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Paul Reed Smith Se Signature Guitars: Carlos Santana Vs. Mark Tremonti

Wesman Todd Shaw started playing the guitar when he was 12 years old. He loves nothing more than to pick one up and pluck some strings.

Master Luthier, Paul Reed Smith

Paul Reed Smith is a lot of things, but in the world of business, he is most aptly described as a master luthier. Paul is one of the greatest builders of guitars since Leo Fender. None of what he has become is much of a surprise, as he was trained under the guidance of another master luthier, Ted McCarty.

Ted McCarty had once been president of Gibson guitars, and he was one of the foremost minds behind the building of the Gibson Les Paul. Ted is credited in full for designing the ES-335, the Explorer, and the Flying V. So Ted taught Paul, and Paul also incorporated whatever design elements he desired into his work.

Paul Reed Smith's guitar designs incorporate the best elements of Gibson guitars, Fender guitars, and his all original ideas. One thing is certain, a PRS guitar is just that. PRS does not use pickups or parts created by any other company. Everything on a PRS was created by PRS.

In the 1980s when nearly every guitar manufacturer was chasing the sale of the ubiquitous Super Strat, PRS was making very high end models for which there were little to no other competition. Paul Reed Smith has proven not just a master luthier, but one heck of a smart businessman.

In the year 2000 Paul saw that his brand had caught on. Persons like Carlos Santana were using his wares and making people's faces drop for the gorgeous sounds they heard from them. He realized he could manufacture affordable guitars in Asia, and this is where the PRS SE line comes in. This page concerns two of the most well loved of the PRS SE signature guitars.

If you're a poor guy or gal, like me, who loves guitars and considers yourself a total tone-hound, then you can rely on these PRS signature guitars for:

  • Being very high quality instruments at a lower price than US manufacturing, for having been manufactured in Asia.
  • Having the amazing aesthetic beauty of all PRS guitars.
  • Granting you access to the amazing tones PRS guitars, and these great artists are known for.
The great Carlos Santana on stage with one of his PRS guitars

The great Carlos Santana on stage with one of his PRS guitars

The Great Carlos Santana

Carlos Santana should need no introduction, but we shall state some truths about him. He's been a globally loved icon in the music world for many decades now. He is one of the persons who performed at the legendary Woodstock festival which was a landmark in American musical culture.

Carlos was born in Mexico, and he has shared with us the unique musical vision of the peoples there, combined with rock, blues and jazz from here. Like many of the greats who make a life of making music, Carlos was already playing instruments at a very young age. His father had started teaching him violin at just 5 years old.

He would do some shuffling up and down the west coast, but eventually Carlos would find himself living in San Francisco. It's such a beautiful area of the world, and surely this helped inspire him as he started to absorb US musical influences such as B.B. King. He'd wait tables and do some busking for dollars while he watched the hippie movement grow.

Carlos Santana formed a band which wound up being named his last name, but it was definitely a band and not a solo act, as the contributions of the other members were essential. Carlos was always a seeker, seeking for spirituality and ethereal musical sounds, and this came through clearly in the music; he'd get an international following after performing at Woodstock.

The Santana band would be full of conflict. Carlos wasn't a heavy handed guy, but some folks wanted him to take full control. Other major contributors to the band were obviously not of the same attitude, and there were the ubiquitous drug and drink problems rock bands are known to often have.

Life is a journey. and Carlos Santana has been a star, faded to obscurity, and then become a star again. He's still journeying here in 2018, and we hope he continues for long years to come. He's likely to hit the road again, and if we can, we should go out to enjoy and celebrate this musical journey at a live show.

Mark Tremonti rocking a PRS on stage.

Mark Tremonti rocking a PRS on stage.

Mark Tremonti

There have been quite a lot of guitarists from Italian extraction who've made a big mark in rock music in America, and Mark Tremonti is another one of them. Mark grew up in Detroit, Illinois, and Florida. He started playing guitar at just eleven years of age. Persons who start playing at such tender years and keep at it often become quite good, and that is certainly the case here.

