Review of PRS NS-14 Neal Schon Signature
Not only did he get to interview Neal Schon twice for this
issue, but we also gave Stuart Bull a 'special operations' task -
to review the new for 2013 PRS NS-14 Neal Schon signature guitar.
It's tough at the top!
Normally when the job of reviewing gear comes around I will
stealthily disappear to the toilet, or if I do get caught in the
review job's cross hairs I'll bellow out the famous quote from the
garbage men Simpson's episode "Can't Someone Else Do It!?" but as
the air filled my lungs in preparation for the royal passing of the
buck I realised that what I was being asked to review was the Paul
Reed Smith NS-14 - the signature model of no other than Mr Neal
Schon. I saw and briefly held this guitar at the NAMM show 2013
when I interviewed Mr Schon. I'd been intrigued by this guitar for
several reasons: one Neal is a player I admire very much as he has
a foot in two guitar camps, the first being blistering chops and
the second being beautiful melodic solos. Secondly, it's a semi
acoustic guitar, with 57/08 pickups which I like very much, and one
other interesting point is the Floyd Rose tremolo. Lastly we have
to mention it's a PRS so it's going to have been put together with
relentless attention to detail!
The first thing you can't help noticing is the sheer beauty of
this instrument. This is a commonplace with PRS Guitars, it's true,
but the F-hole and the charcoal burst carved maple top make this
model a real looker, even by PRS standards. I first picked up the
guitar a couple of days before the review was due to be filmed and
immediately found myself really enjoying playing it. The neck is a
little chunkier than the regular "wide thin" Paul Reed Smith necks
that I'm used to playing but I did not find this a problem at all.
The neck fell into my hand very nicely and the radius provided a
stress free string bending environment that left me feeling like
I'd been playing the guitar for years.
Let's take a look at the guitar from head to toe. Visually, the
carved maple top, finished in charcoal burst, is very pleasing to
the eye and the F-hole provides a touch of extra class to the look.
The first functional thing that might be of interest is the locking
machine heads as, of course, we have a locking nut as part of the
Floyd Rose system. I don't know if the PRS Phase 111 Locking tuners
provide any extra tuning stability but they do provide a quicker
turnaround for a broken string. As you will know if you have used
these tuners, you pop the string through, cut off the unwanted
excess and "boom" you're done. Changing a string with a Floyd Rose
system can be painful enough, so any extra help is greatly
Next we have a very exotic looking headstock finished with a
wonderful rosewood veneer, accompanied by the inlaid Paul Reed
Smith signature. The neck is mahogany with a rosewood fingerboard
that feels very comfortable, the PRS bird inlays are showing their
elegance as per usual. The frets are something of importance to me
as a player, especially when bending strings and performing
vibrato. I would place these frets in the medium jumbo zone, not
quite as big as say a Dunlop 6100 but certainly bigger than the
frets on a PRS Regular Custom 22. As I mentioned before, the neck
is a bit deeper than a wide thin neck but none the less playable,
it's important to remember that this is the Neal Schon signature
model, so the man himself is calling the shots.
Control wise, we have one tone and one volume knob plus a three
way pickup selector. For me this delivers no-nonsense sound
selection perfect for the live player, so even if one of these
guitars does end up next to your dentist's coffee table you can be
confident with the knowledge it can be taken out and played at any
time and you won't have consult NASA if you want to play a Blues
solo using a combination of front and back pickups with the tone
knob rolled back a tad.
Now we come to possibly the most controversial part of the
guitar... the Floyd Rose Tremolo, I have heard people say that
putting a "Floyd" on a PRS is sacrilege etc, so I would like to
weigh in with my opinion. Having the Floyd Rose does provide a
virtually tuning train crash-free ride and I don't believe it
detracts from the look in any way. If you are used to the picking
hand position when using a Floyd, it can be difficult changing to
something else and if that is on your main guitar then it makes
sense to have it.
Now I would like to offer a sonic reason for the Floyd. To me
sometimes semi-acoustic guitars can be a bit "boomy" on the bottom
end, a Floyd Rose tightens up the bottom end nicely. I haven't
heard this guitar without the Floyd Rose so this part of the review
will have to remain a theory of mine. Finally one more shout out to
the Floyd! The adding of this tremolo proves unequivocally that
this guitar is a true signature model born to be played and not to
sit next to a surgeon's saxophone (although I'm sure it would look
very nice there).
Now we come to for me the most important question, what does
this thing sound like ? As you'd expect, this guitar sounds killer!
It has an open, airy sound but is also very focused with the lead
tones cutting through the monitors with precision. The 57/08
pickups are fabulous and if you don't already know, they are wired
on the original Gibson machines used for the classic PAF Models
that were manufactured in the '50s. These pickups are perfectly
balanced in tone with each frequency precisely in line with the
next. The treble pickup has the Rock growl while still maintaining
a smoothness associated with a player such as Mr Schon, while the
middle position has a cool Blues tone that will be an instant
favourite with electric Blues players. The front pickup position is
extra to me, as often this selection can be dull and muddy. In this
instance, a clean clear tone is present alongside the warmth you
expect from a front pickup sound. As you'll hear in my video
review, the guitar sounds great with clean tones and if this was
the one guitar you to took to a gig covering a range of styles you
would be able to cover everything - even a nice 'Jazz Box' tone can
be acquired using the front pickup with the tone rolled back.
There's no point pretending that this is anything other than a
very expensive, albeit beautifully made, guitar that very few of us
will be able to afford. But its high price shouldn't count against
it. We always wrangle a bit on the GI team at the 'how many points
do we give this one?' stage, especially with really highly priced
instruments. But I look at it this way, it's a fabulous guitar that
costs what it does because of what has gone into it and if you can
afford it and want it, go for it! And you can see where the money
has been spent here - on great hardware, materials and
craftsmanship. It's a very versatile guitar that is for real
players - not just for the infamous 'doctors and dentists'
Check out the full review inc. video of PRS NS-14
Neal Schon Signature guitar by Stuart Bull featured in
Guitar Interactive Magazine Issue 19.