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Paul Reed Smith Santana - PRS Guitar Review

Updated on December 2, 2010

Instantly recognizable, historic, and crafted with the oversight of one of the worlds greatest players, the  Paul Reed Smith Santana guitar series  takes a rightful place among the elite guitars in the world.  There have been several Santana lines introduced from PRS, and this article is intended to provide some background on each.

Carlos jamming on the iconic Santana I
Carlos jamming on the iconic Santana I | Source

History behind the Santana Guitars

Before Paul Reed Smith was the global brand it is today, Paul Reed Smith the person actually handmade high end guitars for some of the world’s renowned players. Guitarists like Peter Frampton and Ted Nugent were two of the ones initially approached by Smith, whose guitars offered a break from the widely used Fender and Gibson axes. These guitarists remarked that the guitars were most notable for their enduring sustain and incredibly bold design.

You can see these distinctive elements in the modern PRS guitars, but imagine what a treat these initial players experienced when they cranked it up for the first time on a hand made custom.

Speaking of which, when he first met Paul, Santana supposedly borrowed one of his custom guitars for a gig he was playing. Afterwards, naturally Carlos asked Paul if he would construct one for his own. Thus the relationship was born, and the two have issued many lines of what are now classic PRS Santana guitars.

The Original: Santana I

Introduced in the mid 1990s, the original Santana guitar offered to the public was released to the market as a way to boost the visibility and acclaim of the PRS brand. It was a limited release, coming only in one color tone – the signature Santana yellow.

Carlos Santana directly collaborated on the line, and you can see many of his playing requirements shaping its construction.  The Santana I has 24 frets that gives the player a full four octaves without needing to bend a single string.  We can all recall epic solos from Carlos that ring out the high tones, and one thing they strove for was that the PRS Santana I would make you sound nearly identical in your playing. (Well, maybe not completely)

With a maple top and mahogany body, the Santana I delivers superior performance and playability derived from the quality wood components.  The guitar is hand built to perfection, and PRS takes every precaution to assure you will be happy with your guitar for years.

Overall the Santana I series is a little harder to find these days, and you can expect to pay in the bare at least 3,000 USD.  In my opinion the guitar is well worth the price, and it really is a prized item if you’re a collector / aficionado.

A bold step foreward: The Santana II and Santana III

Because Paul Reed Smith as a company was perhaps not as well known In the 90s as today, many people had never heard of the Santana I guitar. When the Santana II was introduced in 2000, new customers to PRS discovered a new gem that really captured their attention.

The Santana II is in many ways my first guitar love.  I can remember plugging one into a Mesa 100W head at the local Guitar Center years ago and just going to tone heaven.  It was THAT incredible. The guitar continued on the quality of the Santana I, and only increased its appeal and reach.

In terms of specs, you have a maple top with a selection of over 20 color tones to choose from.  The fretboard is rosewood and the body of the guitar is mahogany, all PRS standards for the most part. You can get the vintage Santana tone through this guitar of course, but you will also find that it is very flexible. The humbuckers deliver that classic PRS sound, which can take your playing in a lot of directions.

A mid-priced Santana for the moderate consumer

With the popular success of the Santana I and II, Paul Reed Smith decided to introduce a mid priced Santana model stripped back of some of the previous version premium features.  Thus the Santana SE was born, and I must say PRS did an incredible job of balancing quality features with affordable pricing.

The Santana SE models are usually somewhere between $400 and $600 USD.  This is about a quarter of what you would pay for the premium Santana models. The body of the guitar is still mahogany, but the finish does not really compare with the bright maple of the other Santana’s.  The SE utilizes the PRS SE pickups, and the tone is comparable but not quite the “pop” you get with the high end humbuckers.

Overall the Santana SE is a great intermediate guitar, and a logical choice for a backup road guitar. If you’re looking to get a beginner something better than average, then the SE is a great choice as well.

25th Anniversary and Special Edition Santana Guitars

PRS has released some special edition Santana guitars as well.  The 25th anniversary looks amazing from the specs on the official PRS website, but I have not tried one yet.  Obviously one can assume that any Special Edition PRS is an incredibly amazing guitar.

Where to buy?

The best place to find deals these days is online, so if price is of importance to you then definitely take a look at the main instrument sites out there as a starting point.  Musicians Friend and Guitar Center have massive online shops that you can browse with ease.  Your best bet is keeping tabs on the Santana of choice and trying to spot a specific deal or sale that matches your price point.  You can even find sales of up to 70-80% off online!!

Ebay and Craigslist are other options, but I would advise proceeding with caution.  There is an inherent risk to buying an instrument online used, as you never know exactly what you are getting.  Each case will be unique, and my experience has been 50/50 in terms of finding quality sellers.  If you are in doubt, always consult a friend or guitar tech and have them look over the specs of the listing.

In conclusion, I leave you with some inspiration from none other than the master himself:


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    • dommcg profile image


      6 years ago

      I'm a huge Santana fan, thanks for the hub.

    • DrumsAcousticMuse profile image

      Jesse Broman 

      8 years ago from Los Angeles

      Although i'm a much bigger fan of early Santana stuff ("Black Magic Woman", etc.) he's definitely adapted to the changing music scene with his playing- which is something that can't be said of most classic guitarists


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