The ultimate PRS for progressive metal lives up to the hype. Make sure to grab one while you can
VALUE (est. 2021): $4.5-5.5K
FOR: The PRS package perfectly adapted for progressive metal with choice specs, Stunning Quilt top which is now a premium option
AGAINST: Pickups will not be to all tastes, finding one in good shape is getting tough
ALSO CONSIDER: Mayones Regius 6, 'regular' PRS Custom 24
In the past few years, there has been a guitar which has been a run-away success for PRS reaching players they normally would not have. No, it is not only the vintage inspired 594, the choice of those who worship at the alter of Beano and think that hip hop is the work of the devil. Instead a little old SE (Student Edition in PRS speak. Far east model in US consumer speak) has been raking in the volumes for PRS.
The PRS SE Mark Holcomb is an outstanding guitar for the money , well specced and with big boy' Seymour Duncan' pickups. It's sprouted a slew of variants with a seven string and multiple variants and has reached more aspiring teens and tweens whose right hand cannot strum above the low E than PRS could ever have imagined. But much like Luke Skywater, these PRS SE Holcomb has a father and this is it. The full fat PRS USA Mark Holcomb Custom 24.
MODEL HISTORY AND SPECS
In 2015, PRS announced a limited run that had the metal world holding their breath, a core Made in USA Mark Holcomb signature model that would be available to order for three months only. PRS was not new to the metal world, literally being the backbone of 'nu-metal' in the 90s and having Tremonti on their roster. At the same time it was not also the default choice for technical players who were pushing the metal boundaries forward. All this would change however as Mark Holcomb, one of the three guitarists of modern progressive giants Periphery was about as legit a technical or metal player as any.
The PRS Custom 24 is a well rounded guitar that works across genres and it is no surprise that Mark Holcomb gravitated towards one. However as he shared in one of his interviews, it was almost the perfect guitar for him but not quite. To make it his axe of choice, there were subtle changes he wanted, which he incorporated into the ultimate 2015 limited run.
1) 25.5 inch scale length: Standard PRS spec is 25inches perfectly straddling the Les Paul and Strat worlds, but the extra half inch is critical for better tension, particularly since Periphery typically downtunes to drop C. This spec is also one of the reasons for the allure of the Holcomb since the scale length of a set neck guitar is fixed at manufacturing and cannot be modded.
2) 20 inch fretboard radius: PRS's fretboard radius at 10 inches again straddle Fender (9.5) and Gibson (12 inch). Mark specified a much flatter 20 inch radius, which makes bending easier but does take getting used particularly for chording work
3) 'Through body' Hardtail Bridge: The Custom 24 is famous for having one of the most impressive tremolo systems out there but hard tails are arguably better suited for riffage and definitely for ease of switching through multiple tunings on the fly. PRS does make a stoptail bridge of a completely different design and they made a more 'metal' friendly bridge specifically for the Holcomb model.
PRS Adjustable Stoptail Bridge
PRS Holcomb Bridge
I point out these three specs as these are not easily retrofittable on any PRS and are part of the Holcomb's appeal. But Mark's special touches did not end there. He also specified an ebony fretboard as is di-rigueur for metal as well as a Quilt maple top in an unusual black reddish purple burst colour that has since become known as Holcomb burst. Some call it Bruise burst or even Brisket burst. I can see the resemblance.
The back of the guitar is a bit less flashy than the front finished in a flat black across both the body and the neck.
Also of note is that the Holcomb has a satin finish instead of the gloss 'dipped in glass' finish that is a PRS trademark. It's a very metal choice by Mr. Holcomb and if you like gloss finishes and the three dimensional 'chatoyance' you see on shiny flamed maple tops, be warned the satin finish is not best suited to enhance that effect.
The neck is PRS's Pattern thin profile which is indeed the thinnest in their line-up but not skinny enough to have you dreaming of Wizards of the Ibanez variety. The specs of the Pattern thin neck are as follows
Width at the nut: 1 11/16'
Width at the body: 2 1/4'
Neck depth at the nut: 26/32'
Just to illustrate the difference, the 59' esque Pattern neck has 28/32' neck depth at the nut, so it isn't a world apart from the pattern thin. Let's just say that it's thin enough that shredders will love it and thick enough that the vintage crowd will adapt.
. The body is made of light weight mahogany and weighs in well under 8 pounds. I was shocked when I picked it up after my 594 singlecut which now feels like a log of firewood in comparison. The back looks different from all PRS's I have seen thanks to the string bevels due to the through body fixed bridge though the brushed plastic material of the electronics cover is as per normal.
The neck is made of maple, not unusual for PRS's but not regular either as normally they come with mahogany. The guitar is of course a set-neck as is standard for the Custom 24 and in Custom 24 fashion, had a head-stock veneer in the same wood as the fretboard, ebony in this case. The ebony fretboard is made of a particularly dark variety and there is no brownish streaking as one sees on most non custom shop ebony these days.
Since this is a PRS, we have to talk about the birds. The Holcomb comes with outline birds (J birds without centres), a special choice usually seen in Private Stock, PRS's upper echelon, which are made of green abalone, another premium choice. Mark certainly went all out on this one. Another minor but nice touch are the ebony tuner buttons, another choice more usual on Private Stock.
