Today’s ‘beginner’ guitars are yesterday’s pro models

When you think of your first guitar, what comes to mind? For those old-school players out there, you might picture a knock-off, pawn shop guitar or used, second-hand, bomb that was a hand-me-down from a family member or friend. Maybe you picture a gnarly, crusty Strat copy that’s been sitting in the basement, attic, or rehearsal space of your casually musical uncle. The answer may depend on your age and background, but historically, the beginner’s guitar has gotten a truly bad rap (and for good reason!). 

Those infamous guitar stereotypes typically set the stage for disappointment, frustration, and general irritation at having a guitar that fought with you on sound and feel. Many people who have gone on to become fine guitarists and lovers of playing may have quit early due to having a sub-par ‘first impression’ of the instrument. For me, my first experience with a six string was a battle waged with a Squier Strat that only knew how to stay “in tune” for about 60 seconds, give or take. With a neck that was called “bolt-on” but was more-accurately just attached, a warped neck, sharp and uneven frets, strings that felt like I needed a tetanus shot after attempting to play them, and a body of electronics that was full of more hiss, cut-out, and blandness than anything resembling actual guitar tone; this guitar made me hate the idea of what guitar playing was. Is THIS what guitar was like? All guitars couldn’t be this bad, could they? It seemed to be true: you get what you pay for.

Thankfully, this was just a loner guitar, and my first “actual” electric guitar that I called my very own came in the form of a venerable Dean EVO XM Singlecut. My my, what a difference! Despite this Dean ringing up at the register at the astounding price of only $99 bucks NEW, I was literally taken-aback by the difference in playability and quality. The neck was smooth (and sanded), the frets were comfortable, the DMT-designed pickups sounded beefy and well-rounded, and the body was a natural wood single cut which looked fantastic (and with no paint, and only a light wood stain, the guitar could breathe). 

Thanks to some research at Harmony Central and some knowledgeable musician friends, I was able to buy my first electric with confidence, and thus, my love of guitar was born. I now knew what it meant to get lost in an instrument for hours and really understood how playing a great instrument can be inspirational for both learning and writing. At the time (circa 2004), the world of guitar was in the midst of a paradigm shift. Manufacturers were improving their designs, build quality, and most importantly - consistency. After all, what else happened in the early 2000s? The launch of THE most game-changing “beginner guitar” ever: the Santana SE! Read on guitar brethren ... 

In 1999, legendary rock superstar Carlos Santana released an album that won just about every award possible and infiltrated airwaves everywhere; especially with his song “Smooth,” a collab with Matchbox 20 lead singer Rob Thomas. Carlos Santana’s resurgence in popularity had musicians, fans, and eager kids around the world clamoring after the instrument and sound they heard in the hit song. As it turns out, you could buy the exact PRS that Santana was known for playing his entire career, but it was going to cost you an arm and a leg. 

So, Carlos Santana went to the builders of his instrument (PRS) and asked if it was possible to create a guitar based on his main guitar that would be more affordable for his fans, and with that, the Santana SE (“Student Edition”) was born. While this guitar didn’t look or sound IDENTICAL to his $4k #1 guitar, it came pretty damn close. More importantly, it became a guitar that was mainstream enough to appeal to players in almost every style of music. Most importantly, the Santana SE was offering many of the PRS-craftsmanship ideals, principles, techniques, and attention to detail that they used in their multi-thousand-dollar guitars, for only around 500 bucks! It was now possible to attain top-shelf quality for a fraction of what it once cost. The guitar industry would never be the same. 

Guitarists were now able to get the quality, sound, feel, and reliability of top-shelf guitars, without spending their life savings on it. This meant that weekend warriors could now gig with a totally reliable guitar workhorse, bedroom jammers could have a Swiss army knife of tone, and most importantly, beginning and aspiring players the world over could start their guitar journey on the ultimate platform. Talk about building a good foundation for future musicians. 

The SE line expanded into countless other designs, along with SE signature models (more budget-friendly, pro guitars that were made to a famous musician’s specs). Second in line was the Tremonti SE, and like Santana’s SE, this was even more of a clone of the USA-made PRS it resembled. Most noteworthy however, was that the legions of single cut Les Paul fans now had the ability to get a high quality Les Paul-style guitar, for a fraction of the price of a new one. PRS again, had turned the guitar industry on its head - which even landed them in court, but that’s another story for another day. 

The legendary lineage of amazing PRS SE guitars was born. Guitars that were proudly built in Korea with all the ideals of the US-based builder. But the year is now 2020, and PRS refused to rest on its laurels. The SE factory has now moved to Indonesia, and with that, the Maryland-based guitar company has again upped the ante big-time. If you didn’t think SE models could get better, think again. 

Join PRS COO Jack Higgenbotham, who began his career at PRS as a simple wood sander, as he explains the 21st century company philosophy in how they apply their “Core” model principles to these stunning instruments built overseas, in ways like never before. The SE line of PRS guitars is truly breaking into new territories. Jack explains how the PRS philosophy of a fine guitar is as simple as something that: “looks good, feels good, sounds good.”

Since not everyone can go “test drive” one of these new SE guitars right now, this video tour of the build process is a great way to check out how these fine instruments are made, as well as hearing one of PRS guitars’ leading people describing their passion for these instruments. From drying the wood, to using specific glues, to using CNC where humans fall short, and humans where machines fall short; these guitars are made with the exact same care as a high-end model from decades ago, all for the fraction of the price. This really is the ultimate beginner (and pro) guitar! 

Here at FRET12, we believe that a solid starting guitar is key to enjoying the instrument, and an ideal first instrument is really as simple as checking a few boxes. Your first guitar should:   
1) feel comfortable and inviting and be something you want to pick up
2) be tonally versatile - sound great and can play a variety of musical styles
3) be attractive and timeless in appearance  - let's face it, guitars need to look the part! 

Maybe PRS really was onto something with their simple mantra of “looks good, feels good, sounds good.” The SE line checks all these boxes, and then some! By starting a guitar journey with any axe that wears the “SE” badge, you are guaranteed a guitar that checks all three of those crucial boxes in spades. All that’s left is to find which SE looks “your part,” since you can rest assured that no matter the model, the SE you pick will sound and feel amazing. Best of all, despite the “beginner” price, an SE will be with you for life, and is ready to hit the stage or studio at any time. 

The FRET12 Guitar Supply has sold countless SE models from across the spectrum, check out the few we have left!

Make sure to stay tuned in 2021 for even more of the insane quality we’ve come to expect from this latest generation of SE instruments, with plenty of new stock arriving from the Indonesian factory. You’ll find yourself asking how you can buy such a gorgeous quality instrument NEW, for so little.  

So, if you’re going to pick up an axe, why not start with something truly great?

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