Paul Reed Smith CE24

  • By Phillip Dodge @tonereport
  • February 19, 2016


Today, we’re exploring a recently reintroduced classic from PRS Guitars. The CE24 was first released in 1988 as the first “affordable” PRS. The price in 1988 was $1,099—not exactly a cheap price 28 years ago. The new CE24 retails for $1,999.

Affordable or not, it was one of the first (if not the first) guitars to successfully blend the best of the two most important electric guitars ever—one that “casts for the sky” and one named after a guy who is “more than a big deal.” If you’re still wondering what these two classics are, just ponder the CE24’s bolt-on maple neck and its maple-capped mahogany body (the original had an alder body for the first few years of production). That should clear any confusion you might have. Back in the day, the name CE24 stood for “classic electric” and “24 frets.” It’s still an accurate name given that the CE24 can cover so many classic sounds, and well, it still has 24 frets. Bonus points: all 24-fret PRS guitars with bird inlays have an adorable little screech owl at the 24th fret.

The new CE24 is built on PRS’s main line in Stevensville, Maryland and it shows the meticulous attention to detail one would expect from a PRS. The nut is cut precisely, the frets are smooth and well-polished, the intonation is precise, and the finish is impeccable. It’s a beauty to play or to just stare at. It’s light weight, well-balanced, and generally just really comfortable to play.

When it comes to tremolos, I’m a Bigsby man. I’ve always had too heavy of a hand to really use a Strat-style tremolo but the PRS-designed trem on the CE24 responds remarkably well to both heavy and light use. And paired with the locking tuners, it stays in tune even with some pretty heavy dive-bombs and pull-ups.

The CE24 features the new(ish) 85/15 pickups that were released last year. They certainly sound like classic humbuckers, but they are a little more defined in the lows, slightly scooped in the low-mids, and clearer in the high-mids. High fidelity is kind of a bad word when discussing guitars, but it works here. The 85/15s are balanced across the frequency spectrum and have a lovely, built-in compression. Yes, they’re hot, but rolling back on the volume knob takes some of that edge off. I found myself playing with the volume on the guitar set at 7 and then rolling up to 10 for full distortion. One of the things that has always set PRS pickups apart from their peers is that they actually sound good when splitting the pickup for single-coil tones. The CE24 and the 85/15s do the best tapped-coil tone I’ve ever heard. Split the coils, plug into a Fuzz Face, Tube Screamer or both, and you get instant Hendrix and SRV tones. Switch back to both coils and you have ‘70s and ‘80s rock and metal and any modern tone you could want.

The heel on the neck of the CE24 is substantial but it’s carved asymmetrically so that it doesn’t hinder upper fret access. Compared to most bolt-on guitars, the neck on the CE24 is thicker where it joins the body and it is inserted more deeply. In fact, the way in which it joins the body is almost like the joint on set-neck PRS guitars. It’s a super-solid connection but it still offers the snap and twang you would expect from a bolt-on neck. Speaking of the neck, the satin Nitro finish is one of the nicest finishes I’ve felt—quick and svelte even with sweaty hands on the fourth set of the evening. And it has just right amount of luster to show off the subtle birds-eye pattern of the maple.

What We Like:
The CE24 was and is a classic for a reason. It’s a combination magician, chameleon, and jack of all trades. If I were the type to limit myself to just one guitar (hint: I’m not), I could easily do an entire gig with just the CE24 running from classic rock, to indie rock, to alt-country, and on.

If you are using a low-headroom amp or some vintage style fuzz pedals, the full-on humbucker tones can be a little too hot (especially if you’re looking for clean tones).

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  1. Winston Krause

    Nice review. I bought my CE 24 about 6 months ago and have been playing / exploring with it ever since. It was a little frustrating playing with the 85 / 15 pickups at first, compared to PAF styles they do sound a bit thin. I’ve been told that they do not run the pickups in series similar to Gibson style humbuckers. It took me a little bit too, to get used to the wider neck. I like wide but with a little more of a C but these are my only real issues and I have quickly overcome them. The rewards are in the clarity of the sound with the pickups. It was a matter of adjusting knobs to get a little thicker sound. I think there is a degree of everyone is used to the PAF style pickup and when you get hold of the 85/15’s and it doesn’t respond the same it’s easy to be critical. I loved the look feel and versatility of the guitar so much that I’ve put in the time to dial things in to get a warmer tone out of it when necessary.The clarity in a band situation really pays off. There isn’t the mud you get when running a distortion or fuzz pedal. They designed the pick up to balance out the low mids you get from a typical humbucker. It sounds really good and cuts through the mix better and will improve the overall tonality of your band when playing because the lower mid ranges aren’t as overpowered as they also seem to get 200 to 1000 Hz sounds clear not mushy. The hare part now is for me to go back to an SG or Les Paul I’ve got to dial everything back to the old settings