A few months ago, I had the pleasure of reviewing the PRS S2 Mira Semi-hollow. I loved it so much, I bought one. When I was offered the opportunity to try the S2 Starla, I jumped at the chance. Like all of the S2 line, the Starla is built at the PRS factory in Stephensville, Maryland. The new line is meant to offer an American-made guitar that features top-notch woods and hardware at a price well below that of the PRS Core line. While the S2 guitars aren’t as ornate as the PRS Core line, the quality is still held to the same standard. When you play one of the S2 guitars, you feel and hear the R&D and the individual touch that goes into each guitar.
The Starla is made from a single solid piece of mahogany and is shaped by a CNC router and sanded by hand. The carve of the Starla (and all of the S2 line) is shallower than that of the PRS Core line which means the guitar starts as a thinner piece of wood. Even so, the carving is very attractive and makes for a very comfortable, body-hugging playing experience. PRS and its wood suppliers are clearly paying close attention to wood quality for the S2 line, because the grain of the Starla is very attractive and the weight is great for a solid body of this depth and dimension. The combination of the comfortable carving and light weight make the Starla great for those nights when you’re playing for three or four hours straight.
The neck on the Starla is magnificent—the best way I can describe it is to say it feels like home. It strikes the perfect balance of thick and thin, wide and fat, and the fret work is impeccable. No matter which guitar I've been playing, I can switch to the Starla and not need to adjust my playing technique. Like other S2s, the neck on the Starla begins life as a single piece of mahogany and is then cut on an angle and rejoined with a scarf joint to create the back angle. The fingerboard on the Starla is rosewood and looks and feels great with even grain and no light or dark spots.
Like most PRS guitars, the Starla is more than the sum of its parts and the little details add up to make a stellar guitar. The neck heel is sculpted to allow easier upper fret access, the nut is cut perfectly, and the locking tuners are aligned so that the strings pull straight through the nut. The look and feel of the volume and tone knobs are great, the larger tip on the pickup selector is extremely comfortable, and the larger strap buttons are practically genius. Originally, Paul Reed Smith used bass string ferrules for strap buttons. The current buttons are based on that design, but are a proprietary PRS design. This means that PRS guitars offer the security of strap locks without the annoyance and added parts (that eventually break).
Of course, all of these great details wouldn’t matter if the guitar didn’t sound and play wonderfully—but it does. The pickups in the Starla are hotter than a vintage style humbucker, but they are crisp and articulate. The bridge has just the right amount of snarl, and the neck pickup is smooth and smoky without sounding wooly. The combined sound is ever-so-scooped with an acoustic-like warmth that is great for both clean and dirty rhythm parts. Like so many PRS guitars and pickups, the split coil sounds on the Starla are shockingly convincing as single coil sounds. In coil-tapped mode, the bridge is twangy, the neck is bell-like, and together they sound like a Strat in the in-between setting—perfect for funky rhythm work.
While the Starla is a versatile guitar and can excel in just about any genre, I loved it as a full-on RAWK MACHINE! With the dual humbuckers and the solid mahogany body, the Starla can scream and cut through the band. Running it into the Lead channel of the new PRS Archon Twenty-Five, I had a blast breaking out metal and grunge riffs from my adolescent years. Playing with the band, I used it for everything from twangy alt-country songs to fuzzy White Stripes-style songs. With a simple twist or pull of a knob and the flick of a switch, you have a surprising range of tones available.
The Starla is the lone guitar in the PRS line-up that is fitted with a Bigsby, and it’s the only way the Starla is available. I personally have a love/hate relationship with Bigsbys; I love the subtle vibrato they offer, but on most guitars they are unstable and you end up retuning between each song. However, when combined with the expertly cut nut, the locking tuners, and the straight pull of the strings through the nut, the Bigsby on the Starla stays in tune as well as any tremolo I’ve used. As such, I was able to use the Bigsby for extreme dive bombs and Sonic Youth/My Bloody Valentine workouts. No matter how crazy I went, the Starla was always in tune and ready for the next song!
What we like: The build quality, comfortable playing feel, and wide variety of tones make the Starla a dream to play. The fact that it’s made in the US and available for less than $1,500 is the icing on the cake.
Concerns: Getting straps over the strap buttons I love so much can be a chore—especially for straps with thick leather ends. In order to attach my Souldier Strap, I ended up unscrewing the buttons, placing the strap, and then reattaching the buttons.
Minimum Advertised Price (with birds): $ 1,369.00 US
Minimum Advertised Price (with dots): $ 1,249.00 US