Who could hate Santana? Whether you’re a diehard for his acid-churning, Latin-tinged blues rock scorchers of the ‘70s or your association with the celebrated guitarist is limited to his smash-hit radio collaborations with assorted ‘90s alt-rock frontmen, the canon of Carlos Santana is near-inescapable – even the vaguest of listeners could hear his tone bubbling through a supermarket aisle and remark to themselves, ‘Hey – it’s that Rob Thomas guy!’ It’s perhaps, for this reason, that he’s considered one of the greatest guitarists of all time.
By proxy, this means that the PRS SE Santana Singlecut ought to be a pretty decent guitar. Paul Reed Smith has been building guitars for Santana for a whopping forty years, so you’d expect that any PRS guitar bearing his name would be an instrument worthy of some serious clout, even when manufactured in the company’s Indonesian plant. Decked out in an iridescent and rather regal looking Egyptian Gold finish – a slight step down from the guitarist’s own gold leaf variant – the SE Santana Singlecut is a fitting tribute to the legacy laid down by both names that adorn its headstock.
Boasting an all-mahogany body and set-neck, 24 fret singlecut design, the SE Santana is by all means a ‘classic’ guitar that deserves a share in all the attention that its doublecut sibling collects. It bears a level of heft similar to that of a Les Paul, yet the unique 24.5” inch scale and well-placed body contours makes for an instrument which feels incredibly easy to wrangle whether standing or seated. Funnily enough, this was actually my first ever experience with a PRS after years of clinging near-religiously to the big F word, and despite my doubts, I found the transition between brands surprisingly natural. While the Wide Fat neck profile certainly took some getting used to, within minutes, I was zipping up and down the slick rosewood fretboard with ease, spilling bluesy licks at a speed that I didn’t even know I was capable of. For some reason or another, the SE Santana really released the shredder in me – we’ll just put that one down to Black Magic, shall we?
Unplugged, the SE Santana is surprisingly resonant, and amplified, it rips. With a clean setting, the dual TCI S humbuckers deliver a chimey, crisp tone which I found particularly inviting towards more contemporary styles. The nuances of the SE Santana’s pickups shone brightest when playing jazz changes and neo-soul voicings, however it definitely didn’t disappoint as an open-chord strummer either. When paired with a bit of grit, the humbuckers open up to provide a distinctive bite, with lingering sustain for days. I found it incredibly hard to resist stomping on a fuzz pedal with the tone rolled off the neck pickup for that classic creamy tone, and the bridge position held enough heat to keep up with the drop-tuned riffs I chugged through it too. Although the middle pickup position wasn’t particularly memorable – is it ever? - it’s certainly worth noting that this guitar offers a level of tonal versatility that many would be surprised with. Also, the bird fretboard inlays on this thing do look a lot better in person: don’t listen to all those internet dweebs out there.
Despite showing some deceptive signs of its budget pricetag – on close inspection, the quality of the synthetic materials used for the nut and tremolo cavity cover – there’s definitely nothing overtly beginner about the PRS SE Santana Singlecut. The guitar not only serves the best interests of Santana and Smith’s original designs, but also to the devout quality of product provided by PRS’ SE factory in Indonesia. No matter whether you’re operating in the fields of fusion, blues, country or even hard-rock and metal, the SE Santana won’t let you down easy – man, it’s a hot one.
Hits and Misses
Lavish Egyptian Gold finish
Wide Fat neck profile unleashes your inner rock god
Could benefit from having a bone nut