Howdy Guitar gang! Sorry if it's been a while since I posted here, I cut the heck outta my hand a couple weeks back and it really slowed down my progress. No playing ANY instrument, no making pickups, and no blogging! But I'm sufficiently healed and ready to rant! This rant is on the PRS Silver Sky. As most of you know, I've became somewhat of a PRS pickup upgrade expert, at least where the humbuckers are concerned.But a few weeks ago I had a client send me his brand new Silver Sky for a pickup upgrade and setup tweak.
Right now, the guitar world is awash with RAVE REVIEWS from established print (and online) magazines of the PRS Silver Sky SE ... but they are all basically "fake news"! Seriously, when one of a magazines biggest advertisers (ie: biggest revenue source) releases a guitar, how COULD they even be anywhere even close to impartial with what actually makes it to print.
This ain't that! This is REAL NEWS baby, not just from the outside, but the inner workings as well, heck, we all know a rust bucket with a new paint job, interior, and cool wheels still impresses a potential buyer ... until the innards start giving them trouble!
Now, I've GOT to start with this: When I first saw the "Silver Sky" I was downright appalled. I mean, it really IS a Strat, and EVERYONE knows it.
When Leo designed his first two models,
the Telecaster and the Stratocaster, he did
NOT patent the designs, even though his
operations and production managers begged
him to (Forrest White and George Fullerton).
What a colossal mistake! And it's the reason
why you see more Tele and Strat knock-
offs than any other guitar style.
Okay, since the Strat was, in essence, legally clone-able, why did it anger me so much that Paul Reed Smith had been one of the countless companies to make a Strat knock-off. Because Paul had been embroiled in a battle with Gibson for decades over the fact that his early guitars were, in essence, Gibson knock-offs. Over the decades he has made significant changes to his models to very much distinguish them from the Gibson models. And he has made quite a name for himself NOT as someone who uses OTHER PEOPLES designs, but for his own unique and cool designs. So, a Strat rip-off? Come on!
Let The Review Begin!
Okay, just had to get that out. Now on to the actual guitar that arrived at my shop, yep, cover up the headstock and most anyone would say it's a Strat. But I will say that the neck felt nice, the Tremolo had a nice hefty full block, and the slight additional body contours felt fine. All in all, a nice playing and feeling Strat. But, the owner (a seasoned pro) had stated the pickups were VERY disappointing, especially the neck pickup. I played it a little when it arrived and I certainly agreed. ALL the pickups sounded dead, sterile, and lifeless, which I've come to see as a hallmark of PRS pickup tone, and yep, the neck was particularly dead and dull sounding.
And so I de-strung her and opened her up for a swap to my Historic 1954 Strat set, which the owner decided would NAIL the tone he wanted. When I took the pickguard off, the first thing that hit me was the messy wiring, usually Indonesian made PRS models look fairly neatly wired, but not this silver-Sky. Ugly! Then I noticed that there were actually TWO loose screws magnetically attached to the back of the neck pickup, and neither screw even matched any actually used on the guitar! In addition, there was quite a bit of tiny metal shards stuck to the magnets of all three pickups, like steel-wool dust. Strange, and another indication of a serious lack of quality control. The pots were the nice Korean made Alpha pots I'm used to finding in the PRS models, and I was pleasantly surprised to find a high quality oak-grigsby style 5-way selector switch (I wish they used this type of switch in ALL the PRS models). One small head-scratcher was the copper shielding tape that appeared to be grounding the pickups, but it couldn't have actually accomplished such a feat given it only contacted the plastic covers of the pickups, and it certainly was not the type of solid copper tape coverage we see as a method of shielding the guitar from outside buzz and hum sources. At any rate, I yanked the pickups and began the new install. That's when I hit what can only be considered a downright mean joke Paul has played on any Silver Sky owner who needs to upgrade the pickups: the pickup cavities are a little too small to accept the VERY standard size of ALL Strat pickups. What? Why? Ugg! So I needed to enlarge the openings to allow the pickup swap.
One interesting (and awful) thing to note on the photo below. Evidently the middle pickup is RW/RP, but they didn't solder the leads on to reflect that, so the middle pickup actually had it's RED wire soldered to ground and black to positive, opposite from the others! Also note the neat little cable clip on the pickguard to aid in a clean wiring job. Problem was that it was ignored and not used!
Was this some kind of a beta-test prototype?
there were actually TWO loose screws magnetically attached to the back of the neck pickup!
At this point I got a chance to take a good look at the newly removed stock pickups. In what I again call typical Paul Reed Smith fashion, he tried to fix something that was already perfect. In between each pole-piece was a smaller steel rod, why? I haven't a clue, but I can say that it certainly did NOT improve the tone.
In addition, the pickups seemed to be potted to death with what appeared to be some kind of epoxy like substance, which also glued the covers on. And last, I noticed that all three pickups had the exact same model number sticker, and in fact the all measured to the same resistance and Induction values, so they were NOT even calibrated to the position (Neck, middle, bridge). I expect this only in the least expensive Strat knock-offs, and the Silver Sky sure ain't inexpensive.
Now for the set-up:
The neck had slightly too little relief, not a big deal, and quickly corrected with a tiny movement of the modern double-action truss-rod. But the Bridge was another story! The owner had asked his local Guitar Center to make the action as low as possible, and they had basically just dropped the saddles a bunch; enough that the saddle screws stuck out significantly and dug into your palm. Ouch!
I WISH I could have simply dropped the whole 2-point bridge, but it was already as low as it could go for proper trem movement, soo off came the neck for a slight stew-mac neck shim. Then I was able to properly adjust the bridge saddles. But boy, from a brand new PRS, I sure didn't expect a design flaw as big as an improper neck angle!
She's Done, Let's Play her!
She felt like a good Strat, period. Not GREAT, certainly not bad, just right along the lines of the current Fender Players series. With the beauty of the Historic 1954 pickup magic (Vintage spec Alnico III magnets, not over-wound with vintage heavy-Formvar coated 42-gauge wire) she now had all the sparkle, chime, and complex awash in harmonics tone that is the hallmark of a great sounding Strat. And my customer is totally happy. But what's my take-away? If you want a good Strat, buy a good FENDER Strat.
After (New Pickups Properly Wired):
Whew, what an adventure! Would I recommend this guitar? Ummmm ....