PRS has been on a roll with the S2 Series—its line of affordably priced, American-made guitars. A few months back I reviewed the S2 Mira Semi-Hollow. I liked it so much that I bought one. Next, I reviewed the S2 Starla. It was also a winner. Now PRS has expanded the S2 line with the Vela, the first S2 that isn’t based upon the body shape of one of the Core models.
The Vela looks like what might happen if a Gretsch Corvette and a Fender Jazzmaster got together after hours in some indie rock club. That is to say, that the shape is a bit of a departure for the typically more traditional-minded PRS pieces. Sure, the Vela sports the now-classic PRS headstock shape and the carved top maintains the family resemblance, but the offset waist sets it apart from its siblings. While it’s probably shocking to the PRS purists, I’m a sucker for offset guitars and the Vela design won me over instantly.
Like all of the S2 line, the Vela is made by a crew of seasoned builders in PRS’s Stevensville, Maryland factory. The body is made from a single, solid piece of mahogany. The grain on the review model is very attractive and the Sienna finish really brings out the depth. Along with the rest of the S2 line, the Vela features a shallower top carve than the Core guitars. These shallower carves still look and feel great, but they reduce both the size of the body blank required and the selling price of the finished guitar. And like the other guitars in the S2 line, the Vela features a neck made from a single piece of mahogany with a headstock joined via scarf joint. Again, this is done to reduce the amount of wood required. The neck angle on the Vela is shallower than most set-neck guitars and is sure to please guitarists that are used to or prefer the neck angle on bolt-on neck guitars.
I’ve probably said this before, but whether or not you like the aesthetics of the PRS headstock, you have to love the way it functions. The straight-through-the-nut string pull paired with the locking tuners makes for incredibly stable tuning. I’m the type that checks my tuning every few songs, but the Vela stays in tune all night. Even extreme bends and heavy-handed strumming won’t knock it out of tune.
The bridge on the Vela is probably my favorite feature. It’s a top-loading bridge with two barrel shaped brass saddles. It’s rock solid, extremely comfortable for palm muting, makes for quick string changes, and creates near perfect intonation. It’s the kind of function meets form design that Leo Fender might have invented had he continued to refine and improve the original Telecaster bridge.
The shape of the Vela isn’t the only first for PRS. This is also their first use of the new Type-D single coil. The Type-D looks a lot like an old Gretsch Dynasonic pickup with individual magnetic rod pole pieces and small screws for raising and lowering each pole piece. And soundwise, it’s not far from that camp. It’s bright and twangy but with rounder and fuller bass tones. The Type-D is paired with the Starla Humbucker (which can be coil-tapped) in the bridge position. Together these pickups provide the Vela with a bit of a split personality—sweet and twangy in the neck position and full-on rocking in the bridge. Splitting the bridge humbucker and pairing it with the Type-D gives the Vela a sound not unlike that of the in-between position on a Tele – great for clean to slightly gritty rhythm playing.
I’ve frequently heard PRS guitars referred to as “too modern sounding.” Whether that’s just guitarists that are used to listening with their eyes rather than their ears, I can’t say. But I don’t think people will be saying that about the Vela. Plugged in, it sounds like an old friend. Running directly into the cranked Top Boost channel on my AC15HW, I can dial in more than enough tonal variations for my needs. The bridge pickup is great for cutting leads and big power chords. The tone control on the Vela is perfectly voiced for taking the edge off of the sometimes strident highs of the Vox. Rolling off on the volume gets into gritty “Keef” tones, while switching to the middle position opens up and mellows thing out a bit. Here, there’s a roundness to the notes but still present highs. And finally, running just the neck pickup brings about a darkened but still clear tone that is great for more complex chordal work. Switching over to my Princeton Reverb, the Vela shows it “Americana” side, especially on the tapped bridge pickup or just the neck pickup. It’s a veritable twang fest and I was able to quickly dial in some convincing country and even Brian Setzer tones.
The Vela wins additional points for fit and finish. The build quality on this guitar is nothing short of exemplary. The finish is applied perfectly. The frets are perfectly installed and leveled with no rough ends or dead spots. And I’m still a huge fan of the proprietary PRS volume and tone knobs and strap buttons. Sure, they are little details, but they add up to a guitar that feels well designed, well built, and extremely comfortable in your hands.
What we like: The Vela is built like a tank (a luxury tank) and offers a wide range of great sounds. It feels great in your hands and looks refreshingly different. It’s hard to go wrong with a guitar that looks, sounds, and plays so great.
Concerns: There were times when I wished the bridge pickup was a little less hot. The jump from the mellow neck pickup to the raucous bridge pickup can be a jarring (especially with a bright and gainy amp or pedal).