PRS Silver Sky - A Touring Musician's Review
Updated: Mar 17, 2020
I recently had the pleasure of taking the PRS Silver Sky, a bold collaboration between Paul Reed Smith and John Mayer, on tour with me for a month across Western Canada. I played this guitar in rooms with great sound and awful sound, and put in enough hours on it to confidently give my opinion. I will say as a disclaimer before I begin, that I am not going to talk much about the specifications of the guitar. There are endless amounts of reviews online that talk about the scale length and the neck radius and the type of coating used on the finish. As important as these things are, they don’t really come to mind when I pick up the guitar to play a show each night, and so my focus will be more on the look, feel and sound of the guitar as opposed to all of its specificities.
Those of you who know me know that I am a massive fan of John Mayer. I love that he has made guitar so much more accessible and "cool" in an industry now dominated by 808's and heavy production. As most typical millennial guitar players, I was inspired by Mayer to pick up the guitar and seriously learn it. I am also a proud owner of his Fender Signature Strat, which has been my main guitar for the past 7 years. In all of my time growing as a guitarist, I had never heard or played a guitar that I liked more than his Fender Signature. I have played vintage guitars in boutique shops that came with a higher price tag than my house, and yet the Mayer Fender Strat always sounded better in my opinion.
When I had originally heard of Mayer's collaboration with PRS, I was hesitant to jump on board. I was aware of his previous Super Eagle models as well as his J-MOD amp, and though both of those were far outside of my price range, these collaborations still made sense to me considering his work with Dead & Co. When the Silver Sky was announced, it felt almost like a bad joke. It almost felt as though Mayer was bitter about his falling out with Fender, and decided to take their signature body shape and create a clone as a shot against them. Because of this, I initially had no interest in this guitar, and I watched the mocking comments flood in like I was that gif of Michael Jackson eating popcorn.
It took almost a year for the first of the Silver Sky's to arrive in my city and so by the time they came, the chatter around it had mostly died down. Because of a solid relationship with my local guitar dealer, I was able to loan one of the first Silver Sky's they brought in a couple days before they put it on the floor. I will admit that I did not like it at first. The neck shape took some getting used to, and the sound wasn't unlike anything I had previously heard. It wasn't until a year later where I tried one again with fresh ears and less influenced with the negative bias that I completely fell in love with it. I truly cannot tell you what changed, but I will tell you what I like.
I have to admit, when I first saw a Strat body shape donned with a modified PRS headstock, I was confused. As I said before, it felt like Mayer was taking a shot at Fender, which I found oddly amusing, but “amusing” doesn’t sell a guitar. I’ve been playing my Silver Sky every single day for a month straight on tour both in hotel rooms and on stage and what I can say is that the headstock has grown on me. The whole piece comes together quite nicely and though I would probably feel much more accustomed to seeing the beloved Fender headstock at the end of the guitar, the PRS headstock certainly makes a statement and stands out as one of the guitars most distinct physical features. I find it more than slightly irritating that the legions of guitar forum warriors took so negatively to the idea of a “PRS Strat” when countless other guitar manufacturers have essentially done exactly the same thing. You truly do not have to look hard to find the Strat body shape being used by other guitar makers such as Suhr for example, and nobody has ever had a thing to say about that. It seems unfair to single out PRS just because of the fact that Mayer was predominantly a Fender player in previous years.
Controversy aside however, the rest of the guitar is a thing of beauty. The Frost finish is a creamy, bright white, which is slightly less white than the pickguard. The sparkle finish added to the scoop in the bottom horn is a random touch, but I love it, and it adds to the uniqueness of this instrument. The fretboard is absolutely stunning, as it is decorated with the signature PRS birds in flight inlays, which were reduced in size to accommodate the shorter fret distance. I had many people come up to me after my performances to comment on the fretboard specifically.
The tuning pegs were something that I didn't think I would like initially, as they seemed to be made of a cheap plastic material, but after using them, I actually prefer them now over their metallic alternatives. I hate having fingerprints on my belongings. On my laptop screen, on my phone, and on my previously metallic tuning pegs. It’s a weird OCD thing I’m sure, but this issue was eliminated with the Silver Sky’s choice of tuning peg. I will add, that these pegs do not feel cheaply constructed at all. They are sturdy and solid and I have no fear of them breaking or falling off.
This was what initially had turned me off of the Silver Sky the first time I had ever picked one up. The neck shape definitely took some getting used to, and the first time I played this guitar, it was easily one of my biggest deterrents to wanting to keep playing it. I was told by several people that they too initially disliked the neck shape, but after playing it enough times, grew to love it. I can certainly say that throughout the past month, the same could be said for myself. The neck that I once disliked has now become one that I am incredibly comfortable with. I found that this neck was quite like buying a new pair of skates, or a new baseball glove: you have to break it in. Once you break it in, you won’t want to stop using it.
