So what does a celebrated Nashville session player with an armoury of guitars at his disposal need from a new axe? Flexibility – and that’s what you get from this new PRS with a twist. Review by Marcus Leadley
Description: Solidbody electric guitar. Made in USA
Contact: PRS Europe – 44 1223 874 301 – www.prsguitars.com
Brent who? If you’re not a country music fan then you might just be let off for not knowing the name – but Mason has been cited as being the most recorded guitarist of all time, which is quite something. Aside from a brief flirtation concentrating upon his own career in the late ’90s, he’s always been a gun for hire. Rated as one of the top 10 session players of all time by people who create such lists, he’s a Grammy award winner, a 12-time winner of the Academy of Country Music Guitarist of the Year Award, and a two-time winner of the CMA Award for Musician of the Year. His credits include Dolly Parton, Neil Diamond, Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard. Include the adverts, TV and the film soundtracks, and he has well over 1000 recording credits.
The new PRS Brent Mason Signature isn’t the first guitar to bear his name; Valley Arts offers a version of his grey ’68 Telecaster. That Tele is modified with an additional middle position single coil on a blend control so it can be wound in or out, and a mini humbucker at the neck. You might think that no PRS could have many close similarities to an old Tele – but this new model, like the DC3, NF3 and the 305, has a bolt-on neck. In fact, the PRS 305 contributes one of its special single coil pickups for the Mason’s middle position, and on either side of it you’ll find a specially-wound 408 humbucker. All the pickups share a single master tone and volume control. In addition there’s a five-way blade selector and a pair of mini toggle switches to tap the humbuckers for single coil sounds. That’s nine different settings in total.
The guitar itself is a very nice piece of work. The body is made from korina, an African hardwood which, according to PRS, offers better midrange frequency resonance than mahogany. It’s a simple double-cut design with a drop-top chamfer for player comfort over the upper rear bout. There’s also a ribcage chamfer around the back, so the guitar feels especially comfortable on a strap – perfect for putting in long hours in a Nashville studio. It’s also very light.
The rock maple neck is attached by a four-bolt-and-plate arrangement. The heel is quite big but this doesn’t overly restrict access, and the 22nd fret is still well within reach. Our test model has a maple fingerboard, but there’s also a rosewood option available. We love the all-maple feel; it’s fast and snappy, and the black-and-pearl bird inlays look very cool. The neck is quite chunky and has the PRS profile that shifts from a broad C to more of a V as you approach the first position; the character is definitely PRS. The 25.25″ scale gives ample tension and twang – it’s about halfway between the classic Gibson and Fender scales, offering a bit of both worlds and something original at the same time. If hardware can be sexy then the Phase III locking tuners with their exposed gears and black cap-locks are eye-candy, and so is the simple, well-designed PRS tremolo bridge. The tuning is rock solid.
In terms of gear Brent Mason is a bit of an fan of boost pedals, favouring the boutique touch with some subtle compression. A lot of the time he uses a modded ’65 Fender Bassman amp head or an early ’70s Fender Twin modded into a head. It’s a fairly simple rig to emulate, and the results are stunning. Mason already uses a couple of PRS guitars (a Paul’s Guitar and a Mike Mushok baritone) so what this signature model gives is the tonal palate and chiming attack of his Tele and the familiar PRS feel, all rolled into one.
There are so many great clean tones available from this guitar, it’s hard to know where to start. The basic bridge humbucker is rich, open and spanky without being too bright, while the neck pickup has a warm, jazzy character which doesn’t lose clarity or twang. The tone control circuit seems to be especially well-judged, so you can really fine-tune the nuance of the basic sounds. The coil taps work very well and, unusually, there’s little or no volume drop when you switch to single-coil mode; this is useful as you really can play with the switching musically and shift character emphasis, even mid-solo. The coil taps are also practical in that you can subtly change the out-of-phase voices of the bridge/middle and neck/middle pickup combinations.
Possibly the least interesting clean voice is the middle pickup on its own; it’s just a solid, clear single coil sound. However, this eventually gives one of my favourite overdrive voices: a very full-bodied Strat-like sound with a meaty, even response that’s great for leads or heavy chords. Using two boost pedals – one as a slight volume lift with a hint of compression and one to elevate the output into the break-up zone – turns this PRS into a country blues monster (and the precise-feeling vibrato comes in very handy). The Mason will do hard and heavy sounds, but you wouldn’t buy it for this alone; there are more appropriately-voiced PRS guitars. Add too much drive and the instrument loses its unique character and the sound becomes a little tone-choked around the midrange.
Another great guitar from PRS – and this time it’s a really different-sounding one. For clean blues, country, contemporary jazz and funk, the Brent Mason really shines. It’s an excellent studio guitar for creating layered parts. It isn’t a rock monster, but it was never designed to be; it loves a little amp break-up and mid-level distortion, and the clarity and overall articulation make it a great platform for effects. The build quality is superb – you’ll be hard-pressed to find a production line instrument built with better materials or hardware. The pickup combination adds a degree of flexibility that hasn’t been easily available before unless you chose to go completely custom and specify your own wiring choices… and it’s an especially tempting package when you find out that the street price may be as low as £1949.