Paul Reed Smith Custom 22 Soapbar

March 26, 2010 at 6:13 am 9 comments

As someone seriously afflicted by GAS (guitar acquisition syndrome), I have been guilty of buying quite a few guitars.  I usually wait until I am fairly certain that I would like to try a particular model — which sometimes takes quite a while and a fair amount of reading.  However, I have found that once I decide that I want to try, playing one in a music store doesn’t help much.

There are a few reasons for this:

  1. I often am interested in unusual models that cannot be found in stores
  2. Even if I want a fairly common model, I likely would want certain customizations
  3. Trying a guitar in a noisy environment with an unfamiliar amp doesn’t reveal much
  4. It usually takes a few weeks of living with a guitar before its quirks, strengths and weaknesses become apparent
  5. I mainly buy used guitars

There are exceptions. For example in recent years I have purchased new guitars on occasion, including a Gibson Les Paul Special and a Rickenbacker 360. They were obtained for the standard reasons — I thought I would like them and wanted to give them a long term tryout. I kept both for a few years before selling them. The good news is that the new price of both when I sold them had gone up a great deal over what I had paid, so I actually sold both for more than I paid new.

Back to the the guitar that is the subject of this post — I have been aware of Paul Reed Smith for a very long time. He and his guitars have a stellar reputation for sounding and looking great. On the visual side, he was a pioneer of using figured wood tops stained and dyed using dramatic and intense colors. On the sound side, he is known for being very selective about the quality of the tone woods he uses and the combinations utilized for his various models.

I had previously never considered a PRS because they are expensive and because the construction  I associate with them is not what I would have expected to lead to the types of sounds I want.   The classic PRS has a contoured mahogany body topped with maple, a set mahogany neck, and two humbucking pickups. This configuration is very similar to the Les Paul formula.  Lots of people make guitars like this sound great. For me, the result is a very thick tone that  can easily border on muddy or woofy.

Probably the most famous PRS artist is Carlos Santana. While he has long been  near the top of my list of most admired guitarists — and I love his tone and touch — for my purposes I do not seek that sound. Otherwise, while many top guitarists play PRS guitars (Howard Leese,  Paul Jackson, Jr. , Bugs Henderson, Mark Tremonti, Nicky Moroch, Al Dimeola, David Grissom, Alex Lifeson, Orianthi), I don’t really listen to any of them.

Over time, however, I became aware that there were a few PRS models that varied this formula. He occasionally uses rosewood necks, for example. This wood, being much harder than mahogany, can add considerable clarity. He also fitted some models (not so much anymore) with P-90s. Both the McCarty and Custom 22 models were available with Seymor Duncan P-90s. Right at around the time I got my Anderson Cobra I came close to springing for a rosewood necked McCarty with 2 P-90s. P-90s have plenty of oomph and midrange but– for me at least — have better clarity than humbuckers. They are single coils, after all.

Recently I began to think about this again, as my luthier (Dave Mannella) described a similar guitar he owns that is similar and which he feels is outstanding and as fine an instrument as my Cobra (which he just set up for me).

Then this guitar came along and it seemed close to ideal.  The Custom 22 Soapbar was originally made between 1997 and 2004. This one is from 2000. I really like having three pickups, as there are circumstances that the bass pickup is too dark and the bridge pickup too bright. The middle pickup is “just right”. The neck/bridge combo — while very useful — is often very “boinky” and I find that additional character does not overdrive well.

PRS Custom 22

PRS Custom 22

The other factor was the maple neck & fingerboard. Maple is a very hard wood, but tends to produce much brighter guitars than does rosewood. I was pretty sure that the combination of the maple neck/board and the P-90s would combine with the maple-topped mahogany body to produce a really well-balanced tone. The fact that it was beautiful and blue didn’t hurt either. My wife always says all the guitars I buy look like each other, and there is some truth to that. I have quite a few natural finish hollowbodies. I have never had a blue guitar before.

There were some alterations necessary, however. The stock pickup switching did not include the middle pickup by itself.  The middle of the 5 switch positions which usually isolates that pickup instead resulted in the neck/bridge combination — normally not available with a standard 5-way. So, I replaced the 5-way switch and rewired it normally. Then I replaced the tone pot with a push-pull pot that would switch the bridge pickup in. I now have all seven possible combinations available. This, by the way, is how my Cobra came form the factory.

