Back in the year 2003 I found myself standing in line at Elderly Instruments in Lansing, Michigan. Paul Smith was in town for a meet-and-greet at the store. Each fan in our long line had their own PRS guitar on hand, hoping to have the master craftsman autograph their instrument. As I saw those before me reveal beautiful, sparkling clean, new PRS guitars, some with their tags still attached, I grew more and more nervous of my imminent meeting with the builder of my instrument. I was carrying an old, beat-up gig bag. Inside was my 1994 CE24, purchased from Durdel’s Music in Toledo, Ohio, one of Paul’s first dealers. This guitar had a simple finish, even missing PRS’s now well-known signature bird inlays. The guitar was dirty, scratched and chipped from heavy use. The frets were worn, and it was missing a string.
Well, when it was finally my turn to present my PRS to Paul, I was truly embarrassed. I sheepishly explained that, yes, the guitar had seen better days, and I thought I could get it autographed before retiring it to the wall as a keep-sake. As I pulled my guitar out, I could see his eyes light up. “Whoa! What did you do to this thing?” I told him that this guitar had been my primary axe, gigging with it three to five nights a week for nearly ten years. “No, no, no, you can’t retire this thing!” he insisted.
Paul immediately began going over the guitar from end to end, explaining to me in some detail the repairs and updates he could make. He was not going to let one of his creations sit idle on a wall. He wanted the guitar back out in the clubs, being used the way is was made to be used.
We shipped the guitar to the factory where it was updated with new hardware, electronics, and frets, and then finally returned back into my waiting arms. And out on the road we went, grinding out another thousand gigs and sessions. Paul’s autograph has since worn off the guitar, but my customer satisfaction has not. Who would have thought that I would receive such a special reward for wearing out a guitar? In the book of Genesis, God blesses the first man and woman, telling them to “fill the earth and subdue it.” It seems that this world, and the things in it are for us to use, rather than simply to be admired. I learned that Paul was happier to see his creations being played by his customers than perhaps safely tucked away as a collector’s item.
One thing that Paul Smith might not have foreseen back in 2003, was that I would use that guitar in a series of online videos that would eventually rack up millions of views, plus a set of DVDs that would sell in the tens of thousands around the world. That, in itself, is proof that great customer service will go a long way. Furthermore, I can now boast of several more PRS models in my arsenal of guitars.