By Emile Menasché
That might sound like an odd statement about a guitar as beautiful as the SE A40E Angelus, especially from a brand with genuine PRS Guitars, but it took me about a week to realize that my generally favorable first impression of this Chinese-made electro-acoustic was actually giving it a bit of a hard time. Probably more than any instrument I’ve tested in years, the SE A40E gradually revealed its true potential.
Then again, if you’ve been around long enough to remember when PRS became a big new electric guitar maker, you might remember how the company broke into the mainstream. Instead of jumping on the metal-inspired Super Strat bandwagon or simply imitating more traditional brands, the Maryland-based company reimagined and refined long-held ideas in new ways that solved practical problems for working players. Many of these improvements were not obvious to the naked eye; from the pickup wiring and shifting to the ladder length and hardware, PRS was like a hot rodder that kept his car’s true power hidden under the hood—more Sunbeam Tiger than Shelby Cobra.
In this way, the SE A40E Angelus is very PRS. It does not imitate any classic style, but it does not try to attract attention either. Yet, from the neck profile to the bracing and even the visual aesthetic, it’s clear that its design and execution has gone into a lot of thought and skill.
Rock solid construction
Built to PRS’ Angelus single cutaway body specifications, the SE A40E features a solid Sitka spruce top with ovangkol for the back and sides. The rounded shoulders of the mid-rise Angelus flow organically into the cut to create a cohesive, organic silhouette through the front and back. The top is available in two glossy finishes: natural or with the attractive Tobacco Sunburst of our test model. Binding – a combination of tiger acrylic (think faux tortoiseshell) and cream – ties the visual together.
The flowing lines have the slimming effect of well-trimmed threads. At first glance, I thought the Angelus was smaller and shallower than it actually is. Body depth tapers from 3-19/32 inches at the neck to 4-3/8 inches at the tail. The traditional-style ebony bridge uses traditional pins to hold the strings, which rest on a compensated bone saddle.
The top of the SE AE40E features PRS’s hybrid X/classic bracing. According to the company, this design uses a traditional X at the rosette “with a classic fan bracing the belly.” The goal is to let the top vibrate more freely for better sonic projection and a warmer tone.
The mahogany neck is topped with a 20-fret ebony fingerboard with a 25.3-inch scale and joins the body at the 14th fret. The bent headstock carries the PRS shape and PRS designed closed gear tuning machines. While the headstock’s logo inlay and cream neck binding add elegance, the visual highlight has to be the neck’s bird inlay pattern, which creates the impression of flight.
It may just be luck of the draw, but many of the cutaway acoustics I’ve tested recently have opted for a more electric neck profile, i.e. thin and sometimes angular. Not here. The SE A40E’s neck is big and deep, which I personally like, even on electrics. Fingerboard width is 1-11/16 inches at the bone nut and 2-9/23 at the body. But with a fingerboard radius of just under 12 inches, the neck doesn’t require you to stretch for chords and is comfortable enough for open and barre chords.
One of the myths about big necks is that they are harder to play. But when done right, they can actually be easier because they provide more support for your hand. And while neck dimensions are only one factor in a guitar’s overall sound, thicker necks are said to add resonance and improve sustain.
Without the benefit of a post-finish setup, the action was just on the high side of the low. I was happy enough not to try the truss rod (accessible near the headstock). The intonation was exceptional, as was the stability of the chord. This guitar tunes and stays tuned.
Overall, the A40E was really impressive. As far as the lower cost import lines go, PRS’s SE brand has always been a bit different in that it has its own identity, instead of just serving as a platform for the entry versions. range of instruments made in the United States. The guitar I tested was a good example. Every detail, line, joint, fret end and nut edge was correct.
Impressions—Second and Beyond
I’m not sure other guitar testers would agree, but I always find it interesting to look at an instrument’s stats and measurements. after I played there for a while. Usually there is no big reveal. But in this case, seeing the neck width and radius numbers mentioned above gave me a bit of an ah-ha moment.
As mentioned above, it’s been a while since I’ve tested a big acoustic neck, and I’ve described the sleeker necks as more electric. But some readers may have already found that radius (less than 12 inches) is more common on electric guitars than on acoustics (usually 14-16 inches). So you could say that the acoustics of an electric guitar company do indeed borrow from their louder siblings, but in a different way.
With its relatively wide string spacing and the subtle help offered by a rounder radius, I found the PRS to be particularly forgiving on arpeggiated first-position chords. I tested the SE A40E while finishing a soundtrack project, and one of the themes was built on a six-string arpeggio based on the C/G shape. It’s a pretty simple part, but when you need every note to ring out for a recording, you don’t want your fingers crammed together. Frankly, I have a hard time with this sort of thing.
Without wondering why at the time, I found the part fairly easy to perform on the PRS. The same goes for arpeggios with fingers encircling open drone strings. It’s a subtle thing and can be very particular to both the role and my weaknesses as a player, but it’s a good illustration of how small design choices can make a big difference when trying to to do work.
If it was easy to make solid contact on arpeggios, so are strummed chords, whether open or barred. Hit with a flatpick, you can really hear the size of the SE A40E doing its thing. It can be overwhelming, but if it never gets awkward.
I also had the opportunity to record flatpicking tracks for the same project. Here I found the feel a bit stiffer than I would prefer for really fast runs, even with the .012–.053 strings, but chord tricks and turns were easy to pull off. The sustain and clarity really stood out on slower, more expressive passages.
A surprising sound
The tone of the SE AE40 is controlled and balanced; punchy (bass), woody (mids) and clear (treble). He can get quite loud and would certainly be at home in a modern rock or country band. But you don’t need to hit hard to reach across the room. It was the quality that kept surprising me.
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When I first heard the guitar – and disregarding its relatively low street price of $799 – I found it to be a bit light on the secondary harmonics which gives a really great flat sound, it’s a magical three-dimensional sound.
But the more I played and recorded with the SE A40E, the more I discovered the complexity, especially when playing quietly. Does it hum like angels accompanied by a Stradivarius orchestra? No. But the sustain has a nice decay that feels best when playing with a softer attack. He also lets the individual strings do the talking. A test I like to do is to play a harmonic on the high E string while bending a note on the B string. The two notes should hold each other clearly and ring true when the bend reaches the pitch. The PRS nailed it.
Is the PRS SE A40E Angelus a thoroughbred-looking workhorse? Or is it a sleeper who overdelivers for an $800 import? After spending a few weeks with it (and ditching the mixed metaphor before it jumped in my face), I’d say both, and more. I don’t know if the guitar opens up after being played so much or if I just notice more of its tonal qualities, but I continue to find more dimension to the tone over time. The more dynamically I play, the more these elements come to the fore. Combine that tone with a very playable neck, rock-solid tuning, cutaway, smooth finish, and decent electronics, then add a hard case and a reasonable price, and you have a very easy-to-use gig/recording guitar. live. with.
BODY PRS Angelus single cutaway size; solid sitka spruce top with hybrid X/classic bracing; laminated ovangkol back and sides; ebony bridge; cream binding; tiger acrylic net; Gloss finish Sunburst Natural or Tobacco
NECK 25.3-inch scale mahogany neck with adjustable truss rod; 20 frets; ebony fingerboard with 11.81″ radius; bird inlays; 1-11/16″ bone nut; Mechanics designed by PRS
OTHER PRS classic 80/20 strings (.012–.053); PRS Voiced Fishman GT1 Electronics; hard case
MADE IN China
THE PRICE $799 street