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
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.
PRS SE Santana Review
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.
What 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
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. These pickups provide the tone you’re hoping for with the name “Santana” on it.
The SE Santana did not disappoint me with a crisp, clean tone. It reminds me of why I like listening to Carlos Santana so much. The pickups are responsive without giving off additional noise.
Add the bridge pickup, and some distortion, and the SE Santana will produce a tone that for any rock setting.
Final Thoughts on the SE Santana
Despite this being an “entry-level” version of a more expensive guitar, the it is a quality guitar. From craftsmanship to feel to the tone of this guitar, everything feels like playing something worth twice the value. And that says a lot for a sub-$1,000 guitar.
This isn’t a 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 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.
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.
If you’re purchasing as a gift, consider buying the package deals on the SE Santana that include a hard case. Especially for a guitarist who will be using this as their primary guitar. I always recommend buying a case with a guitar, especially when investing 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.