For a good long while there, it seemed as if 2017 was going to be yet another Gibson year for me. The 2017 Les Paul range included the Tribute models, which sported a most delectable goldtop with humbuckers for a quite reasonable price. I fantasized about that guitar for weeks. Then it hit me: I already have a Les Paul with humbuckers. I even have a Les Paul with single-coils now! However much I’d like a laundry list of various Les Pauls and Stratocasters, even a couple more Telecasters and possibly even a second SG, neither is likely to give me a new sound. One idea that actually has been kicking around for quite a while now is to add a seven-string to my collection. Seven-strings are always such a good idea on paper, sitting and reading about them on the bus, or when thinking about them at home. But when I play one, I find myself utterly confused and bewildered by that extra string. I once heard a theory that your success in adapting to a seven-string is dependent on whether you visualize the fretboard high-to-low or the other way around. If there is truth to that, which I don’t have any reason to doubt, I am very likely a low-to-high player.
I have always been very impressed with Paul Reed Smith guitars. The ones I’ve played have been wonderfully smooth, resonant not to mention exquisitely beautiful. But all of that comes at a price, which has been the primary reason I’ve kept my PRS exposure to a minimum. Overseas-made PRS SE guitars have never been an option for me. Until now, that is. Now that I’m old and wise enough to know that good enough is actually good enough. It’s what you do with it that counts. It was therefore fortuitous that my store had recently started stocking PRS:es, they were deep on SE models and had a few oddballs. In the latter category, I immediately gravitated towards a seven-string Custom 24. I was exactly as lost as I imagined that I would be, and I said so to the sales guy when he came around to check up on me. Instead, he suggested a PRS baritone guitar, semi-acoustic, with single-coil pickups. I must have given him a look, since he immediately backed down and said something like, okay so maybe that wasn’t at all what you were looking for. I was honest: no, it was definitely not at all what I was looking for. But neither, apparently, was the seven-string. So I plugged the baritone in, hardly expecting that I would be as blown away as I was. I couldn’t put the guitar down. I even walked around the store to try some other axes, but I kept coming back to the baritone. I would have bought it on the spot had I not managed to convince myself to sleep on it. An even that turned out to be a mere formality, because that guitar was all I could think about for the rest of the weekend.
It never occurred to me to try a baritone because I supposed that a baritone guitar is just a regular guitar but a little bigger, optimized for downtuning to, say, B or even A, and I don’t downtune. What I didn’t realize was that it is actually its own instrument with its own sound. I actually just wrote the operative word: optimized. The PRS SE 277 has a 27,7-inch scale length (thence the model name, I would assume), and comes from the factory strung with .014 to .068 strings with a wound third string. (By the way, is that the G string or the D string?) It has perfect tension and resistance, comparable to my Fenders, and the sound is perfectly slotted between a guitar and a bass. It is noticeably beefier with distortion and quite muscular with a clean tone. There is none of the flubbiness others have reported with shorter-scale seven-strings. When the idea of a lower-tuned six-string first came up, I assumed that the top of the range would be something I’d miss. This is actually something I’ve been thinking about for quite a while. I’ve said multiple times that I don’t like vintage Fenders because they don’t have 22-fret necks, and I have had issues with certain other guitars I’ve tried at the store because I don’t have proper access above the 17th or 19th fret or whatever. Upon further reflection, I have come to the conclusion that it is only a problem when I’m practicing, and not when I’m recording or playing live. I listened through the solos on the latest Namlar album, and the times I stray above the 17th fret are few and far between. The 17th fret on a standard electric is a high A, which is the same note as that on the 22nd fret on the 277. And sure enough, I haven’t been missing the upper range. That doesn’t mean that a baritone doesn’t confuse me. I still haven’t figured out exactly why, but I think it has something to do with the fact that even when I’m just noodling, I am always very aware of which key or mode I’m in, and after years of practice, I have developed a certain kind of key/finger coordination. It feels odd to think F sharp minor and then use fingerings for B minor.
That the guitar has single-coil pickups is a non-issue. I’ve already gushed over the sound of P90s in two previous posts, and I specifically wanted a seven-string (or baritone) to get new sounds with a clean or slightly overdriven tone, not just to chug on the B string with maximum distortion. The pickups are noisy as f**k, I could have sworn that when I plugged it into my stack, the noise was actually louder than when I played. But in similar fashion to my Les Paul (or the 2+4 positions on a Stratocaster) the pickups are wired out of phase, so the middle position becomes hum-cancelling. I do, however, miss the separate volume control for the neck pickup, since when I play clean I tend to use both at the same time, and a neck-mounted P90 can easily overpower the bridge pickup, especially since the 277 has a longer scale length and consequently more contrast between the pickups. The f-hole is a nice decorative detail, it adds a certain amount of classiness to an already beautiful instrument. I was lucky enough to get a hold of a limited edition with a deeply figured ebony top that is just stunning. I wouldn’t call it a semi-acoustic, since the pickups and electronics are clearly mounted in solid wood, so I assume that the guitar has been routed to lighten the load a bit, like on a modern Les Paul or a 70s Telecaster.
Ever since I got the guitar back in May, I have experimented with different tunings off and on. I have tried C, B flat and A standard in addition to drop-A. C works almost better than B feel-wise, but it feels almost a waste to tune the guitar like that, like it’s not enough difference to my regular guitars. Below B and things start to turn to mush pretty quickly. B flat works okay, but in A I notice that chords no longer sound good, it is simply too low for the overtones to mesh properly. I have yet to find an issue with the longer scale length. I find myself overbending on the unwound strings, like I would have been better served with .015 strings, but that might be a psychological thing. Maybe I expect it to be tougher to play than it really is. I have no problem whatsoever with the scale length. It fits my big hands perfectly. If anything, it is better to practice on the baritone, since it’s a little bit like running with weighted shoes. In some ways, I find it suits me better than a regular guitar, since my right hand can get pretty violent when playing heavy muted rhythm with distortion, and the heavier strings can take the punishment no sweat. All in all, I’m extremely satisfied with my purchase, it has been a little bit of a revelation, and I have now developed a serious appetite for PRS:es. I always imagined my next guitar would be a shred-type axe, like a Jackson with 24 frets and a Floyd Rose. Now, I’m definitely leaning towards a PRS SE Custom 24!