Review: PRS Tremonti Baritone Hybrid Artist Pack (2017)
Updated: Oct 2, 2021
" An unconventional but effective choice for premium downtuning madness"
Value (NEW 2016-2017): $5K
FOR: Designed for easy down-tuning in a regular feeling package, Premium quality, gorgeous maple neck and top thanks to being an Artist package, The only core PRS with a 25.5 inch scale and hard-tail other than the ultra-rare Holcomb
AGAINST: The ultra-hot Tremonti bridge pickup can be polarizing and leads to a significant volume difference vs. the PAFish neck, Singlecut shape doesn't suit all guitarists (though this is very ergonomic for a Singlecut)
ALSO CONSIDER: PRS USA Holcomb (used), Mayones Regius
To call a guitar with a 25.5 inch a Baritone is a bit of a misnomer and the internet forums made their opinion quite evident when this guitar was launched. But as you will see during the course of this article, I think PRS may be onto something. If you want a premium guitar to play down-tuned metal rhythm guitar on, and hanker after the limited Holcomb run, this may just suit you just fine
MODEL HISTORY AND SPECS
The PRS Tremonti has been around for about 20 years at this point and is an interesting model in the PRS range. On one hand, the Singlecut shape screams tradition but a skinny neck, ultra hot bridge pickup and a tremolo that you can pull up on would indicate otherwise. As I have said, in the little video I made on the PRS Tremonti I owned for a short while, the best way to think of the Tremonti is as a Super Les Paul, similar in concept to a Super Strat. It's hot-rodded in the best way possible.
So what is the Tremonti Baritone? It is a limited run, (ordered from Oct-Dec 2016), of Artist Pack (the higher grade of Core Made in USA PRS's) Tremonti's , with some select specs inspired by their namesake Mark Tremonti's forays into downtuning and alternative tunings.
The listed spec changes were a longer scale length (25.5 inch instead of standard PRS 25), an Artist grade (think crazy wood) figured maple neck and Top and coming standard in C# standard tuning with 13-68 strings. In the last sentence, lies the key spec change which is never mentioned but I think perhaps the key to this guitar. The wider saddles, nut slot and tuners that are necessitated in order to accomodate a 68 gauge E string. Being a fan of both modern metal and having several PRS guitars, it wasn't long before I tried my own experiments on downtuning. The challenge to going beyond Drop C wasn't just the scale length but also the size of the string you could fit into the low E slot. It's very few of us who would dare to permanently modify a premium guitar (I am not one of them) and as I found much to my chagrin, a 56 gauge (at a stretch. 54 was fine) was about as much the saddle and tuning holes could accommodate in a standard PRS. This left me able to get to Drop C but anything lower was floppy city.
Not so with the Tremonti Baritone, where the nut slot, saddle and tuning pegs are luxuriously spaced to accomodate large strings making B Standard and Drop A as easy as the alphabet. If anything I found the stock strings too thick for B standard and swapped to a lighter set (more on that later)
The other specs are standard PRS Tremonti fare. Mahogany body, thick but not quite as thick as a Les Paul, Flame Maple top (Artist Grade), Rosewood fretboard and veneer with 22 frets. The birds deserve to be called out specially as they are Green Abalone, 'old' school birds with the material exclusive to the Artist pack (Standard core PRS birds are mother of pearl I think). The body is finished in PRS's high gloss 'dipped in glass looking' finish, which is very thin Poly and is highly durable based on past experience.
Full thickness Mahogany Body with slight belly contour
Stunning 'Artist grade' Flamed Maple Neck
Beautiful 'Artist Grade' Top with pronounced figuring and movement
PRS Adjustable Stoptail with Brass Saddles and Wrap-over design
Green Abalone Birds
My guitar was a special custom colour (Dark Cherry Sunburst) which really makes my guitar a sleeper guitar but the standard colours in the run were significantly more contemporary with Faded Whale Blue, Charcoal Contour Burst, Black Gold Wraparound Burst, Copperhead, Fire Red and the particularly alluring Jade.
The neck is the Tremonti profile, which is similar to the Pattern thin, which is PRS's thinnest profile but is not super skinny like an Ibanez Wizard. I liken it to a 60s Gibson neck, reminds me of the neck on my Tony Iommi Signature SG. I would say this neck would be comfortable for all guitarists other than those who swear their allegiance to the two extremes of neck sizes. It is very easy to play fluid lead lines (not that I am a fluid lead player) and you barely notice the constraint of the Singlecut shape. Also of note is that despite the fact that the neck is gloss finished, it never really gets sticky or uncomfortable. PRS gloss is fairly different feeling from Gibson gloss in my experience.