The tuners are standard PRS core issue Phase III locking tuners. The open gear is PRS's own design and beyond working as well as one would hope, give a very craftsman like look to the guitar. Hipsters would approve. Another Holcomb touch is the glow in the dark fret-dots.
On the electronics end of things, the Holcomb follows the standard Custom 24 layout of two humbuckers with a master volume, tone and a 5 way blade. However the humbuckers are Mark's signature model the Alpha and the Omega, developed together with Seymour Duncan. I have a lot to say about these pickups and we'll cover that in the sounds section. One interesting spec choice was that the standard PRS lampshade knobs (which I love ) were swapped for Hipshot 'O-Ring' knurly knobs, a personal preference for Mark.
WHAT'S IN THE CASE?
The Holcombs comes with PRS USA's standard issue Black leatherette case. It's a sturdy design with solid feeling latches and from experience of owning many of these, I have no complaints. It houses the guitar snuggly and has plenty of place for storage. My particular case had a few tiny scratches but since I bough the guitar used, it wasn't entirely unexpected. I'm glad that the guitar was practically flawless.
Though this is a limited run model, case candy is as per other PRS USA models, including the Bird hangtag with the specs. PRS's standard practice is also to include the truss rod wrench, the key for the case as well as the manual, warranty and marketing paraphernalia.
BUILD QUALITY, PLAYABILITY AND SOUNDS
Like all core PRS USA's, the Holcomb is built like a rock. PRS's exemplary build quality is one of the reasons I have become a convert over the past 5 years and the Holcomb is no exception. Whether it be the perfectly formed nut, frets that look and feel space age or even how perfectly balanced the guitar's body is. That is the difference between a builder who knows their shit and one which doesn't.
I was initially very concerned about the pattern thin neck and the 20inch fretboard radius, since I am about as much of dyed in the wool Les Paul player as they come (I played Les Pauls exclusively for 10 years, mostly the Epiphone and then shortly a Gibson and primarily played a 594 since). However my fears were unfounded as the Holcomb fell easily into hand and I got used to the radius without much issue. I will point out that I also play seven string guitar and my main axe is a Mayones Regius 7 with flat fretboard so that may explain my adaptability. However you should still take away that the Holcomb is a breeze to play.
Sounds is where the Holcomb was a mixed bag, atleast for me. Firstly the guitar by itself is extremely resonant in the way high end PRS's are, showing tremendous acoustic sustain (no doubt helped by the hard tail) even before getting plugged in. However I found the Alpha Omega pickups suitable for purpose but not perfectly to my taste when it came to chugging.. Mark Holcomb's description of the pickups is that they are punchy and clear and he's right. However my ear prefers a tad bit more presence and in my comparison with the Juggernauts in my Youtube video, you will see exactly what I mean.
That said, the cleans are beautiful and the pickups split extremely well and can do ambient hauntings for days. Even in humbucker mode, the neck pickup never gets muddy and both pickups are not very high output in feel (though specs wise, they are listed at 8 and 13K which is reasonably high) which makes them extremely versatile for a lot of genres of music, not just progressive djent. However the snarl that Mark describes, is not snarly enough atleast for my ear. That's why we have different strokes for different folks. I also ran it primarily through the Archon emulation on my helix, perhaps not the most present of amplifiers and perhaps with the bit of tweaking it will give me the chug tone I want.
You can check out the entire spectrum of switch positions and sounds in my Youtube video below. In a nutshell, the guitar has 5 main sounds toggled through the 5 way Blade, exactly the same as a standard Custom 24
Position 1: Bridge Humbucker (the metal position)
Position 2: Bridge Humbucker + Neck Single Coil in Parallel (for those about to funk)
Position 3: Bridge Humbucker + Neck Humbucker in series (for the Slash wannabes)
Position 4: Neck single coil+ Bridge single coil in Parallel (near but not quite Mayer)
Position 5: Neck Humbucker (If you ever played blues on this thing)
My taste in pick-ups apart, I struggle to find anything but praise for the PRS USA Holcomb. The big daddy of the tens of thousands of SEs now roaming the earth is truly worthy of the hype. My main take-away is that PRS has made the perfect metal guitar (unless you have very specific tastes) by bringing their core DNA into a guitar with specs most metal players desire. There are guitars you pick up and instantly know it will be amazing even before you have as much as played a note and the Holcomb was one of those rare ones for me.
There is another aspect which I talk about a little more in my Youtube video but will touch for a bit here. The core USA Holcombs were made in extremely small quantities ( I have heard the number 60 or a 100 but I cannot remember where) and due to the uniqueness of their specs and Periphery's growing fan base, are steadily appreciating in value. Adding to the fact that these weren't exactly collectors items, a few of them were well used as guitars should be , so finding one in close to new nick is getting harder and harder. The nail in the rareness coffin is the quilt maple top, which has now become a Private Stock only option for PRS and an upcharge at that.
Sometimes you judge a guitar, even a great one like the Holcomb, with more than just guitaring considerations and this is certainly one of these situations. Given the speed at which values are rising (though they are still decent money, not very far away from their original new price, unlike the Tom DeLonges (face palm)), I classify this guitar, assuming the specs appeal to you, as a must-buy. If the specs don't appeal to you and you bought and sold the Purple Nebula and then the Lunar Ice, please stay the hell away.
So there you have it folks. The perfect Metal guitar and one that may even earn you a tidy sum for your retirement account. What else could you ask for?