The guitar segment of the music products market boasts a number of brands whose names have become synonymous with rock ‘n’ roll and musical virtuosity. Few guitar makers, however, have cultivated the reputation for quality and craftsmanship that imbue three letters: PRS. Founded by Paul Reed Smith in 1985, Stevensville MD-based PRS Guitars is a dynamic company that has evolved alongside the ever-changing guitar market. “PRS’ traditional ‘cachet’ has been as a high-end, quality brand,” PRS Guitars Marketing Manager Judy Schaefer said. “Although that is still very true, we have expanded in the last few years in both product options and price points to be able to meet the needs of more players.” Although the S2 Vela, which PRS Guitars unveiled in March 2015, and which we spotlight here, is perhaps the company’s most exciting recent release, it accords with the overall trend of broadening the company’s line.
“Although the Vela is something new for PRS, we feel it fits into our product family perfectly,” Schaefer affirmed. The company released the S2 Series in 2013 with the goal of using new and refreshed designs, as well as new manufacturing techniques, to meet the needs of new players. The S2 Vela helps realize that goal. “The S2 Series, as a whole, has allowed us to bring a different flavor to the market,” she continued. “This is true both aesthetically, with beveled (not full violin carved) tops and pickguards and opaque colors, as well as in price.” The S2 range ($999 to $1,600) fills the gap between the SE ($499 to $999) and Core ($3,000 and up) lines.
The S2 Vela boasts an all-mahogany body, mahogany neck, 22 frets, 25-inch scale length and rosewood fretboard. It’s also PRS Guitars’ first foray into an offset body shape, which is where we’ll begin the story. “We drew and tweaked the body shape and the pickguard shape multiple times to get it to look ‘right,’” Schaefer revealed. “Once we had it, though, the manufacturing fell in line very smoothly.” In a product-packed marketplace, the offset shape helps to set the S2 Vela apart at a glance. “As your eyes pass over the guitar wall at your local retailer, the Vela instantly looks different and catches your eye,” she continued. The instrument was designed with a beveled carve, which helps deliver a tone that’s very straight ahead. “If you find the shape pleasing,” Schaefer added, “it should make you want to pick up the guitar. The build quality and the tone take it from there.”
The S2 Vela’s plate-style bridge has an interesting story behind it. “The ‘two sets of three’ plate-style bridge is an old design of Paul’s that he patented back in the ’70s,” Schaefer explained. PRS Guitars National Sales Manager Jim Cullen picked things up, saying, “Five or six years ago, Jon Wasserman and Paul designed two versions of a plate bridge: a version of what you see on the Vela today, and then a tremolo version. We abandoned it, because it wasn’t right at the time. Well, I saw it in Jon’s cube and I said, ‘Given what we’re going for with this guitar, that’s the bridge for the Vela.” To test the theory, PRS ran prototypes of the Vela with a stoptail and with a plate-style bridge to see which one sounded better. “Obviously, for what we were going for, the plate bridge won the shootout,” Cullen confirmed.
The electronics built into the S2 Vela are quite versatile, with an S2 Starla treble pickup and an S2 type-D single coil bass pickup. According to Cullen, “It took a month or so to get that bass pickup right. After some initial stabs at it, we called in the big gun, Paul. He asked, ‘How do you want it to sound?’ We said, ‘Clear, warm and musical, without sounding muddy.’” Smith gave some suggestions and let the team have at it. “We wound the pickup in house, and damn if we didn’t find what we were looking for,” Cullen continued. “We put the final prototype together and gave it a shop test. It was pretty unanimous that we had a winner.” Before settling on the final design, though, the PRS team turned to a trusted resource: visiting dealers and local players. Shaped by their feedback, the S2 Vela was born.
Soliciting outside comments prior to finalizing the S2 Vela’s design is reflective of PRS’ musician-focused mindset; the company’s abiding connection to players is why post-release feedback has also been particularly gratifying. “The most frequent comment I hear,” Schaefer began, “is that, if you didn’t know PRS before or just didn’t think you liked us, you owe it to yourself to try the Vela.” Indeed, a common thread is that the guitar, which meets a unique and different need, might just change people’s minds. Schaefer continued, “Just as importantly, what we’re not hearing is that the guitar doesn’t stay in tune, or that the neck shape feels lousy, or that players aren’t getting the sound they want. Simply put, the guitar’s looks will make you want to try it; the way it feels will make you want to plug it in; and the way it sounds will make you want to buy it.”
In addition to providing dealers with basic product information, pricing details and high-quality images, PRS Guitars also strives to arm retailers with videos, artist quotes and media reviews to both educate sales staff and entice potential customers. Those resources, along with the company’s commitment to maintaining solid inventory levels, empower PRS’ retail partners to sell through innovative products like the S2 Vela. “We have a tiered dealer base, so every dealer can carry the best products for their store,” Schaefer explained. “The Vela is available in all tiers, as we feel it’s a very accessible guitar and a strong conversation starter for retailers.”
The S2 Vela, from PRS Guitars, is shipping now. MAP is $1,279 with dot inlays and $1,399 with bird inlays.