PRS SE Santana Review | “Low End” or Quality?

A review of the PRS SE Santana electric guitar

It’s not uncommon for guitar-makers today to take popular, high-end guitars and make cheap copies aimed at the masses. Often times the result is a disaster but on occasion a guitar maker can produce a copy worthy in its own right. Such is the case with the PRS SE Santana, an entry-level version of the PRS Santana Signature that by itself is a superb guitar.

Paul Reed Smith Guitars (PRS) and Carlos Santana are two names that grew up together. Ever since the two teamed up in the 1980’s the two have come to be recognized together. As PRS states on its website, Carlos has “done much to shape the destiny of PRS Guitars.”

It wasn’t until the early 2000’s that PRS decided to produce an SE version of its Santana guitar, the “SE” being a more affordable line of guitars built in Korea instead of the U.S. where the company is based. Thus in 2001 the PRS SE Santana was born, allowing even more guitarists the opportunity to enjoy one of the most beautiful and comfortable guitars sold today.

A Close Look at the PRS SE Santana

The PRS SE SantanaAt first glance it’s actually hard to distinguish between the more expensive PRS Santana and the SE Santana.

Design specs for the two guitars are practically identical with each sporting the double-cutaway silhouette, an slight arch top and “old school” bird inlays that the Santana line has become known for.

Both guitars are made using a mahogany wood, whose lovely grain produces a nice back and neck, and they both use traditional rosewood for the fretboard. The biggest difference in terms of materials comes when you take a closer look at the guitar top.

While the PRS Santana Signature boasts a gorgeous but pricey carved figured maple, also known as a flame maple, the PRS SE Santana gets by with a thin maple top coated with what they call a “Flame Maple Veneer”.

While this is really just a nice way of saying fake flame maple, the effect is quite elegant, especially for a guitar in this price range. Seeing this guitar hanging on a wall is still going to produce that “wow” effect from people who see it for the first time.

–>Check pricing and reviews for the PRS SE Santana<–

PRS SE Santana Review

A review of the PRS SE Santana electric guitar

If you’re drawn to the Santana line of guitars because of its specific design and look, the PRS SE Santana is a dead-ringer for its more expensive older brother. What most guitarists want to know, however, is whether or not the SE Santana holds up in regards to tone and playability.

Most “entry-level” guitars sacrifice too much in order to achieve a certain price point. They outsource production of the electronics and hardware, both of which make a significant impact on tone and setup.

The beautiful mahogany back of the PRS SE SantanaWhat I’ve been most impressed with the PRS SE Santana is that Paul Reed Smith has refused to make that sacrifice. Sure, the pickups aren’t the same quality as on the Santana Signature but they are still made in-house by PRS. Equipped with two SE 245 humbuckier pickups, this guitar has the ability to create incredibly crisp, clean tones.

The tremolo and tuners are also PRS-designed instead of outsourced, and the difference is noticeable. The tremolo feels solid and the tuners offer smooth accuracy. These small but important factors play a big role in how well this guitar sets up.

Thanks to quality manufacturing and attention to detail, even at the plants in Korea, the PRS SE Santana arrives at most guitar stores or homes almost perfectly setup. Each joint, including the all-important neck joint, is clean and well made. The only thing a guitar tech or new owner needs to do is tune the guitar up and its ready to go.

The SE Santana has a wide profile neck that is smooth to run on and practically effortless to play. Barely does your finger touch the string and a strong, clear sound can be produced. This is especially noticeable when playing fast licks or stretching for that long chord. Obviously you would expect this on the Santana Signature, but the fact that it’s available on the SE model is incredible.

The SE Santana Sound

How does the PRS SE Santana sound

With the two humbucker pickups, three-way switch and volume/tone controls, it’s not hard to understand how the SE Santana functions. The guitar itself resonates well, but these pickups provide the tone you’re hoping to get when you buy something with the name “Santana” on it.

The SE Santana did not disappoint me with a crisp, clean tone that reminds me of why I like listening to Carlos Santana so much. The pickups are responsive without giving off additional noise.

When switched over to the bridge pickup and with a little distortion added in, the SE Santana has the ability to produce a fat, grungy tone that would suit most any rock setting.

Final Thoughts on the SE Santana

A close look at the SE Santana headstock

The bottom line is that despite this being an “entry-level” version of a more expensive guitar, the PRS SE Santana is a quality guitar in its own right. From craftsmanship to feel to the tone of  this guitar, everything about the SE Santana makes you feel like you’re playing something worth twice the value it says on the price tag, and that says a lot for a sub-$1,000 guitar.

This isn’t one of those beginner guitars that you throw or give away once you’re ready to upgrade in a couple years. The PRS SE Santana is a guitar that – even if you do decide to upgrade down the road – you’ll probably always hang onto. It may be “entry level” but it’s not a “cheap guitar”.

The PRS SE Santana is a quality guitar that is an excellent balance between budget and tone – a guitar that is a worthy member of the Paul Reed Smith family.

–>Check pricing and reviews for the PRS SE Santana<–

Buying a PRS SE Santana?

If you’re thinking of buying a PRS SE Santana it’s worth noting that the guitar is currently manufactured in only three colors – Santana Yellow, Amethyst and Sapphire – although it is possible to get discontinued colors like Scarlet Red or Emerald Green.

PRS SE Santana Amethyst   PRS SE Santana Sapphire   PRS SE Santana Yello

If you’re purchasing as a gift, especially for a guitarist who will be using this as their primary guitar, consider buying the package deals on the SE Santana that include a hard case. I always recommend that people buy a case with their guitar, especially if they’re going to invest more than $500 on the guitar. See below for an example.

If you’re just looking for the guitar, consider price shopping on a few different sites. Below are a few links to places where you can find the PRS SE Santana electric guitar.

Check SE Santana Pricing on:

Check pricing on MusiciansFriend.com
Check pricing on Amazon
Check pricing online at Guitar Center

6 Responses to PRS SE Santana Review | “Low End” or Quality?

  1. Aaron says:

    Reply from PRS All of the SE pickups are made by G and B music in Korea to PRS design and spec. So not in house as indicated here.

  2. Alex says:

    Thanks for your honesty, I’m heading out to play one at my local music store tonight.

  3. rich says:

    why don’t the make the se model with 24 frets

  4. Deric McLean says:

    I have this guitar, and I can tell you, it’s phenomenal! I also have the SE Santana in the now rare color of Sapphire. I also have an SE Standard 22.It too, is an incredible instrument. PRS and it’s SE line, are the best guitars on the market. You can NEVER go wrong with them.

  5. gwest says:

    I just purchased my first Santana se in orange color… In wich they don’t make anymore,, and the color is so beautiful … played last night at ah gig and everyone commented on how good it looked…. my band mates and people at the gig… makes my black star sing…. thanks PRS for making a great sounding guitar that didn’t break my bank account…..😀😀😀😀

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