Check back here throughout the rest of 2014 and 2015 as we post thoughts, memories and images from the PRS Archives.
In 1985 a long, curly-haired Paul Reed Smith took a selection of PRS Custom and PRS Guitars (later known as the Custom 24 and Standard 24) to a tradeshow and PRS Guitars was born. Unbeknownst to everyone at the time, Paul was becoming “arguably the first ‘little guy’ to give guitar making giants…a run for their money. By upping the ante on quality, PRS compelled big American companies to improve their game, resulting in a full-blown American guitar renaissance,” (Guitar World). From two electric guitar models, to a full line up of electric guitars and basses, acoustic guitars, and amplifiers, PRS has kept that quality standard and has grown into a major industry presence.
In celebration of the last three decades, PRS will be creating a series of blog stories recounting moments from the last 30 years as well as inviting and presenting testimonials from artists and players on their experiences with Paul and PRS guitars.
Please join us in celebrating the history, and future, of PRS.
Check back here throughout the rest of 2014 and 2015 as we post thoughts, memories and images from the PRS Archives.
John McLaughlin has had a career spanning more that 5 decades. His playing is highly regarded and John is often put in lists calling him one of the top 100 guitarists of all time. He’s career includes years playing with Miles Davis, Carlos Santana, and his own Mahavishnu Orchestra. Watch John discuss his career and history with Paul Reed Smith in the video below!
PRS artist Mark Holcomb is a member of the progressive metal band Periphery and a talented guitarist. After much collaboration, PRS built the Mark Holcomb Limited Edition Signature model in early 2015 - the first PRS model built with a 20” radius and 25.5” scale length. Check out this shout-out video from Mark nodding to PRS guitar’s 30 years of innovation and quality guitar making.
To say John Hiatt is a singer-songwriter is an understatement! After releasing 22nd studio albums, he has had his hits covered by Bonnie Raitt, Rosanne Cash, B.B. King, and Eric Clapton. John has been playing PRS acoustics on the stage and in the studio lately with much enjoyment. Watch John take a PRS Martin Simpson model for a spin and share a few words with us!
Emil Werstler has been a friend to PRS guitars for a number of years endorsing our guitars in sold out venues, as well as demoing a few in our product videos. Known for his extremely fast fingers and ability to cross multiple genres seamlessly, Emil’s playing is notorious in the guitar community. He shows his appreciation for PRS in this shout-out below!
One of PRS guitar’s longest endorsers, Tim Mahoney has been playing in 311 for 25 years and holding a PRS for 22 of them. His band has grown into an international name and toured the world jamming off of their 11 studio albums. From backstage at NAMM, Tim sits down with Paul Reed Smith to discuss gear and their long-standing relationship.
Before jumping on stage with his metalcore band Memphis May Fire, Kellen McGregor takes time to say a few words about PRS - all while holding his trusty Tremonti Singlecut, a guitar he relies on gig after gig.
PRS artist Dave Weiner has toured the world as a guitarist in Steve Vai’s band. With such a demanding tour schedule, Dave has relied on his collection of PRS guitars to get the job done. To celebrate with us in 30 years of guitar building, Dave gives us a shout-out in the video below. Thanks, Dave!
30 years ago, Carlos Santana agreed to let Paul build a few guitars for him. When Carlos received the guitars he was shocked by the build quality and playability of the instruments created by this young luthier, Paul Reed Smith. Today, Carlos carries 10 Grammys, has sold millions of records, and is considered one of the world’s greatest guitar players. For 30 years now, PRS Guitars have been in his hands. Carlos and Paul have continued a close relationship and a mutual respect. Recently, Paul caught up with Carlos backstage to discuss guitar tone and their 30 year history together.
Neal Schon is a founding member of the rock band Journey and a well known guitar player. Neal has released dozens of albums and has played his signature PRS guitars (NS-14 & NS-15) on many of them. Check out this video as Neal congratulates PRS Guitars on 30 years of building quality instruments.
Throughout our company’s 30 year history, we have built many quality instruments. Some, however, get remembered more than others. This scrapbook post takes a look back at 30 years of PRS Dragon guitars - a dream turned into a reality.
As a 16 year old, Paul Smith had a dream about a guitar with a dragon inlaid down the neck. For 20 years, Paul bounced the idea around in his head but the technology limitations at the time made it impossible to design the Dragon how he envisioned.
Fast forward to 1992, PRS Guitars is a growing business – we’re only 7 years old when Paul hears that the technology becomes available to inlay a complicated design with laser sharp precision. Excitedly, he gets to work building what will be known as “Dragon I.”
The 201-piece abalone dragon inlay was not the only thing that set this guitar apart from others in the PRS product line. For the first time in the company’s history, the Dragon I came with a 22 fret neck, a newly designed PRS stop-tail bridge, and dragon pickups. With a limited quantity of 50 and a list price of $8,000 in 1992, the Dragon I became an instant collector’s item. The first prototype is held in the PRS archives at our Maryland factory and proudly on display in our new West Street East factory store.
