In the late 1980s, Ted McCarty, the man who served as president of Gibson during the company’s “golden age,” became a special consultant to Paul Reed Smith, sharing insight on how to build superior guitars. One fruitful byproduct of this collaboration was the McCarty model guitar, which PRS Guitars introduced about 20 years ago. To honor McCarty, PRS has reissued the model bearing his name.
The McCarty combines a lot of ideas for which PRS is renowned, notably taking 1950s and early-’60s Gibson solidbody archetypes and making significant modifications, such as a 25″ scale and player-friendly neck profiles. For more sustain, the McCarty model has a thicker body than some other PRS axes. It also adds 58/15 humbuckers with coil taps designed by Smith himself, who doesn’t want to merely duplicate the best vintage ’50s Les Pauls, but rather assimilate their best qualities into his standards of sound and playability, an effort clearly on display here.
For specs, the McCarty we tested had lots of time-honored features, such as a mahogany body with a carved maple top and rich wood grain to bring out a deeply figured sunburst finish (known to PRS-ophiles as a “10 Top”). We should add that our review model had a particularly rich ’burst on its bookmatched two-piece top – a perfect gradation of ambers, golds, and yellows without any hint of bright cherry. The fingerboard was bound rosewood with 22 frets, and the mahogany neck sported the company’s Pattern profile, which is essentially a beefy D shape (as opposed to a chubbier C or U profile).
Hardware included a wraparound PRS stoptail combining the functions of bridge and tailpiece (another Smith tweak on a vintage design), as well as their Phase III locking tuners that are tightened at the top of the post with a flat screwdriver. Other accoutrements included bird fingerboard inlays, nickel hardware, cream pickup surrounds, and a natural body binding – a PRS innovation now liberally borrowed throughout the guitar industry.
Controls include master Volume and Tone and a three-way pickup selector. We should mention that the McCarty, like many PRS solidbodies, has the Volume knob in just about the perfect location for volume swells – it’s always a pleasure to pick up a PRS and find the volume in easy pinky-grabbing range.
On the job, the McCarty did not disappoint. Unlike a fair number of solidbodies with humbuckers, the pairing of materials, pickups, and design yield a level of sonic clarity that tone connoisseurs will appreciate. The 58/15 humbucker tones are full, fat, and flavorful, but without any kind of mud, while the coil-tapped sounds deliver a convincing single-coil twang. Strum a few chords and listen to the big chime of the notes. Then play a few single-note lines and enjoy the girth of the overall sound. No skinny, flabby sounds here; the McCarty reissue has all the bases covered, from blues and country to jazz and even blistering hard rock and metal. You could confidently play any gig, soup to nuts, with this axe.
As with most U.S.-made PRS guitars, superb construction and little details catch the eye, including a satin rosewood veneer on the headstock that’s inlaid with Paul Smith’s signature. Elsewhere you’ll notice elegant body carves and an accessible neck heel, as well as the slightly sunken control-knob pockets.
The McCarty is meant to be touched and played by musicians who can appreciate this workmanship, as well as its fine sound and playability. Granted, a top-end solidbody like this leans toward the pricier end of the spectrum, but considering the stellar build, materials, and performance, it’s reasonable.
Since its reintroduction in 2015, the McCarty has again become one of the best-selling solidbodies offered by PRS, alongside the ever-popular Custom 24. Somewhere, Ted McCarty is smiling.
This article originally appeared in VG June 2016 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.