One in a while we come across an instrument that is both a true piece of art as well as being sonically distinguished and versatile at the same time. Having done our research, we decided that the PRS 408 guitar fit this bill. And talking of bills, we were so smitten by this exceptional instrument that we had no choice but to purchase it! From the moment we unboxed it, we couldn’t put it down. And when we did stop playing, we couldn’t stop staring at it. In all ways that we might evaluate the quality of woodworking, painting, and fretwork, this guitar was flawless.
The 408 guitar is classified under the PRS Core series specialty guitars and comes in a number of different colors and artist package upgradeable options to create unique instruments that are still part of the obvious family pedigree. Why is it called 408, you ask? Four coils (two humbuckers) with eight different sounds. Now let’s dive into what makes this guitar so special.
The solid-body, double cutaway, mahogany body is draped in an exquisite carved and figured, flamed maple top. Upgrade options include a 10-Top or Artist grade top. [According to PRS Guitars, 10-Top grade tops must have a clearly defined figure across the entire top with no “dead” spots. Artist Package maple tops feature a greater depth of curl and/or more amount of curl than 10-Tops, while not quite being a Private Stock grade top.] Our review guitar featured the popular faded whale blue color in 10-Top grade. The guitar is coated in PRS’s proprietary finish that provides the thinness of nitrocellulose with the stability of acrylic.
The back of the guitar and neck on our review sample was black, though the default is a natural wood finish as pictured. There is cream binding on the body that further accentuates the beauty of the top color while providing a classy border between the top and back of the guitar.
The glossy mahogany neck comes with a 25-inch rosewood fretboard equipped with 22 jumbo frets and a PRS “pattern” neck. The “pattern” neck PRS describes as an “updated wide fat” neck based on Paul’s pre-factory designs. The radius of the fretboard is ten inches, and that is adorned with classic PRS bird pearloid inlays (if ordering an artist package model, the inlays are Paua and Green Abalone). The neck is 1.69 inches wide at the nut and 2.25 inches at the point of contact with the body, and comes with a black nut made of a PRS-patented synthetic/bronze powder blend. The truss rod which is accessible at the headstock comes with 408 engraved cover.
The guitar comes loaded with specially designed, uncovered, 408 pickups. The neck humbucker was designed to be physically wider to expand the sound field while the neck pickup is narrower to reduce the sound field. The pickup magnets are also hybrid, with gold and nickel colored poles. Aesthetically, the whole asymmetrical shapes of the pickups and pickup borders with the combination nickel and gold magnets makes for really nice but subtle eye candy.
Thanks to a pair of coil-tap switches, there are 8 different sound options that can be achieved between the switches and a three-way pickup selector. There is one volume knob and one tone knob.
Hardware is rounded out with a PRS patented tremolo (Generation III) and PRS Phase III locking tuners.
Included with the guitar are all the Allen wrenches to adjust the saddles, truss rod and tremolo arm, as well as the tremolo arm. The case is one of the heaviest cases we have ever lifted! It is extremely durable and meant to provide extreme protection for this special guitar.
Being fans of slightly thicker necks, we found this one to fit just right. Don’t get us wrong—the Wide Thin necks on PRS guitars are also great, but this one was a dream for us. Not too thin and not too thick, with just the right contours. The guitar was of course well balanced on our shoulders and was a very comfortable weight. And with the classic PRS body style, the contours of the body made for easy access to the upper frets.
The ten-inch fretboard radius was a happy medium for chords and bending notes but more importantly felt very comfortable on this neck. The rolled fretboard edges along with the jumbo frets made bending a breeze. Needless to say, we couldn’t fret out even with two-step bends. The guitar was perfectly set-up and intonated at a comfortable string height. Shredders may want a little lower action than factory set-up, however.
The PRS Phase 3 locking tuners and PRS special nut, along with the PRS tremolo, kept everything in tune no matter what we did once the strings settled in. Even a few dive bombs bounced back right into perfect tuning. The pop-in style tremolo arm had an easily accessible tension screw that made it easy to set our preferred height and tension.
The volume and tone controls were well positioned and easily accessible, while having just the right resistance. The three-way blade switch was nicely out of the way of crazy hits while strumming aggressively, but close to easily switch positions. And one of the key features were the two easily accessible mini switches that split the pickup coils. We definitely prefer this design vs. splitting coils via a push/pull knob.
What can’t this guitar be used for! This is one of those guitars that can get you through most songs with its eight different voicing options. Whether you’re a studio musician or weekend warrior, this guitar should meet most of your needs from chimey single coil to thicker humbucker tones, and every combination of the two. As with the PRS Schizoid guitar we recently reviewed, when rolling off the volume there was no loss in tone at any level. Also, the change in volume was gradual rather than the sudden change that some guitars experience dropping from 10 to 9 on the volume control.
The tone control was usable throughout its sweep with a nice gradual change in tone as well as it was rolled down. PRS has spent a number of years working on the taper of their pots, which in itself is a marker of their dedication to craftsmanship. As pointed out in the PRS videos below, there was minimal drop in volume when switching from humbucker to single coil mode.
Without being able to compare the pickups on this guitar to another PRS with humbuckers of equal size, it was hard to say that having the bridge humbucker slightly wider and the neck humbucker slightly narrower significantly alters the tone. But who cares? They sound awesome! Paul Reed Smith himself gives an in depth explanation and demonstration of the 408 guitar and all of its beautiful sonics:
So what do these pickups sound like? Well PRSs description was pretty spot on and not just junk to sell you a guitar. The humbuckers do sound somewhere between a covered and uncovered humbucker pickup. As Paul explains, normally in a covered model you lose a little bass and high end but gain some warmth. These pickups are partially covered, so some of the bass and high end is retained while gaining some of the warmth of covering the pickups. In single-coil mode, they sound like a hybrid blend of lipstick, P90, and traditional single coil. In other words, these pickups sound unique.
Here’s another demo by Paul:
We ran this guitar through our Supro and Blackstar amps as well as Line 6 Helix Native in the studio, testing various clean, crunchy, and high gain tones and were drooling all along the way. PRS guitars have their own unique sound regardless of whether they have single coils or humbuckers. The cleans were well defined yet warm and articulate with a slightly compressed boutique quality. The crunchy tones with the humbuckers were a nice mix of vintage and modern tones. Compared with the more familiar PRS 85/15 pickups, these had more warmth without sacrificing much of the bass and treble.
And of course, this guitar has no problem going into the high gain realm. We were just as happy to shred with the 408 as with any other PRS guitar.
Documentation and Product Support
Head to the PRS website for plentiful documentation and support. The website features information on set-up and adjustments, cleaning and care, warranty information, wiring schematics, etc.
The PRS 408 with a 10-Top and hybrid hardware sells for $4,450. It comes in a number of beautiful color options. The PRS 408 with all nickel hardware and without the upgraded 10-Top sells for $3,850. PRS offers a number of color (18 different color options we last counted) upgrade options which you can find on their website.