The next year in 1993, Paul began working on the “Dragon II.” Similar to the Dragon I, PRS utilized an inlay company by the name of Pearl Works to develop an even more complicated dragon design. In addition, the typical abalone headstock design featuring Paul’s signature was inlayed in gold.
The Dragon III, similar to the Dragon II also contained gold - lots of gold. Larry Sifel of Pearl Works was building the Dragon III’s intricate neck inlay and recalls receiving the materials from the suppliers. “We had a truck that would come by every Thursday for months on end to deliver $4,000 worth of gold each time. They’d ask, ‘What are you guys doing?’”
The Dragon III was built in 1994 and the inlay was comprised of some very tiny pieces of material, some as small as a pin-head. The Dragon III prototype is currently on display with the National Guitar Museum’s traveling exhibition.
After the Dragon III, we took a 6 year hiatus from building the now world-renowned Dragon guitars. The time off culminated in the release of what many considered to be the most outrageous design devised yet - the Dragon 2000.
Instead of a neck inlay, the Dragon was inlayed on the lower bout of the guitar’s body - a challenging task considering the depth of our PRS body carve. PRS released the Dragon at the NAMM show in 2000.
Before the Dragon 2002 was released, we had been prototyping and developing a single cut body shape. In 2002, for the first time, the Dragon line of guitars featured this new single cut body. With over 90% of the guitar’s top inlayed with material, the Dragon 2002 was our heaviest guitar to date. The design used for this guitar provided a close up view of a dragon - a fierce looking eye, snarling teeth, and a snout that extended onto the upper frets.
In 2005, we celebrated PRS’s 20th Anniversary in a big way - the release of the 20th Anniversary Double Neck Dragon. With a whopping 863 pieces of shell, stone, metal, and wood — the guitar displayed two dragons on the body each with tails extending onto the necks. “20th” was inlayed on the truss rod cover commemorating the anniversary.
After a 5-year gap from the previous Dragon model, we released our seventh run of Dragons in 2010 for PRS’s 25th Anniversary. The guitar featured a familiar Santana body shape with an intricate dragon inlay covering most of the 24-fret neck and extending onto the truss-rod cover. The Dragon’s elaborate fretboard work is more complex than its predecessors and provides an intimate view of a snarling dragon.
This year we celebrate our 30th Anniversary with the 30th Anniversary Private Stock Dragon - the 8th Dragon guitar to date. The guitar features an elaborate dragon inlay designed by Jeff Easley, a fantasy artist famous for some of Dungeons & Dragons rulebook covers. Aulson Inlay deconstructed Easley’s artwork and recreated it into several distinctive sections that have been embedded into the body of the guitar and conclude with the dragon’s tail whipping up the fretboard.
The Private Stock 30th Anniversary Dragon nods toward our history with a “pre-factory” style carved top and a pre-factory style Pattern Regular neck. The extraordinary Private Stock grade tone woods were hand selected for this very limited series and are accompanied by the newly introduced 85/15 treble and bass pickups.
The finished product includes more than 285 parts fashioned from a wide array of inlay materials including most prominently: jade, azurite, lapis, pyrite, abalone, and mother of pearl. 30th Anniversary Dragons are available in two PRS high-gloss colors: Tiger Eye and Nightshade.
The Private Stock 30th Anniversary Dragon will be limited to 40 pieces, with the prototype already committed to be a significant feature in the Musical Instrument Museum (MIM) guitar exhibit in Phoenix, Arizona.
If you’d like to have a 30th Anniversary Private Stock Dragon of your very own, watch this video to check out who’s got them.
Special thanks to Dave Burrluck, whose work recording our history in The PRS Guitar Book and The PRS Electric Guitar Book will forever be a source of fantastic PRS Guitars’ information and history…even for us!
The National Association of Music Merchants or “NAMM” is a music industry trade show inaugurated in 1901. The bi-annual show exists to support the music industry and show the world the newest innovations in musical products, recording technology, sound, and lighting.
As a young guitar maker, Paul Reed Smith seized the opportunity to introduce his products to the world at NAMM and used the trade show to launch his young business.
This year PRS celebrates its 30th anniversary and in turn we celebrate our 30th year attending the NAMM show. To pay homage to our company’s history we took the time to ask Paul some questions about his experience at NAMM over the years.
What year did PRS attend its first NAMM show?
"January 1985 - we had a small 10’ x 10’ booth."
In 1985 why go to NAMM, what was the purpose?
"NAMM was a place to “show our goods” for the first time, show dealers, get visited by guitar companies, and visit other guitar companies. It’s a musical industry trade show in the best sense of the word. That first year I visited Kramer, Jackson, Steinberger, and I got visited by Gibson.
