PRS Modern Eagle and SE Soapbar II

From "10" Top To Bottom

Gee, I have to review two Paul Reed Smith guitars today… I know – it’s a tough job, but somebody’s gotta do it. Today’s subjects are the top-end, USA-made Modern Eagle and the lower-end, Korean-built SE Soapbar II.

The Modern Eagle is top-of-the-line PRS all the way, much like the Private Stock line that’s been available for a while. If you read our PRS factory-tour article a few issues back, you learned how much emphasis Paul Smith puts on grading guitar tonewood. Suffice to say, the hard-maple top, mahogany body, and rosewood neck on the Modern Eagles are among the best pieces of tonewood PRS has to offer, which partially accounts for its formidable pricetag.

As for the specs, the guitar has a carved, maple “10” top and mahogany back. The neck and 22-fret fingerboard are separate pieces of Brazilian rosewood, the neck being highly figured itself. It has a 25″ scale and 10″ radius. The inlays are abalone birds, and there’s a wide-fat carve on the neck. The headstock has an overlay of Brazilian rosewood with a Modern Eagle inlay.

Hardware includes a pair of RP humbuckers, master volume and tone (the latter with push/pull coil tap), three-way pickup toggle and PRS’s new 14:1 Phase II locking-grommet tuners. Interestingly, there’s a blend of hardware finishes, most of which is gold, but the humbuckers have a brushed-nickel finish with gold screws and crme surrounds. It’s kinda sexy, actually.

Right off the bat, two things about the Modern Eagle are striking. First, when you take it out of the plush leather-bound case, is the satin finish of the guitar. While lots of top-end axes have super-glossy finishes, the matte finish on this guitar makes you really appreciate the grain and feel of the wood, especially the sumptuous rosewood neck. That’s not the kind of neck you get every day, no sir-ree.

Second is the blue “Denim” finish on the maple top of our test guitar. The grain is tight and hard on this excellent slab of bookmatched maple, so hard, in fact, that the stain seemingly can’t penetrate every stripe, which results in the unique blue-and-white flame pattern.

Playability is almost a secondary consideration – it plays like a dream and sounds just as good. We tried it through a variety of tube amps, and the Modern Eagle was killer on each. While this PRS is more of a collector’s axe than an everyday “player,” it’s great to know that it performs just as well as the finest player guitars they make.

On to the SE Soapbar II. Here we have a completely different animal. Unlike the $8,000 Modern Eagle, this guitar comes from Korea and is accordingly priced. Fortunately, a lot of attributes that make pricer PRS’ so attractive have been ported over to this value axe, such as the wide-fat neck carve and double-cutaway body shape.

Like many PRS guitars, this one also has a 25″ scale, 10″ radius, and mahogany neck and body. Its major feature, obviously, is a pair of old-school soapbar pickups, which give the SE Soapbar II its lo-fi, retro appeal. Pick it up and its ready to play; plug it in and get ready to soak up some great tones from the soapbar single-coils. I was so jazzed playing this guitar that I couldn’t get its tone-to-price ratio. If I had been blindfolded, I’d have figured this was a guitar costing twice as much.

Sonically, there are all sorts of hip tones in here for the vintage rock, blues and twang afficionado. Since soapbars are so well-suited to garage rock, you don’t have to have an over-built guitar to make them sound good. Just a nice plank of wood, a good neck, and tuners that do their job. I’m happy to report that the SE Soapbar II doesn’t just do that, but it’s also one of most spectacular guitar values out there. If you’ve been jonesing for a vibey P-90 tone, save some bucks and grab one of these.

Whether your musical poison is the Ventures, Mountain or the White Stripes, there are a world of great tones here. Add a fast PRS neck and you’ve got a great deal on your hands. A massive thumb’s up here.

PRS SE Soapbar II
Features: Solid mahogany body, glued-in mahogany neck (moon inlays wide-fat neck carve), two soapbar pickups, PRS- designed stop tailpiece, master volume and tone, three-way switch.
Price: $598.

PRS Modern Eagle
Features: Carved highly figured maple top, mahogany back, PRS stoptail, locking-grommet tuners, gold and nickel hardware, Brazilian rosewood, RP pickups with satin covers, three-way pickup switch, master and volume controls (tone control with push/pull coil tap).
Price: $8,000.
Contact: Paul Reed Smith Guitars, 107 Log Canoe Circle, Stevensville, MD 21666; phone (410) 643-9970;

This article originally appeared in VG‘s May ’05 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.