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.