Suhr Pro Series S2 Guitar
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In the past, most Suhr instruments were custom-spec’ed to order, but recently, Suhr has begun offering a few “standard” popular configurations that use the same woods, necks, hardware, and custom pickups as their pricier custom models.
However you pronounce John’s name, one thing can be certain: playing a Suhr guitar will wipe the sorrows from your eyes and bring a smile to your face. And after years of having a love/hate relationship with Strat-style guitars, the flame has been rekindled. The Suhr Pro Series S2 may finally be the one Strat we’d take with us to a humidity-controlled desert island.
Before commenting on its fantastic sound, we have to rave about the feel of the instrument. There is a short list of builders who know how to make truly great necks, and for us, Suhr easily joins that group. If ever a guitar played itself, this would be one of the automated models. The compounded-radius neck goes from comfortable to more-comfortable, and its satin finish is silky smooth and quick to the touch.
Sonically, the Suhr S2 goes where most Strat-type guitars often fail: high-gain rock territory. The Suhr-designed SSV humbucker in the neck provides a hot output that aggressively drives modern high-gain amps while preserving a clarity of tone that you only hear from the finest pickups. The middle and neck positions feature single coils designed to deliver vintage ‘60s tone, and they succeed in that regard, too.
All Suhr guitars are made to order unless you’re lucky enough to find one stocked by a specialty reseller. Heck, the company doesn’t even offer loaner instruments for magazine reviews! Given all the great things we had heard about Suhr guitars, though, we decided to take a chance and put our credit card to work — we purchased one. Five months later, we took delivery of the beautiful, dark blue guitar. We anticipated that we might sell it when the review was finished, but that was before we plugged it in and played...
Beauty is more than skin deep, but hey, this is a hot electric guitar (and we don’t just mean the pickups), so let’s marvel at the beauty for a moment. Our S2 had a beautiful Mercedes Blue Metallic finish, three-ply white/black/white pickguard, and a “skunk stripe” down the back of the neck.
The guitar featured some traditional Strat-style specs: an Alder body equipped with a Suhr SSV humbucker in the bridge position and two Suhr V60LP single-coil pickups in the neck and middle. A Gotoh 1055 bridge with tremolo was standard, and the guitar featured one volume control, one tone control (applies to all pickup positions), and a standard five-way pickup selection switch.
The one-piece maple neck has a sleek profile: ‘60s C-shape with a 10”-14” compound radius and 1.65 nut width, heavy nickel frets, a natural wood neck finish (or lack thereof), and Sperzel locking tuners.
As briefly mentioned in the intro, although this is a “stock” configuration model, it is built with the same materials and craftsmanship as any custom-spec’ed Suhr instrument.
The S2 also came set up for the Buzz Feiten tuning system. This subtle modification of the nut spacing and string length is designed to ensure more consistent tuning anywhere on the neck.
[Brief explanation: Because there is more tension on your strings at the nut, tuning shifts slightly as you move up the neck, and this subtle variance in pitch can sometimes be heard in the transition from one complex chord shape to another, sounding slightly out of tune with each other. By compensating for the variance, the Buzz Feiten system ensures more accurate tuning across the entire neck. You can still tune a Buzz Feiten-optimized guitar using familiar methods, but for more precise tuning, some instrument tuners take into account the minor variance that this system introduces. Many guitar players swear by the subtle difference and have all of their guitars set up to support this tuning system.]
A nice SKB hard-shell molded case was provided.
With all these great features, we were surprised by the omission of strap locks that would have otherwise completed this package.
Playing the Suhr S2 was a dream. It is one of the finest playing guitars we’ve ever experienced. We love non-lacquered necks to start, and the neck profile was spectacular: thin, but not too thin, with just enough curvature to the fretboard for comfort without sacrificing speed.
The large frets are a string bender’s dream — playing bluesy string bends was an effortless affair that really felt different than on many other guitars. And if bending strings the old fashioned way isn’t your style, we found the Gotoh tremolo provided outstanding tuning stability even after some extreme whammy bar usage. The slight tilt-back of the headstock and staggered height of the tuning posts eliminates the need for string trees, so between that subtle design feature and the locking tuners, the guitar maintained superb tuning stability.
Speaking of tuning, we found that the Buzz Feiten tuning system did in fact provide for more consistent tuning across the neck.
The Suhr S2 would easily suit anyone looking to play pop, rock, or blues, but we found it particularly impressive for hard rock and metal players who like the look and feel of Strat style guitars but require higher-gain tone.
The Suhr SSV humbucker has a lot of gain, and playing the S2 through our Mesa/Boogie Road King II preserved the heavy recto crunch that we sometimes favor in our own music (and which is often times seriously degraded by pickups with less output). The pickup is not only hot and quiet (as are most humbuckers), but it produces a very tight and focused sound, too. Lesser pickups (and lesser amps) will often times blur or smear the distinction of notes within chords played on distorted amp channels, but not so with the Suhr S2. All notes rang through articulately.
The V60LP single-coil pickups were designed to recreate vintage ‘60s style tone, and in our S2, they proved true to their heritage. In positions using the middle and neck V60LP pickups, the S2 delivered traditional Strat-like performance. Through a Fender Super-Sonic, which features voicings from the famous Bassman and Vibrolux amps, we got classic bell-like chime as well as funky Tele-style tones.
We also got some traditional Strat-like single-coil noise. It was more subdued than on some other vintage pickups we’ve played, in part due to the fact that Suhr winds their middle pickup with reverse polarity. If we were ordering another S2, we would probably opt for Suhr’s noiseless backplate option (a recently added factory option), which provides for noiseless single-coil performance.
In the neck position, the V60LP doesn’t have as much output as more modern pickups (it’s going for a vintage tone, after all). We would have liked a little bit more gain in this position to really make glassy, blues lead tones stand out — the output and resultant tone was just a little bit softer than we care for. But for all that the neck position didn’t give us, the SSV humbucker continually brought a smile to our faces for its un-Strat-like behavior.
Our Suhr S2 didn’t come with any documentation, nor was any available online. Granted, there’s not much to know about using a Strat-style guitar, and if you’re at the level that you’re purchasing one of these instruments, you’ll undoubtedly figure out how to operate the instrument. If not, send it to us and we’ll take care of it for you.
However, some documentation describing details of the Buzz Feiten tuning system should have been provided. Many players are still not very familiar with this system, and proper methods of tuning for optimal performance should be explained (it’s not the same fifth-fret harmonics or open strings that you’re used to). There were no help documents available online, either.
Suhr does maintain an active online community, though, so you can ask questions directly of John Suhr and numerous other Suhr players in the forums on their website.
The Suhr S2 (MSRP $2,550) can be purchased from authorized Suhr dealers or direct from Suhr if you don’t have a local dealer available (with a slight discount available in the retail environment).
The typical lead time if the instrument isn’t in your dealer’s inventory can be up to six months as most instruments are made to order, so instant gratification may not be possible. Good things come to those who wait, though, and the S2 will definitely not disappoint. For a hand-built instrument like this, it’s a solid value in an instrument that should meet or exceed your expectation for years to come.
For an additional $325, the S2 can now be ordered with the Suhr BPSSC system. This replacement middle pickup and special backplate, wired as a grounding plate to the pickup, eliminates single-coil hum while remaining true to the beautiful sound of Suhr’s pickups.
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