Another feature I love is the shorter fret distance. I have pretty slender fingers and so my fretting accuracy has definitely improved since using this guitar. I can’t say that it would be as easy to play for somebody with thicker fingers, but I personally find the fret distance to be a welcomed trait. The pickup selector is also constructed very well in my opinion. It is solid enough to withstand an accidental bump that might normally cause you to switch positions without meaning to, and for people like myself who play more aggressively, this definitely comes in handy. One final thing about the feel of this guitar that I love is the weight. I traded a PRS McCarty 594 in for this guitar and the first thing I noticed was the decrease in weight on my shoulder. This guitar is extremely light, but in no way does this mean that it feels cheap. It is much less taxing on my shoulder to sling this guitar around for a multiple hour set than it was to play the McCarty, and being someone who suffers from chronically sore shoulder muscles, this was a treat to say the least.
Okay now for the real reason you’re here.
When I initially played the Silver Sky, I found the sound to be very “transparent”. For those of you who are unfamiliar with what “transparent” means in the context of guitar, it is generally applied to overdrive pedals which serve only to boost the natural sound of your guitar and your amp. These pedals have little to no unique characteristic or sound within themselves, and they serve only to boost your pre-existing sound. When I say that the Silver Sky sounds transparent, what I mean is that I found it to lack “character”. It just sounded like a great Strat, but it had nothing overly unique about its voice that I found to stand out. My Fender Signature Strat certainly has a unique “scooped” voice to it that instantly lends itself well to blues style playing. When hearing the two guitars side by side, you can definitely hear the difference. It’s not that the Silver Sky sounds worse, it’s just that it sounded less unique.
Fast forward to now, where I’ve been playing this guitar every night in the context of a band, and I can say that this “transparency” is actually very convenient. The transparent nature of this guitar makes it a lot more predictable in a live setting, which for a gigging musician, makes sound checking significantly easier. I can essentially set my amp and pedals to one setting and be confident that no matter what room I play in, the tone will be in the ballpark of where it needs to be. Instead of having to tweak all my settings each night to compensate for how the room handles my guitar, the Silver Sky manages to stay consistent regardless of the room I play in. This has allowed me to save a lot of time and hassle during sound checks when we don’t have as much time as we would like.
My favourite part about this guitar’s sound hands down is the versatility of the pickup positions, and the tone shaping ability of the tone knobs. Each pickup possesses a unique voice that is completely usable. You may think this would be obvious, but quite frankly, I would say it’s far from obvious. I have played many Stratocasters (my Fender Signature included) that seem to limit you to only a few of the pickup positions. It has always seemed like you get to a point (mostly toward the bridge end of things) where the sound is just too “honky”, and ultimately unusable. I did not have this issue with the Silver Sky at all. Position 1 (neck pickup) gives you that classic warm tone that Strat’s are coveted for. This pickup sounds great for rhythm playing and for darker, less cutting solos. Position 2 gives you that signature “Slow Dancing in a Burning Room” tone, which packs a different flavour for a more unique solo. The middle pickup was obviously a bit brighter, but great for cutting through more bass-heavy songs in the set. The 4th and 5th positions, being the most "bright" of the 5, packed a sound that I was not expecting. The 5th position gave a very BB King-esque tone that was incredible for a slow blues tune. This pickup wasn't too harsh, and could easily be mellowed further by the tone knob.
Now onto the tone knobs themselves. I have never in my entire life utilized a tone knob on any guitar as much as I have on the Silver Sky. On every other guitar I have ever played, I have found the tone knobs to essentially have two settings: very dark, or very bright. On the Silver Sky, the tone knob gives you a plethora of sounds in between the two. Sure, you can go very dark, or very bright, but you can also hit a wide range of tones in between the two, which makes the guitar incredibly versatile. I get so much more mileage out of each pickup, and I find myself using pickup positions that I had never used on a guitar before.
I'll admit once again, I was a skeptic about the Silver Sky from the second it was released. I found it hard to believe that John Mayer worked for a couple years on a guitar that seemed to resemble, well.. a Strat. After playing this guitar for a month straight however, I am completely convinced of all the hard work that went into creating what in many ways is a "Super-Strat". This guitar combines everything I adore about the Stratocaster into a fresh, updated aesthetic that has grown on me significantly in the past few weeks. The fit and finish are impeccable, and the sound has made live shows a dream. Even after several hours of driving to a gig that I was frankly too tired to perform at, this guitar gave me a renewed excitement each night to get up on that stage and perform my heart out.
My literal only complaint is that for a guitar that will run you about three thousand dollars, I find it more than a little unfortunate that it only comes with a gig bag.
The Look: 10/10
The Feel: 9/10
The Sound: 10/10
The PRS Silver Sky is by far one of the best instruments I have played, and though it took some warming up to, I could not picture a show without it.