So, how does it sound? So far, I would say: excellent. I now need to live with the guitar for a few weeks, but if early impressions are any guide, I’d guess this is a keeper. Rarely has a guitar seemed to work so well so fast and so easily. I spent virtually no time dialing it in. It lined up tonally with my Two-Rock Custom Reverb right away. Time will ultimately tell.

Entry filed under: Guitar, Jazz, jazz fusion, Music, Smooth Jazz.

5-String Bass II – Another Johnny A Cover Paul Reed Smith Custom 22 Soapbar (addendum)

9 Comments Add your own

  • 1. lessonsthatrock  |  May 26, 2010 at 1:37 am

    I’m sure soapbars sound great, but they’re still an eyesore.

    • 2. shufflocity  |  May 26, 2010 at 4:51 pm

      I guess I don’t agree…probably because I like them so much. 🙂 I actually prefer their appearance to humbuckers. Of course since you don’t see them as much,so they are a bit more unusual.

  • 3. Oscar  |  June 8, 2010 at 9:49 pm

    After reading your review I think Im gonna get on of those, havent seen it at any local store around my area, so I have to order it on the internet.

    Is it similar to an strat? any twang? maybe similar to a jazzmaster? or is it stand by itself?

    • 4. shufflocity  |  June 9, 2010 at 11:43 am

      It does actually “quack” a little bit in the in-between pickup positions like a Strat does. Overall, I’d say it has more mid-range than a Strat — to be expected with the mahogany body & P-90s. Wouldn’t say it has any twang to speak of — certainly nothing like a Tele or a Gretsch. Never played a Jazzmaster, so cannot compare that.

      Check out the samples on this page — tracks 1, 2, 3, 4, 6, 10 & 12 are the PRS:

      Hope that helps.

  • 5. Victor  |  October 1, 2011 at 5:58 pm

    Hey man, sorry for posting this a year and a half late, but I just bought a PRS Custom 22 Soapbar (according to serial, made in 2000) and I can’t stop playing it, I can’t even take it off me and put it in its case. I love it, it’s everything I’ve ever dreamed and even more. I bought it used but it looks, sounds and feels like new. I’m from Argentina and believe me when I say that this kind of guitars is very difficult to see, even worse is the fact that dollar exchange is incredibly high, 4.25 to 1, so the 2800 bucks that I paid mean more than 10 thousand pesos from my country.

    Anyway, I’m about to go nuts with this beauty and I’m sure that I’ll keep it for many many years, and like you said, the P90’s sound is just great and goes excellent with the balanced selection of woods used in this instrument. I don’t like the muddy tone of LesPaul-formula guitars, so when I saw this guitar and got to try it in a full-valve amp, I knew it was going to be mine. 😀

    That’s it, sorry again and cheers from South America

  • 6. João Kendall  |  January 17, 2012 at 3:45 pm

    Funny coincidence.I love Walter Becker guitar sound and blues/Jazz phrasing and considered the possibility of ordering the Sadowsky Walter Becker model with the three Lollar P90s which is extremely expensive.Last week I found by chance in the warehouse of a close friend and PRS dealer in my country, a PRS Custom 22 Soapbar Evergreen 10 Top Quilt with maple fingerboard and DGT neck made in 5/11/10.Full of curiosity, brought her home along with the new PRS Studio to try both with my Two Rock Custom Reverb Sig.V3.Spent very little time with the Studio enough to realize that not sound right for my taste and needs.The big surprise was even the Custom 22 Soapbar and immediately realized I had to stick with it.This guitar is very special indeed, with a very pleasant frequency spectrum and very touch sensitive.At first I felt the Evergreen color a little strange but then I started to like and get used to it.I think I did well because was the only and would not be easy to find another under the same conditions.Turns out to be interesting to have a completely different color as the other guitars I have look like each other, Hollowbody II McCarty Sunbust, DGT Sunset Burst, etc. I totally agree with you, I´d guess this is a keeper.

    • 7. João Kendall  |  January 17, 2012 at 3:51 pm

      …cheers from Portugal

  • 8. Oscar  |  March 7, 2012 at 3:56 am

    Hey, where can I modify my custom soapbar. Mine is original and I would like to get the 7 combinations out of it, like you did. Thanks


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