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Thread: Understanding my CU24 - almost 20 years in

  1. #1
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    Understanding my CU24 - almost 20 years in

    Sorry if this rambles, but over the past couple years I've finally come to understand what my CU24 is and isn't, and it's helped me accept why I struggled with this guitar for so long.

    I started playing guitar in 1986. EVH was king. Malmsteen, Vai, DeMartini and Lynch were on the cover of Guitar for the Practicing Musician or Guitar Player almost every month. Sometime in that first year, I saw an ad for PRS. The one with the three guitars - all Customs with highly figured tops. That was different. In 1986, you didn't see wood on your guitar. You saw (on the lower end) solid colors on Kramers and Ibanez, then some Metallics, and if you were really flush, you played a Jackson with a porn star's butt airbrushed on the front. GNR's Appetite hadn't dropped yet, and airbrushed graphics were the rage. The PRS caught my attention, but not enough for me to buy one when I had a chance. A good friend bought 3, offered me one for $1,000. I had the money saved up, but didn't buy it. I wanted a Kramer Beretta, you see. Eddie played one.

    9 years later, I was playing with an acoustic guitar player who would play absolutely anything. We'd play double headers - a supper club with jazz standards as a duo, then as a full band in a roadhouse playing everything from Jimmy Buffet to Bob Seeger, SRV, the Stones, and maybe an occasional AC/DC if we were tipped for it. I had a pair of Strats and a Boogie Studio .22+. The doubleheaders were a long way from home, and I had a limited amount of space for gear in my Ford Escort. I needed a more versatile instrument to cover both gigs. Somehow I decided that a PRS would cover it all, and be a great jazz instrument. I originally thought the new McCarty would be it, but I wanted to keep an open mind. I drove the 6 hours to Minneapolis, played every PRS I could get my hands on, and ended up buying a new Whale Blue CU24. I drove home knowing this was the solution.

    The first gig was an eye opener. The HFS/Vintage Bass combo was very strident. The volume changes between the positions on the 5-way were very hard to deal with. With OD, it was OK (and I liked the way it sounded with other people playing it), but clean I hated it. And I was stuck. My wife and I had sacrificed for me to buy it, and I couldn't sell it. I worked on pickup heights, on amp settings, it didn't matter. Gigging with that guitar I always struggled.

    We moved to FL and my guitar started having the dreaded dead note that some of the earlier guitars occasionally get. I tried different strings, tuner buttons, every thing I could think of. That G# was a dead note until we moved to TN. By this time I'd sold my Mesa and bought a couple of old Fenders with 10" speakers. The PRS never left the house. I couldn't get a good tone out of it to save my life through my Vibrolux. I swapped the original pickups to Duncan APII's, and it was better, but not enough to supplant my teles and strats at blues gigs.

    It didn't really click until I bought a Line6 POD, and dialed up a Marshall JCM sim to revisit some of my old 80's Hard Rock roots. Then the PRS seemed to come to life. Odd, but I dismissed it as the beer. Then last year I bought a Mesa Mark V with a 1X12 and it clicked. That PRS became a fire breathing monster. Even though I didn't gig heavily with it, over 18 years I'd worn the frets down. I sent it to Philtone for a stainless steel refret. It came back amazing. I replaced the bridge pickup with a Duncan Pearly Gates, and it got even better. So here's what I figured out:

    The PRS Custom 24 is NOT a swiss army knife guitar. It is, at its heart, a Superstrat. It's a mid 80's alternative to a Jackson Soloist, Charvel Model 6, or Ibanez RG 570. It has its roots in the music of that time - hard driving music where loud, distorted guitars were the order of the day. The trem is a reasonable alternative to a Floyd - maybe not so much for tuning stability - but for feel. The pickups are like most 80's pickups - hot, designed to overdrive a Marshall, not sing sweetly through a Blackface. Pretty woods notwithstanding, my Custom is more similar to my old RG 550 than it is to my Fender Strat.

    Once I got my head around that, I get it now. For years I'd been applying the guitar incorrectly. Now that I take it in the context it was created, I can appreciate it far more. As I've gotten more into heavier music, the old Custom has gotten more and more playing time. As long as I don't ask it to be something it's not, we get along fine.