Of note also is the balance of the guitar even if you don't particularly fancy Singlecuts. The Tremonti feels very different from a Les Paul, much more ergonomic, better balanced (PRS is doing some wizardry in terms of matching wood weights all around) and generally gives an air of just screaming to be played. My guitar weighs in at less than 9 pounds, which is light for a full thickness singlecut, albeit with light contouring .
The Bridge is PRS's Adjustable Stoptail design which is a chunky piece of metal (nickel if I am not mistaken) with brass saddles where the strings touch in order to help the sustain. It also employs a unique wraparound stringing mechanism perhaps giving the best of both worlds of perfect tension and sustain (which wraparound bridges facilitate) with the ease of intonation.
On the headstock end of things, tuners are standard PRS Phase III locking units, which are probably the best units of the market and a pleasure to operate. You could teach a novice guitarist to restring in minutes with these things, so easy are these to operate and I have to believe they contribute to the sound as well. The tuners, bridge and all the screws are finished in the standard silver colour, barring the brass saddles and the beautiful gears at the back of the tuners which are finished in gold. The inlaid Paul Reed Smith logo on the rosewood veneer on the top of the headstock finishes the elegant look.
Electronics wise, the guitar has the standard Tremonti (or Les Paul) configuration of two humbuckers, 3 way switch and individual volumes and tones for each pickup. The key difference is the knob layout in a Tremonti which stacks the volume and tone of each pickup horizontally, instead of vertically like a Les Paul. The knobs themselves are a beautiful affair, looking and feeling as if they are made of glass, with perfect almost frictionless (in a good way) tactical feel. Depending on the colour of the guitar, one would get either fully clear or brown tinted knobs in core PRS's. In this guitar, they are brown tinted.
In the neck position we have the 58/15 humbucker instead of the Tremonti neck in regular Tremontis. The 58/15 is the standard output (DC resistance: 8.15K) version of the 58/15 LTs in the '59 Burst aping 594 model, so you can guess these are in perfect PAF territory. At the same time, the same pickup sans covers and now titled the 85/15 is used in the very contemporary Custom 24, and you can be assured the 58/15 can cover all the ground you need from a neck humbucker.
The bridge pickup is the Tremonti bridge and this is where things get ..er divisive. This is a monster of a high output pickup with a DC resistance of 15.04K, and an extremely sharp attack in upper mids and high end, no doubt being facilitated by being uncovered. I get the sense that this pickup was developed with pretty dark Mesa Boogie Dual Rectifiers and compensates for that amps inherent darkness. This has two consequences, it is much louder than the Neck Pickup, driving even clean amps to the edge of breakup. Also it lends itself well to downtuning, if you like how a Gibson Les Paul Custom would sound downtuned. This is not the most PRS sounding of pickups, more in hot Gibson territory and I believe that was observed by Fluff, of Youtube fame as well.
There is something else I can tell you about the Tremonti Bridge pickup thought not from this guitar, since it doesn't have coil-splits. The Tremonti bridge is coil-splittable and once you split it, it sounds like an angry Telecaster. I have this configuration in the Private Stock 594 Trem I configured and the bridge pickup is one reason that guitar is affentionately monicked 'the Mother of Dragons'. Approach it with caution :)
WHAT'S IN THE CASE The Tremonti Baritone, being an Artist pack, gets PRS's special Artist case, reserved for Artist packs, some Wood Library runs and the occasional Private stock. Instead of the standard leatherette finish, you get a soft touch almost velvety cloth cover with a beautiful paisley pattern. My wife and many of her friends, who almost never can tell the difference between guitars, were all immediately drawn to the PRS artist case, as one would be to a premium handbag or something of that nature. There is something beautiful about PRS Artist cases and they are bloody sturdy and heavy as well.
Beautiful Artist Pack Case with Paisley Design and Velvety Blue Interior
The rest of the case candy is as you would expect from a Core PRS. You have the neat plastic bag containing the hangtag(which serves as the certificate stating the guitar's details, the truss rod adjustment tool, keys for the case, the owner's manual as well as a bunch of marketing paraphernalia including PRS's own. One disappointment I did have, since I own many core PRS's is that the hangtag is no longer in the shapes of bird wings but a rather plain (though premium laminated cardboard)rectangular shape.
