23 Jun 2021
By Kathi Ferguson
Paul Reed Smith’s first guitar was built in college as a challenge to his music professor to earn credits. After receiving an “A” for his effort, Paul decided that was the “green light” he needed to pursue his dream of making guitars for a living. Years following would be spent hand-crafting his instruments out of a small upstairs loft in Annapolis and selling his creations backstage at rock shows. By 1985, Smith had gone into business, and has been at the helm of PRS Guitars ever since. Located in Stevensville, Maryland, PRS is one of the world’s premier guitar and amplifier manufacturers in the country today, designing and building electric and acoustic guitars for the likes of Carlos Santana, John Mayer, Mark Tremonti, and other prominent artists.
Aside from being a musical instrument, guitars are complex tools for the musician to use in order to do their job. They are also works of art. Each and every PRS guitar begins with quality control at the workbench, blending automation with handwork and detail in those areas where there is no substitute for the individual craftsman’s eye and skill. Continuing to turn out extraordinary guitars not only demands commitment to the craft, but constant re-evaluation of materials, tools, and procedures. Every craftsperson at PRS has authority over their work, inspecting everything repeatedly, treating each piece as if it were their own, before it moves on to the next stage, and ultimately out the door.
For those guitar aficionados, PRS’ first custom guitar featured a mahogany neck set into a mahogany body with a maple cap, customized tuning pegs, and rotary pickup switching with high quality electronics. This represented influences from both old and new during a time when the industry was producing “high tech” guitars.
Operating semi-independently from the factory’s core guitar building team is Private Stock, which is akin to a boutique team inside of PRS. Private Stock is a custom shop that builds one guitar at a time where clients can select their own woods from across the globe. This impressive “wood library” contains over 50 species of wood acquired by a special PRS team of experts who have years of combined experience in things such as furniture making, managing wood yards, and logging. Specialty woods like these must go through an extensive drying process, some of which taking years to dry depending upon the density. Hence, the less water, the more a guitar sustains.
The craftsmanship found in a Paul Smith guitar is reflective of a special kind of pride and devotion to the instrument’s rich heritage and culture of quality. As Paul himself explains, the PRS philosophy is “to build a guitar whose tone inspires you to be a better player, whose durability will get you through a thousand gigs, and whose elegance makes it an artwork in its own right”.