    I don't know if this makes any sense, but I think this may be part of the perception problem with PRS. Folks think that they are an amalgam of Gibson and Fender. In some ways, they are. But in the case of the Customs, I can see as much Charvel in there as Fender, as much BC Rich as Gibson.

    Thoughts?

  2. #2
    You have an interesting take on the guitar. And I can't disagree with some of your comments.

    I bought my first PRS, a Custom (now Custom 24) in 1991. I thought the pickups were great with my Mesa in higher gain mode, but not to my taste with vintage style amps.

    I don't think a Swiss Army Knife guitar exists. There are too many music styles, too many guitar/amp combinations, too many different playing styles. However, I do think that when it was designed, the Custom was the closest thing to a Swiss Army Knife guitar as there was, as long as you were willing to try different pickups to customize it to your purposes..

    The proof for me is how the Custom 24 sounds today with either 59/09 or 57/08 pickups. PRS has made great strides in how the guitar sounds as far as I'm concerned. It can get very vintage-vibey, especially in comparison to the old ones. And for those that like a hotter ceramic pickup, those are available, too.

    Here's where I disagree -- I had a Charvel superstrat with a Floyd, and it was night and day different from my Custom 24. Not even remotely close. For the time, the Custom was a much more vibey, versatile guitar, and the Charvel really was a one trick pony.

    Within a year, PRS had come out with the Artist II, with a 22 fret neck and stop tail bridge. When I played that, I bought one right away. However, I still sometimes wanted to change the pickups to something more PAF-like.

    For my money, the CU22 and the 408 come closer to my imagining what a Swiss Army Knife guitar might be, although as I said, there isn't really such a thing. Right now most of my time is spent with one of PRS' McCarty Singlecut small-batch run, and that guitar really has the vintage thing down. But it's not a guitar that tries to be all things to all men. It makes a pretty bold statement!

    Anyway, I do agree with a lot of your sentiment.
    Last edited by LSchefman; 08-09-2014 at 10:54 PM.
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    Nice, thoughtful assessments, guys.

    I think those early Customs (I owned an '89 for years, and I currently own an '86) were very much the product of a few things. One is that Paul really did want to split the difference between a Les Paul and a Strat (with a bit of LP Junior in the mix) in terms of looks and overall presentation. Mainly so the guitar wouldn't seem too far out for players coming from either of those paradigms.

    The other part of it is how Paul himself plays and what he likes to hear. He's all about that singing, sustaining, Santana kind of sound. Not so much the Malmsteen/80s thing, although there's some overlap there for sure. But if you watch him dial up an amp, he always cranks that first gain stage all the way up. And when he plays, he loves to grab a note and sustain it with vibrato for as long as he can. So that's what the guitars are designed to do.

    Anyway, I went through a lot of the same things you did -- I even had a Studio 22+ for a good while in the late 80s, early 90s, when I was playing my first couple of PRSi. I changed pickups. Actually the first change was because my bridge pickup went bad and PRS replaced it with the new-at-the-time HFS. I HATED that pickup. Loud, brittle, nasty to my ears. They replaced that with what my guitar had started with, which was an original (well the later 80s version thereof) "Treble" pickup. Better, but I ended up swapping the original T&Bs for a set of Seymour Duncans, a JB/Jazz combo IIRC. I then replaced the saddles trying to get a little more dynamics happening.

    It was all for naught. I was never truly happy with that guitar. Unlike you, I ended up selling it.

    Many years later, Rick Hogue from Garrett Park Guitars found me a vintage yellow '86 Custom that he said I would really like. It had a factory-original tone control instead of the sweet switch and a slightly different set of settings on the 5-way. It also has more dynamic range than any original Custom I've ever played. The T&B pickups from the first couple of years have a very distinctive sound that really works. Yes, it's still happier with pretty gained-out sounds (Matte Henderson played that guitar once and you should have seen his face light up) but it's a really distinctive, idiosyncratic guitar that I just love for what it is. Interestingly, it also works quite well for the idiosyncratic kind of clean tones that you hear from someone like Jerry Garcia or Steve Kimock.

  4. #4
    Senior Member ViperDoc's Avatar
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    I'm all for justifying GAS!!! Reasons abound for multiple guitars, as you well know.