Hangtag with all the information you require
BUILD QUALITY, PLAYABILITY AND SOUNDS
This is becoming a cliche in my reviews but yes, the Tremonti like other core line PRS's is made flawlessly. I would comment on the perfect fretwork, the flawless paintjob (including the microscopically accurate line where the natural binding meets the paintwork) and wax lyrical about how 'dipped in glass' is not just a marketing line but a true descriptor to describe the gloss of the paintwork. You can actually tell how shiny the guitar is from the photos and the flame is highly three dimensional making this a stunning stage guitar. The electronic work and wiring in the back cavity is as neat and sorted as you would expect. More than these individual comments, it's how the sum of these parts come together when you sit down to play the guitar. You can't help to mutter a muffled wow under your breath.
When it comes to playability, this is the biggest surprise the Tremonti Baritone holds for non singlecut players. Many, those who would dismissed this as a Boomer's guitar, would be stunned at how efficiently ergonomic it feels and how your left's hand fingers accelerate just naturally when you start fiddling about. At the same time your right hand feels a wonderful tension which just beggs for palm muting to time signatures that would make Maynard James Keenan Dance.
The Tremonti Baritone or the Mark Holcomb
I'll repeat what I said in the video review. This guitar is a worthy alternative to the Core Mark Holcomb. It is a similar concept if slightly different in execution. Both are 25.5 inch, hard tails with contemporary bridge pickups and skinny necks. The Holcomb is more suited for lead playing perhaps with 24 frets and its super flat 20 inch fretboard radius while the Tremonti is more a riff machine and more conventional 10 inch fretboard radius. Looks are subjective but I would really urge non Singlecut players not to dismiss this guitar if they are looking for a metal hardtail PRS, as it really does not feel like a Singlecut. I will make a more detailed video and article with a proper comparison between the two at a later date.
Getting to the sounds, the neck pickup as described is perfect vintage Les Paul territory, if dialled in for just the right level of clarity to prevent muddiness, even at the low tunings this guitar can go to. There is none of the Gibson USA neck pickup muddiness here but you still get the sweet, woman-tone-esque sound with distortion.
The bridge is where the dragons let loose and you feel it the moment you switch the knob as the volume explodes. This drives even a clean Fender-esque amp into the point of breakup though to PRS's credit, the pickup is highly sensitive to touch and you can clean it up very easily with effective picking technique, without touching the volume knob. The pickup is most pleasing for me, at low to mid gain sounds, as it turbo-charges low to mid gain sounds to a beautiful saturation. For high gain, the pickup is very clear and does the job well, and seems well designed for both palm muting as well as lead work. It is as tight as you would want for high gain and cuts through a mix very well. To my ears though I prefer the Bare Knuckle Aftermath or Juggernaut pickups but that's just personal.
One critical note when it comes to the tightness and clarity of sounds is string gauge. As I mention in my video, the guitar came stock with 14-68s but the 68 just didn't sound right, even in B standard. The sound was too thick and not focussed enough, and a 68 honestly felt way too thick for a 25.5 inch scale. I swapped to the 12-62s and the problem was immediately solved. Keep this in mind while downtuning. I will write a whole different article on down-tuning in general at a different date.
To literally hear the guitar in action, you can refer to my Youtube video below.
The Tremonti Baritone is an interesting guitar and if I was to describe it in one word, it would be 'Sleeper'. This would be the guitar world's equivalent of a BMW M or Mercedes AMG, which looks relatively harmless but packs a punch under the hood.
It also fills a vacancy in the PRS line-up which many are shouting for but are hardly aware that this guitar is out there, i.e. of a hardtail 25.5 inch guitar with a hot bridge pickup.
In my opinion, this guitar could live in Standard tuning or in B Standard and do equally well in either application. The gorgeous flame neck (a cosmetic thing I know) is worth the price of entry alone and for those fans of pointy guitars, this could be the one traditional guitar in your lineup which is not actually traditional at all.
Pick up one before the smart money gets savvy to this guitar and save a fair few bucks over the Holcomb. But do budget a pickup change because I do sense that not everyone will gel with the bridge pickup.