Along with Scott Stapp, Mark formed the band Creed in 1993. I very well remember when the music of Creed began to stake a claim on F.M. radios. I've also created my own prison, after a fashion. The band would be a big part of what folks were calling the post-grunge movement. Their first album sold six million copies and produced four major hit singles. This was all well and good, but the second Creed album was certified as diamond status, it sold eleven million copies.

Unable to get along with Scott Stapp, the bassist for Creed would leave the band, but it wasn't much of a problem in the recording studio, as Mark Tremonti could play the bass guitar more than well enough to handle the situation himself. Time went on, and Mark couldn't get along with the vocalist either, and the band broke up, but only to reunite a bit later. Rock stars, you know, they wind up getting overly large in the ego, but break-ups and reunions, from a cynical view, could even be a marketing strategy.

Tremonti is too fine a guitarist to need to hang onto past glories, or deal with frustrations much after having initially made out like a bandit. He's formed other bands, Alter Bridge, and more recently, Tremonti, a band named for, well, himself. Mark is pretty young and active, and so we hope he'll blaze away on the six strings for many more years to come.

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The PRS SE Santana guitar.

The PRS SE Santana guitar.

The PRS Se Santana Guitar

Carlos Santana's eminence as a guitarist predates Paul Reed Smith guitars by a far stretch of time. Carlos, as most guitarists of his stature, has gone through phases where he preferred one type of gear, and then later another. For the longest time now, however, Santana has been a PRS man.

The fact of the matter insofar as i'm concerned, is that Carlos Santana was the very first person I ever knew who was playing these new brands of guitar. I remember seeing him on television and he was playing one of his PRS guitars, and I was just amazed at the terrific, and altogether different sound he was getting out of the thing. I was dismayed that I had no clue what make of instrument it was. Well, by this point in time PRS is a brand everyone knows.

For many years before getting his PRS, Carlos had been playing a fabulous custom made Yamaha SG2000. This guitar is very much in the vein or spirit of that instrument, but it does have the foremost uniqueness that PRS often incorporates, a different length of scale. The body is mahogany and there is a maple veneer top. You can see the top is carved or beveled in such a way as to make it more comfortable to hold.

We've got a mahogany neck, but the neck profile is wide and fat, and this is something common to lots of PRS models. I'm convinced a body should know about what sorts of necks fit their fingerboard hands the best, and the way to know is to have handled lots of guitars. There are twenty four frets on the rosewood fingerboard, and you can see those beautiful bird inlays PRS is so well known and loved for.

Our pickups are the SE version of PRS pickups, and if you watch and listen to the video below, you can hear that this guitar absolutely captures the sound Carlos is getting when you hear him since he's gone PRS. There is a tremolo bridge so you can do your thing there too.

I played this guitar through a little solid state Marshall employing loads of gain. I felt like I could emulate some of Carlos's tones when he played the halftime show at the Super Bowl, I only couldn't cope those Latin rhythms.

PRS SE Santana Guitar features:


  • Top wood: Maple
  • Body wood: Mahogany
  • Body finish: Gloss
  • Orientation: Right handed


  • Neck shape: Wide Fat
  • Neck wood: Mahogany
  • Joint: Set-in
  • Scale length: 25 in.
  • Truss rod: Standard
  • Neck finish: Gloss
  • Fingerboard Material: Rosewood
  • Radius: 10 in.
  • Fret size: Medium
  • Number of frets: 24
  • Inlays: Birds
  • Nut width: 1.687 in. (42.8 mm)


  • Neck: SE Santana
  • Bridge: SE Santana
  • Brand: PRS
  • Active or passive pickups: Passive
  • Series or parallel: Series
  • Control layout: Master volume, tone
  • Pickup switch: 3-way
  • Bridge type: Tremolo/Vibrato
  • Bridge design: PRS tremolo
  • Nickel Color Tuning machines: PRS design
The PRS SE Mark Tremonti Custom guitar.

The PRS SE Mark Tremonti Custom guitar.

