PRS S2 Vela Satin review – is this more than just an iterative upgrade for PRS’s offset?

PRS S2 Vela Satin review – is this more than just an iterative upgrade for PRS’s offset?

When it was launched back in 2015, the Vela was a unique proposition in the PRS family. For starters, it was the first all-original design in the more affordable US-made S2 line, but more importantly, it was the brand’s first-ever offset guitar. It was enough to make this very publication ask the simple question: is this the coolest PRS ever?

READ MORE: PRS SE CE 24 Standard Satin review – is this the best value electric guitar in the world right now?

Nine years later, the Vela has overcome the reservations that many offset guitar purists (myself included!) had about whether PRS really ‘got the whole offset thing’. In fact, the Vela has become an important entry point for many Jazzmaster and Jaguar aficionados who are a little PRS-curious, offering a unique blend of what we like with what PRS does best.
Fast-forward to 2024, and PRS has overhauled the S2 line, seemingly setting out to counter many of the criticisms that guitar players have had about the stripped-back nature of the range making them more ‘USA SE’ guitars than proper PRS instruments.
Part of this is because the line between the SE and S2 guitars is increasingly blurry, thanks primarily to the impressive level of craftsmanship and materials offered by PRS’s offshore instruments in recent years – just check out the SE CE24 Standard Satin I reviewed a few months back to get more on that.
The other part is of course, Paul Reed Smith’s relentless quest to improve and enhance and evolve his instruments to be the very best version of themselves – can the tweaks and refinements to the Vela’s formula make this an offset essential? Let’s find out…
PRS S2 Vela Satin headstock. Image: Jason Mays
What’s different about the 2024 PRS S2 Vela Satin?
There’s no doubt that the S2 range as a whole has been due a shake-up for a while now, and like the rest of the range, the Vela has received a brand new set of pickups that bring these guitars closer to what we’d expect from the Core PRS range.
So while the original Vela shipped with the then-unique Type-D pickup in the neck and the same PRS-Designed DS-01 bridge pickup found in the SE Starla, the 2024 edition does away with both of those for the PRS Narrowfield in the neck and a true PRS DS-01 in the bridge.
Otherwise, well it’s a case of ‘if it ain’t broke’… aesthetically the Vela retains the same body shape and asymmetrical bevel top as the original, you also get the same low-mass locking tuners, Pattern-regular neck shape, same control layout and same Plate-style bridge.
One difference with the guitar we reviewed back in 2016 is the finish – the satin nitro option didn’t come along until a year or two into the Vela’s life, and it adds a wonderfully tactile and organic feel to the instrument. One small but notable cosmetic change can be found on the fingerboard – the dot-moon inlays have been swapped for the standard PRS birds.

Does the 2024 S2 Vela Satin’s new pickups change the sound?
For the uninitiated, the Narrowfield pickups are arguably some of the best pickups that PRS makes. Sonically, the Narrowfield manages to straddle the line of being a forward-thinking design but with a very responsive vintage style and bite that sits somewhere between a P-90 with the jangle of a single coil.
Needless to say, I had very high expectations for the neck position going into this, and I am happy to report that, per the high standards of PRS, I was not disappointed. Plugging into my trusty Matchless Nighthawk 15 combo, I was not prepared for the immediate tonal difference these new pickups made when compared to the previous models.
While the previous Type-D pickup had a nice DeArmond Dynasonic meets Tele-style twang, the Narrowfield is a totally different animal that retains its indie-style single-coil identity but is far more versatile than its predecessor.
Clean, the neck position’s defined low end is beautifully clear, articulate, and never muddy – it’s crying out for some skyscraper reverb. It’s not just clean either – the neck position is truly rewarding when properly paired with a good drive pedal. It pushed the 1981 LVL to its absolute limit and I never once thought this position came across as too muddy or harsh.
PRS S2 Vela Satin pickups. Image: Jason Mays
The DS-01 in the bridge position yields a more bell-like chime that you could describe as Paul Reed Smith’s take on Seth Lover’s Wide Range humbucker. Unlike the previous Starla-derived SE version, the USA model DS-01 isn’t at all sterile. If you’re used to a Jazzmaster’s bridge pickup, be prepared to be taken to school – this is what a bridge pickup is supposed to sound like, from shoegazey leads to taut power chords it laps it all up.
What’s more, using the coil split in this position yields even more single-coil chime. Candidly, I find this a little too thin for my specific offset-y tastes, but if you’re after a more Nashville-style twang and pluck, it’s very usable.
The in-between position often gets ignored by players, but the Vela’s blend of the two pickups is arguably the best one here. Its subtle mix of both the highs and lows of both pickups, without compromising the intrinsic characteristics of both pickups, never comes off as dull and I find myself spending the most time here.
Again, paired with drive, this is a position that can do it all and easily so. Even better is when this position is split, which I found favoured a more Danelectro meets Tele-single coil type jangle.
PRS S2 Vela Satin. Image: Jason Mays
Is the PRS S2 Vela Satin worth the money?
Given the pedigree of the SE range and the seemingly incremental updates given to this S2 line and the Vela in particular, these guitars might seem a little unexciting or out-of-place on paper. But appearances are vastly deceiving in this instance.
Okay so you don’t get fancy new finishes or even fancier new tuners, but you can tell the differences are meaningful under the hood. It’s a similar approach to product evolution as Apple has done for a while now – each new Mac or iPhone might not look radically different to the last one, but it’s an undeniably superior product underneath.
The USA pickups and wiring here are PRS’s equivalent of a beefed-up new processor – making it comprehensively superior to its predecessors, and firmly cementing the Vela as one of the most versatile US-made offsets out there.
PRS S2 Vela Satin. Image: Jason Mays
PRS S2 Vela Satin Alternatives
There are some interesting options in the US-made offset game at the moment, and it would be remiss to not mention the extremely affordable Harmony Silhouette ($1,299/£1,449). You can’t have an offset round-up without a Jazzmaster, and Fender’s American Professional II Jazzmaster ($1,899/£1,939) is a fine contemporary take on the concept. If you’re looking for something more affordable, the Guild Surfliner Deluxe is a lot of guitar for $699/£699.
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