    What I love about this thread is what is perhaps one of the most valuable knowledge bits possible, that you actually KNOW the guitar in your hands and what YOU CAN DO WITH IT. I started my PRS career in 2005 with an SE Soapbar II that I absolutely love to death. Fast forward to last January when I took the PS plunge into triple 408 territory and I discovered untold new worlds of tone. Each guitar and each player can result in such different color and energy, what an amazing journey it is for all of us.

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    Don't get me wrong - I'm not saying the early Customs are a 1-for-1 replacement for a Charvel. I currently have a Floyded Charvel, and I had a Kramer and an Ibanez back in the day. And sure, a PRS wouldn't be my first choice for a Ratt tribute band.

    But I look at where one of my guitar heros (Petrucci) has ended up with his signature guitars, and I'll be darned if I don't think a P24 would work just as well for that - essentially a CU24 with a Piezo into a Mesa. I also think that's why PRS did very well with the NuMetal guys for so long - classic looking instruments that gave up a hard rock sound and were easy to play.

    My '94 came with the HFS/Vintage Bass combo. I referred to that bridge pickup as "Howls, Farts, and Shrieks". The new pickups are much better, but don't seem to be designed as much for higher gain - not knocking them.

    As far as a Swiss Army Knife guitar, I have to say that I wish I could send my new Studio back in time. Going through our old tunes we did, I'm having a very difficult time coming up with one that I couldn't have covered with that guitar.

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    Senior Member g.wizz's Avatar
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    Could we consider the 513 platform as a step closer to a somewhat a swiss army knife for a guitar?

  7. #7
    I think the only mod that is needed for a 513 is the double humbucker mod to be considered PRS' Swiss Army Knife, perhaps a PS version stake on the Brent Mason Sig is more apt. I used a CU22 with fixed bridge exclusively for ten years and have moved to the 513 in the last year. A 408 or Brent Mason with piezo would be for me the duck's guts.

  8. #8
    Senior Member AP515's Avatar
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    I had my hearing checked last week. It was normal for a guy in his 50's. They even stuck a camera in my ears and I got to see what all that stuff in there looks like. Other than a little wax and hairs growing in there, I was good, had no problems with my hearing. That's why it is so hard for me to understand what you guys are saying about an HFS loaded Cu24.

    My first "real" guitar was a Cu24 and I was very impressed with it. All 5 positions on the 5-way were very usable. Country, Rock, fingerpicking, I liked them all. I believe the tone pot was installed for a reason. Pull the HFS back to about 6 on the tone pot and it is a very responsive singing pickup. Sure, I like PAF tones too, but the Vintage covers a lot of that territory. That may be why folks say the Cu24 is so versatile. When I want to get into high gain territory, the HFS works very well, and has better note definition than the 57/08's.
    1988 CE24, 1995 CE22, 2000 SC, 2003 Standard 22, 2003 Cu24 AP, 2006 Cu24 AP, 2006 SC AP, 2007 CuRo22, 2010 Starla Stoptail, 2010 Mira
    2007 SE Soapy 2, 2010 SE 25th Anni Cu24, 2012 SE Bernie, 2013 SE Angelus Custom

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  9. #9
    Senior Member sergiodeblanc's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by LSchefman View Post
    I don't think a Swiss Army Knife guitar exists.
    Goes to show how much you know!


  10. #10
    Quote Originally Posted by AP515 View Post
    I had my hearing checked last week. It was normal for a guy in his 50's. They even stuck a camera in my ears and I got to see what all that stuff in there looks like. Other than a little wax and hairs growing in there, I was good, had no problems with my hearing. That's why it is so hard for me to understand what you guys are saying about an HFS loaded Cu24.
    I think I did say that the CU24 was as close as one could get at the time to a Swiss Army Knife guitar. A lot of people love the HFS pickup! But we all want to hear something different. In fact, our tastes in music, our experiences with other instruments, and even how our hands develop physically inform our judgement as to what we like to hear when we play. You and I can hear the exact same thing, but our brains may process that information in different ways. And our physical differences may produce different sounds from the same guitar. For example, I dig the tone of a good Strat in someone else's hands. But I can't make a Strat sound great for the life of me.

    My first guitar was a 1965 SG Special that had been my brother's, and I played it daily from 1967-1991 when I got that CU24. The SG has a truly vintage tone, and I kept its original P-90s. In any case, after 24 or so years with a vintage-toned guitar, going to an HFS ceramic pickup was a different experience. There was a whole lot I liked about the guitar, especially given the music I was playing on it. But there was also a warmth and dimensionality present with the older style pickups that I missed with the HFS. So I wanted a PAF style with it.

