That is, if Alex Lifeson had a PRS signature electric, this would be it. In 1990, in the middle of Rush's Presto tour, Lifeson reportedly broke the headstock off the main guitar he was using at the time, a superstrat made by Signature Guitars, exactly one day before that company went out of business. Left without a replacement, he picked up several PRS guitars over the course of the next year. Because he favored bolt-on necks, he chose the lower-priced CE 24 models. He used them to finish the Presto tour, as well as for the recording and touring of Roll The Bones, Counterparts, and Test For Echo, as well as his solo effort, Victor.
Those albums, in particular Counterparts, mark Rush's return to a more guitar-driven sound, slowly stepping away from the synth-driven work they put out in the 80s. This was also the time I discovered the band and became a fan; Counterparts was the first album released after I started listening to them, and to this day I consider that album to have some of the best guitar tones he ever got.
The CE 24 was originally made of alder, but in mid-1994 the wood was changed to mahogany, probably because the use of alder -- a domestic wood -- was not as cost-effective as originally thought. All of Lifeson's CE 24s were built before 1991, which means they would have been made before that change. And with the exception of a custom one-off with a single-coil bridge route (the pickup was transplanted from the aforementioned broken predecessor), Lifeson's CE 24s were all equipped with HFS and Vintage Bass pickups. So these specs were only available for a few years in the early 90s, making these guitars difficult to find.
I've wanted one of these for about 15 years, and haven't had the opportunity or excuse to purchase one. But when PRS announced the Alex Lifeson signature acoustic, my wife actually looked into one as a potential birthday present (!!!), but I told her I'd rather have one of these.
So here it is: a 1992 CE 24 Maple Top:
So if you're a sharp-eyed Lifeson fan, you'll notice this doesn't match his guitars perfectly; his all have the 3-way toggle. But I prefer the tonal variety and aesthetics of the rotary switch, so that's what I went for.
I know that the CE 24 was offered with the regular and wide-thin neck profiles, and I don't know which profile is on Lifeson's guitars. This guitar has a wide-thin neck, which I prefer. Interestingly, the neck feels a little wider and a little thinner at the nut than the wide-thin neck on my 2008 Custom 24, possibly due to the imprecision of the duplicarver era, before PRS started using CNC machinery.
It's difficult to capture in photos, but the back appears to be 3-piece alder.
For a CE, the top has a decent amount of flame. And the finish is immaculate. I believe this is "Dark Cherry Burst," but without a modcat on the case, I can't be sure. As dark as the edges look in these photos, it's still red, not brown, so it's not a tobacco. Speaking of the case...
Anybody know if that's a genuine PRS case? I'm assuming it's not because it's not fitted and there's no modcat sticker, butů it seems like it's the perfect dimensions and the piping on either edge makes it look almost exactly like my 2008 Custom 24's case. It's just a little smaller and the metal feet are in different places. Could this be what the guitar originally came with?
Here's another oddity: dots, not moons. I was under the impression that the CE models had moons. Was that not the case? In any event, the neck is in fabulous shape. Clearly it's old, and has its share of microscopic indentations, but the back is smooth and there's no fretwear, and the finish isn't cracked anywhere on the neck. The whole body is in great condition, in fact, with a couple exceptions:
Above is the only major blemish on the guitar. A small chunk taken out of the edge on the back near the output jack. This is the only scar that's deep enough to cut into the wood.
The only other big chip in the finish is under the strap button. Perhaps it had a strap lock installed at one point. If so, I'm very glad it was returned to stock before I got it. I use Lock-It Straps instead of metal strap locks.
So that's how she looks. Now how does she sound? I am going to have to say it is an absolute travesty that PRS doesn't still make these. The alder body with bolt-on maple neck has a sound all its own. It's similar enough to the Custom that it can be used as a backup, but it has its own vibe. It feels a little tighter, not quite as big and open as the Custom. Maybe more presence and less bottom end? Part of that's the pickups, since my Custom is sporting Dragon II pups, but that's not all of it. I'm not sure how to explain it except that it really captures the Strat-with-humbuckers vibe in the same way the Custom 24 captures the Gibson vibe. I really love having this guitar sit next to my Custom 24. It's like they go together, and complement each other, better than any other two models in the PRS lineup. Each one fills in the gaps that the other leaves open in my sonic palette.
I will say that it's really interesting to compare this to newer models. My 2008 Custom 24 feels a lot more precise in all the details, from the neck carve to the control knob mounting. The 1992 CE 24 feels more polished in the basic construction, though, and almost overly so. The fingerboard edges are rolled a lot more, the frets are rounder. But the action on both guitars is almost identical.
My next step is going to be to send her to the PTC and get some work done. My wife is lobbying hard for me to keep the current finish, but I'm not super keen on the cherry sunburst. I'm considering purple or emerald green.
I think I'm going to name her Alexis. God, I'm a nerd.