassis of its parts, cutting back the non-current opaque black finish and hand-buffing it back to an ebony-like sheen. It’s a job and a half, but I was pleased with the results: it looked like a guitar that had been well used for a couple of decades. As soon as I was done, I received a call from PRS Europe’s super-salesman, Jez Ayscough, announcing a possible audience with the real £11k Super Eagle II John Mayer signature in a couple of days’ time. I suddenly needed to finish the Not-So-Super Eagle rather more quickly than I’d anticipated.
It was the electrics that concerned me. Yes, I had a pair of PRS 57/08s – the closest I could get to the Super Eagle’s Mayer-spec ’buckers.You can’t buy a mini-humbucking Narrowfield, so Chris George had routed a standard single-coil-sized hole for the middle pickup. Without time to consider the best fit, it was back to the ‘bits box’ where I found a DiMarzio Area 58 hum-cancelling, single-coilsized humbucker and, hey, the 58 bit tied in with the ’57 bit of the PRS pickups. Throw me a piece of straw and I’ll clutch at it.
Mayer’s Super Eagle circuit is supercomplex with coil-splits for all three pickups plus an active preamp and a treble boost. It’s laid out in a very different way to the S2, so I needed to compromise. I ditched the idea of splitting the centre DiMarzio, which meant I’d only need two coil-split switches; instead of the two active switches of the Mayer model, I’d just need one for an EMG PA2. To add my own spin, I planned to install a ‘Seven Strat’ mod via a push/push switch on the tone control, which adds, in this case, the bridge pickup to the neck, plus – with the selector on neck and middle – all three pickups.
With careful thought and even more careful measurement, I drilled two holes for the coil-split switches (SPDT) between the tone control and the end of the new five-way lever switch. I pondered the PA2’s positioning for even longer, deciding the only place it could go is behind the volume control. The wiring proved reasonably complex, and if you’re considering a similar mod then be prepared to put the time in. If you’re not confident, seek out a pro who probably won’t forget about the nine-volt block battery for the EMG preamp like I did… I just about found room and, after a couple of false starts, it all worked. The only blip was the cover for that DiMarzio: the white cover it came with is oversized and I didn’t have a black one. The naked pickup looks pretty cool, though – it’d just have to do.
I knocked the edge off the nickel plating on the vibrato, strap buttons and a bit more from the nickel vibrato screws and scratchplate screws, plus I added ebony buttons to the chromed PRS tuners, just like Mayer. I didn’t have time to replace the friction-reducing nut with a bone blank I’d bought because refitting the parts, stringing up and setting up still had to be done.
Despite the speed and compromises, its first play test proved that it’s certainly a
versatile concept – more so than the standard S2 model. But how will the approximately £2k S2 Not-So-Super Eagle hold up to the real thing? Time to meet our inspiration.
Readers, not to mention mates, often ask, “can it really be worth that money?” when it comes to instruments that have stellar price tags, especially new ones. As I opened the Super Eagle’s brown paisley covered case, any hopes of a “we modded a guitar that’s better than the real one” type headline faded away like our national footballers’ hope of ever reclaiming the World Cup. I thought we might be in with a chance… What was I thinking?
The Super Eagle II is laughably good – as it should be – and you simply can’t fail to be impressed by the craft of the luthier. But what does it sound like? I’m no Deadhead, but having spent a considerable amount of time listening to concert clips, it’s obvious that John Mayer uses his Super Eagles in a primary clean zone using other PRSes for gainier sounds. He doesn’t seem to use the vibrato, either.
The Super Eagle has bags of Strat-iness but not a sharp, harsh edge anywhere; there’s exceptional sustain, resonance and clarity married with smoothness and bite in equal measure. It might look over-blinged (to some), but it’s a complete toolbox of sounds that mixes the classic flavours into a hugely original dish that’s subtle or powerful: you choose. The preamp doesn’t boost the signal but adds ‘high definition’. With the pickups split and the volume pulled back it’s a real ‘produced’ Strat voice. The treble boost (again remarkably subtle; it just adds a touch more clarity) widens the sound, if you like, and once you get your head around the complex drive, it’s surprisingly intuitive.
Our Not-So-Super Eagle does a similar job of providing a wide range of subtle tonal shades that certainly drop into the same Dead & Company palette, but I’d be lying if I said that it approached the clarity, resonance and dynamic range offered by the real thing.
Then there’s that preamp, which creates its ‘HD’ effect by moving the guitar from passive to active. My EMG preamp is active in both on/off modes, so it’s really doing a different job, although having a little boost to hand is kind of fun to either add modern clarity to the single coils or a slight kick to the ’buckers.
After its first gig, however, I still felt there was further to go. I cut a bone nut and replaced the original vibrato with an older PRS USA two-piece brass design. Better? Well, it really does feel like a much older used PRS, a guitar with considerable charm (and less ‘everyday’, if that’s the right word), compared with the standard unmodded model. It’s further proof that PRS’s S2-level guitars are very good, viable working guitars – with or without any mods – and if we failed to emulate the real thing, we certainly created something that’s not only unique (the only PRS S2 HSH guitar in existence!) but a tool with considerable sonic potential. And while it’s the end of this Longterm Test, it feels like it’s just the start of a journey with a new friend…
“There’s exceptional sustain, resonance and clarity married with smoothness and bite”