The PRS SE Mark Tremonti Custom Guitar

I've never seen Mark Tremonti not playing a PRS electric except for when he's playing an acoustic. The Tremonti models have long been favorites of PRS customers, and this is only because they are such great products. This guitar has more than a maple veneer, it has a maple top with a flame maple veneer on top of that. With a mahogany body and a maple top, this is very comparable to a Les Paul.

Or is it? The length of scale here is longer than a Les Paul, and then you also have a tremolo bridge. Oh it is just a quarter inch of difference longer, but if you are a person who likes to down tune your guitar, that quarter inch can sure allow you to do so more comfortably.

Like the Santana guitar the top of this guitar is carved with a bevel for increased comfort, and truly, it adds to the beauty.

The neck of this guitar is maple instead of mahogany, and the thinking here is maple necks lead to brighter tones. The fret-board is rosewood and twenty two frets, and you can see those fabulous birds marking positions on the board as they fly continually. Our neck profile is wide and thin. I found this neck to be comfortable, and I believe this would be the neck most preferable for modern heavy metal type players, it's a neck a shredder could love to do his or her sweep picking on.

The Tremonti SE Custom packs some pretty standard PRS pickups. There is never any good reason to believe a pickup designed for a specific artist will please you more than one of the manufacturer's standard pickups unless your goal is to literally sound as much like a particular artist as possible.

PRS SE Mark Tremonti Custom features:


  • Top Wood: Beveled Maple with Flame Maple Veneer
  • Back Wood: Mahogany


  • Number of Fret:s 22
  • Scale Length: 25"
  • Neck Wood: Maple
  • Fretboard Wood: Rosewood
  • Neck Shape: Wide Thin
  • Fretboard Inlays: Birds


  • Bridge: PRS Designed Trem-Up Rout
  • Tuners: PRS Designed Tuners
  • Truss Rod Cover: "PRS"
  • Hardware Type: Nickel
  • Treble Pickup: PRS Designed SE 245 Treble Humbucker
  • Bass Pickup: PRS Designed SE 245 Bass Humbucker
  • Pickup Switching: Volume and Tone Control for Each Pickup with 3-Way Toggle Pickup Selector On Upper Bout

How would someone choose between these two guitars?

The guitar playing of Carlos Santana and Mark Tremonti could not be any more different. Then, these two PRS SE guitars designed after those guys, they couldn't be any more different either. So what in the world is the purpose of presenting the two men and the two instruments on the same page?

Prices and popularity are what make these guitars comparable. They are both priced very closely, and they are two of the most popular PRS SE signature models there are, so to me it seems a comparison would be very useful, as someone could very well find themselves with the money to buy one, but then not be so sure which one would be the best for them.

The Tremonti guitar goes for just nine bucks over seven hundred dollars. The Santana is selling for just under seven hundred and thirty.

Friends, the major thing about these two guitars you need to know about, in relation to tonality and the way they feel when you play them, has everything to do with scale length. I say this because I believe the combination of mahogany bodies with maple tops and humbucker pickups are something much more thoroughly understood.

For many decades now there have been two different standards for scale length in electric guitars, the Gibson scale length, and the Fender scale length. These PRS guitars do not match either of those, they have their own scale length, and these two guitars each have a scale length different from Gibson and Fender, and different from one another.

The Carlos Santana guitar has a scale length of just 24.5", and that is a short scale. I'm convinced this is one of the major aspects or elements of the modern Carlos Santana tone, and it is a gorgeous tone. This is a shorter scale length than Gibson and Gibson clone guitars, which are traditionally 24.75".

The Tremonti guitar is a 25" scale, which is longer than Gibson, but shorter than Fender's traditional 25.5" scale.

How do you know what you want? Well, if you de-tune or down-tune your guitar for more modern heavy metal, you definitely would prefer to have the Tremonti. The necks of these guitars are also different enough that one could be swayed one way or the other for the sake of them. The Santana is fatter than the Tremonti.

While the Tremonti has a neck maybe more suited for shredding, the Santana has two more frets, and twenty four frets is something pretty important to some people nowadays. There are some gives and some takes here, but there's no losing on these outstanding value buys. Thanks for reading.

© 2018 Wesman Todd Shaw

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