The Right Guitar

… or, the greatest impulse purchase I ever made.

As the resident musician among my group of friends, I get asked from time to time what the best guitar is. The more sophisticated beginners often tack on “for such-and-such reason?” I used to answer this by naming the usual cliche of brands – Fenders. Gibsons, Martins, Taylors, etc. However, an experience in May, 2011 taught me differently.

There is no “best” guitar. There is just the “right” one.

In the early half of 2011, I was in the market for a semihollow guitar. I had written a jazz-style song with my previous partner and I wanted a hollowbody or semihollow guitar to match the jazz sound. However, since I didn’t have a whole lot of money, I put my spending cap at $500. I perused a few Guitar Centers for several weeks, trying out semihollow and hollowbody guitars from Ibanez, Epiphone, and Gretsch. I quickly ruled out Gretsch because they were out of my price range and Epiphone… yeah, let’s just say that Epiphone and I don’t get along very well.

Eventually, I decided that an Ibanez Artcore AF73 fit all of my requirements: it was below $500 and it wasn’t an Epiphone. I went to the Guitar Center next to my house to try it out again but something about the guitar just didn’t click with me. Technically, everything about it was good – low action, smooth neck, clean sound, didn’t look like I fished it from a dumpster. However, my gut told me to say no to the guitar, sort of like how your gut might tell you to say no to the date with the supermodel before you find out that she’s a clingy-psycho-looney bin.

I put the AF73 back and started to walk toward the exit, skimming the various Fenders and Gibson on the wall. Just as I hit the end of the wall, I spied a curiosity – a PRS SE Custom Semihollow. I had seen it on the Guitar Center website but since the online inventory check showed that there were none at my usual stores, I was shocked as heck to find one hanging out there in the open. More out of curiosity than anything, I had a sales clerk take it down from the wall so I could try it out.

I plugged it into an Orange Tiny Terror and spent ten minutes noodling around with it. When the clerk came back to check up on me, I hated to admit it but I had fallen in love with this guitar.

The main thing that I loved about it was that the neck was carved in such a way that it fit perfectly around my hands. It wasn’t a flat kind of thin like I found on Ibanez electric guitars but sort of halfway between the flatness of an Ibanez and the pattern regular of a normal PRS. As far as I know, this is a neck shape that’s unique to this model; other PRS SE Custom Semihollows that I’ve tried from other years have the regular PRS necks.

And the tone… the tone. Mind you, the amp had something to do with this but compared to other guitars that I’ve tried on the Tiny Terror, this guitar sounded crisp, like a blue sky the day after a rainstorm. I put distortion on it and the power chords a balanced richness without the nasally midrange that I get from my Gibson SG. I put it on clean and I get silk running across my fingers.

The guitar cost $664. I hesitated for half a minute because it was significantly more than what I wanted to spend but since I thought that I’d never see a guitar like this again, I went ahead and bought it.

That guitar was used on every single song that I wrote and recorded since that involved electric guitars and it’ll be used to record dozens of more songs. Mind you, I had other guitars – a Fender Telecaster, PRS SE Custom 24, Gibson SG Faded, Gibson Explorer – but I sold some of those and put the others in storage because they weren’t being used at all.

As a testament to how besotted I am to that guitar, I told myself that if I ever win the lottery, I’m going to order two guitars from the PRS Private Stock with specifications that are similar or identical to that guitar.

Is my PRS SE Custom Semihollow the “best” guitar? Most people would say no. Some PRS purists might even argue that it’s not a real PRS because it was made in Korea, not Maryland. Other would argue against the idea of using a semihollow with heavy distortion. Still others would point to American-made Fenders, Gibsons, James Tyler, Music Man, ESP, etc. I might even admit that my PRS isn’t the best guitar in the world. However, it’s the right guitar for me. It handles every song that I need it to handle, gives me a tone that speaks volumes to me, and it does so comfortably.

So really, what more do I need?

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