Jackson, Kramer, and Steinberger were supportive of what I was doing. That year Fender didn’t attend the show, and at that time Kramer was the bolt on company."
Because Fender wasn’t there and Gibson wasn’t doing well, the window of opportunity was open for PRS."
What was NAMM like back in 85’ - any different from today?
"It was way smaller in 1985, half empty rooms, much more intimate. When dealers visited me, they would say “what do we need with another guitar line?” After playing our guitars, they would say “well maybe we like this.”
How many models of guitars did you have at your first NAMM show?
"Two: The PRS, and the PRS Custom. The PRS was our standard all mahogany guitar and the PRS Custom was the maple top version."
How many employees were with the company during your first NAMM show?
"6 employees, all 6 came to the show."
How does PRS approach NAMM differently today then you did back then?
"Now we have a room upstairs where we can display all of our different silos of business: Private Stock, Core, S2, SE, Acoustics, and Amplifiers. Back then we were just trying to get people interested, now we are still trying to get people interested but more people want to come by and do business with us and say thank you. There is a lot of artist and supplier involvement now too."
How would a young Paul Smith feel walking through our 2015 booth with over 120 different guitars /amps hanging around?
"I think he would feel like I did feel in 1985 walking into some of the larger company’s booths...excited about what could happen long term for himself and the company."
Paul adds another thought:
"There is another interesting aspect which has very little to do with the trade show - when I was growing up there was no place to just go and order guitar parts and tools (like Luthiers Mercantile or Stewart McDonald). Fortunately, I found somebody at Weaver’s Violin that had a guitar making tool business on the side. But while it’s easier to get into guitar making today than it was back then, the competition is much fiercer. It has become a much more complicated marketplace for players to sort through and find the guitar that is right for them."
Number of products brought to the show:
1985 - 8 guitars
2015 - over 120 (mix of guitars/amplifiers)
Number of Employees working for the company:
1985 - 6
2015 - 243
Number of PRS employees working at the show:
1985 - 6
2015 - 35 (25 employees and 10 artists endorsers)
Booth square footage:
1985 - 100 sq. ft
2015 - 4092 sq. ft
PRS Artist Simon McBride takes the 30th Anniversary Custom 24 for a spin in this new video. Simon has played PRS guitars for over 20 years and he says they’ve always “felt like home.” Hear more in the video and watch his 3-piece band jam out!
Grammy-award winning musician Steve Vai is counted as one of the greatest guitar players to ever live. He has sold millions of records and toured internationally as a solo act and with musicians such as Frank Zappa and Joe Satriani. Steve Vai has been a friend to Paul Reed Smith for years and recently took time to send a congratulatory message to him for the company’s 30th Anniversary. Check it out!
Long time endorser Jimmy Herring has been playing PRS Guitars for over 16 years. Considered by many to be a musician’s musician, when Jimmy plays, people listen! He recently toured the PRS factory and sat down with Paul Reed Smith to talk guitar tone, touring, and his favorite PRS guitars.
Take a stroll back in time with us to 1985 where a young Paul Reed Smith talks about his new business and his aspirations for the future. This 1985 factory tour was filmed on location in Annapolis, MD during Paul's first year of business.
Well...it’s our 30th Anniversary. What does that mean? Typically, I am not into anniversaries and birthdays – except I did have big birthdays on my 30th, 40th, 50th years. Other than that I’ve always moved past them pretty quickly. So when our 30th Anniversary was coming up, I was wondering, “What’s the big deal?” Then, all the research started on everything that happened before and since 1985.
The first question asked is did I think we’d make it here, and the answer is yes. What we didn’t know is everything it would take to get here. When we went through all the archived guitars, the scrapbooks, etc. it was apparent that while a lot is the same, a lot has changed too.
There’s still an uncompromised attitude toward quality. There is still an extraordinary amount of passion for the instruments and the business (and the new people are picking up where the old guys like me are dropping off). There’s still a real love for music and musicians in the building. There are still people here that started in our first week. It’s still about the instrument first in combination with a healthy business. We are still very thankful to our dealers, our distributors, our artists, our employees, our fans, and our customers…all of whom helped us get here. So that’s what hasn’t changed. What has changed?
Our instruments have experienced hundreds of positive changes through the years, including this year’s 85/15 and 58/15 pickups, this year’s 30th anniversary models, which celebrate our Custom 24 flagship model with several appointments including the new 30th Anniversary birds. And, there are now seven clear “silos” of our business: Core electrics and basses, the S2 Series, SE electrics, basses, and acoustics, Private Stock electrics and acoustics, Amplifiers, the PTC, and our growing line of accessories.
I am really enjoying how much energy is going into reminiscing, standing strong, and moving forward. Here’s to a great year! By the way, I was in diapers in 1958 - this is our time.
– Paul Reed Smith