    Incidentally I'm also a "use the guitar's controls" guy.

    I'm not saying the HFS is or was a bad pickup. I'm saying that for me, it's well suited for certain things, and less suited for others. As are all pickups.

    And some people like blue guitars, and then there's Sergio.
    Last edited by LSchefman; 08-10-2014 at 11:56 AM.
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  11. #11
    Senior Member AP515's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by LSchefman View Post

    In fact, our tastes in music, our experiences with other instruments, and even how our hands develop physically inform our judgement as to what we like to hear when we play. You and I can hear the exact same thing, but our brains may process that information in different ways. And our physical differences may produce different sounds from the same guitar.
    I hear you and agree with you. I'm just sticking up for the HFS and the CU24 in general. I am one of those that like them together. Not exclusively, but I do like them a lot. Probably my faovirte is a CE22 with dragon 1's but I like a lot of the pup combinations in my PRSi. About the only things I didn't like were the SC245's in a Cu22 and the HFS/Vintage in a Standard 22. Need that maple cap. The 57/08's in the same Standard are a very different (and better) story.
    1988 CE24, 1995 CE22, 2000 SC, 2003 Standard 22, 2003 Cu24 AP, 2006 Cu24 AP, 2006 SC AP, 2007 CuRo22, 2010 Starla Stoptail, 2010 Mira
    2007 SE Soapy 2, 2010 SE 25th Anni Cu24, 2012 SE Bernie, 2013 SE Angelus Custom

    PRS SE50, Mesa Single RectoVerb, Mesa Lonestar, Fender Hot Rod Deluxe

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    Quote Originally Posted by AP515 View Post
    I believe the tone pot was installed for a reason.
    Yeah, except my '89 Custom didn't have a tone pot.

    Well, it did later on. That was one other mod I did that I forgot to mention.

    Anyway, pickups are very much a matter of individual taste, which may or may not have anything to do with the quality of one's hearing. (as opposed to the quality of one's listening but that's another discussion entirely) There's a reason PRS went to the HFS: people liked it in those guitars. I didn't, but then, I was one of those people who, like David Grissom, wanted Paul to make something that sounded more like Duane At The Fillmore.

    Which Les' new singlecut most assuredly does, btw. If you want that sound, you could do a lot worse than Les' rig of that and an HXDA amp.

  13. #13
    Senior Member garrett's Avatar
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    I can relate to the OP. The CU24 worked great for me when it came to any kind of distorted rock music, but "strident" is definitely a good description. For cleaner, poppier music, it was just too in-your-face for me. It's definitely an excellent rock/metal/shred machine, but not my choice for anything else. That's based on the older version (late 90's) with the HFS/VB pickups. I wouldn't mind seeing how the new ones or the S2 compare.
    --Garrett--

  14. #14
    Quote Originally Posted by kingsleyd View Post
    There's a reason PRS went to the HFS: people liked it in those guitars. I didn't, but then, I was one of those people who, like David Grissom, wanted Paul to make something that sounded more like Duane At The Fillmore.

    Which Les' new singlecut most assuredly does, btw. If you want that sound, you could do a lot worse than Les' rig of that and an HXDA amp.
    On behalf of The Hammer of the Gods I thank you for the shout-out!
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    Quote Originally Posted by LSchefman View Post

    Within a year, PRS had come out with the Artist II, with a 22 fret neck and stop tail bridge. When I played that, I bought one right away. However, I still sometimes wanted to change the pickups to something more PAF-like.

    That was my first PRS, and I ordered it in purple with milder pups for the same reason you state above. Loved that guitar, and for me, it COULD, and did do it all. From Judas Priest and Black Sabbath, to Diana Ross, Bread, and Jazz standards. KILLER guitar! And here I am all these years later playing basically the same guitar, but fancier and semi hollow with 57/08s. IMO, the best all around electric guitar ever made.
    Last edited by Tag; 08-11-2014 at 07:35 PM.

  16. #16
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    I have a 96 CU24 and I find your description pretty spot on.
    Now my 2013 NF3 is a much more versatile guitar.
    Covers cleans, blues, crunchy rock and metal tones with outstanding dynamics.
    Plus it's a much more comfortable guitar to wear and play for long periods of time.

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