July/August 2001

Paul Reed Smith McCarty Soap

I was lucky enough to encounter Ted McCarty at the Summer 2000 NAMM Show in Nashville, a frail old gentleman being wheeled around the floor by a doting young lady. I was so moved to see him that I shook his hand and thanked him for all of the great instruments. During his reign as the president of Gibson (1950-1966), McCarty oversaw the company’s most furious period of creative expansion since Lloyd Load headed up their design team in the 1920s. McCarty personally generated or oversaw the development of the gold-top, solid-body Les Paul Standard and the semiacoustic ES-335; such radical hot-rod designs as the Flying V, Explorer and Moderne; the elegant, functional, sublimely contoured SG and the neck-through-body Firebird—not to mention the stop-bar tailpiece, the tune-o-matic bridge and the original, PAF humbucker pickups. Rock and Roll Hall of Fame? Hell, Ted McCarty and Leo Fender’s images should be carved on Mount Rushmore!

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Paul Reed Smith McCarty Soapbar

Like McCarty, over the past two decades Paul Reed Smith established new standards for build quality and aesthetic perfection. Beautifully contoured and balanced, the classic PRS double-cutaway design suggested a brawnier, more stable offspring of the basic Stratocaster/SG configuration, while the deep dish, carved body of maple and mahogany represented a more scaled-down, manageable variation on a Les Paul. And with their basic 25-inch fingerboard scale, the PRS guitar split the difference between the feel of a Les Paul (24 3/4-inch) and a Stratocaster (25 1/2-inch)—although the graveyards are littered with the spent carcasses of marketing-man instruments claiming to give you the sound of both.

As such, the new PRS McCarty Soapbar employs a thicker all-mahogany body for a slightly warmer tonality; a simple wraparound stop bar/bridge combo that minimizes moving parts and accentuates acoustic resonances; and Seymour Duncan’s update on the classic P-90 style pickups, for those players who want a fatter, idiomatic single-coil sound than that of a Strat. Typically, there are many kinds of P90s: fat and pointed, sweet and snappy; the tonal characteristics of these pickups tend more toward the Tabasco parameters of P90 performance. As such, the McCarty Soapbar model is a bit of a stretch for jazz players, though it’s a thrilling blues/jazz-fusion instrument. Legato articulations and string bends were effortless, but the .009-.042 setup is less conducive to jazz phrasing and attack in the bass range than on up high; still, with some heavier strings, an al dente setup and a bit of treble roll-off, this could more than suffice as a jazz axe. A good instrument is a good instrument.

However, even at lower amp settings, the tone is like to bursting at the seams, raring to bust loose; and when you open this baby up, there’s a warm, smooth, sweet surge of tone, with a bubbly, expressive overtone series—minus the thick, tubby character of some humbucker instruments. Which is why over the past 30 years, guitarists such as Larry Coryell, John Abercrombie, John McLaughlin, Frank Zappa and (pre-Experience) Jimi Hendrix could at times be found employing the literal antecedents to the McCarty Soapbar—the simple, soulful, economical, all-mahogany, band-saw bodied Gibson Les Paul Junior (single P-90) and Special (dual P-90s) models. With its round, focused attack, sweet, fluid sustain, snarling blues tonality, and elegantly carved body, the PRS Ted McCarty Soapbar is a cultivated successor to these classic, workingman’s instruments, and a fitting tribute to this musical instrument pioneer, who passed away on April 1 at the age of 91.

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