Guitar Builder Profile: Paul Reed Smith

Guitar Builder Profile: Paul Reed Smith

Paul Reed Smith could possibly be gloating. At a time when different majors have made layoffs or are coming down from the lockdown-era gross sales buzz, the corporate the luthier based actually along with his personal arms in 1985 has turn into a $100-million enterprise. PRS Guitars’ $849 SE Silver Sky—a 6-stringed Clydesdale—was this yr’s prime vendor on Reverb. Not too long ago, the Stevensville, Maryland-based operation launched its debut pedals, plus a limited-run Robben Ford signature axe that’s a Rolls-Royce with strings. And a raft of latest devices are already within the wings for 2023.


As a substitute, at an early November social gathering Smith threw at Nashville’s Soundcheck rehearsal complicated throughout CMA week, he mirrored humility. Smith addressed the roomful of gamers, emotionally recalling the 2015 CMA Awards, the place the rely of PRS devices onstage was actually neck-and-neck with the inhabitants of Fenders and Gibsons for the primary time. That ceremony was an ignition level for better success in addition to an affirmation for the guitars that bear his title.

“We don’t need to be a model,” he advised the gang. “We need to be guitar makers. Nation guitarists actually helped take us to a different stage. I’m really grateful.”

“We didn’t have heaters and we have been sporting winter coats inside, as a result of in the event you opened the door for a supply, it received to be 30 levels in there.”

In addition to his ardour for pursing all elements of what goes into creating guitars, that humility—typically inflicted upon him—has performed a task in his success. Smith discovered his calling whereas at St. Mary’s School, on the reverse finish of the state from his native Bowie, Maryland. Missing a guitar and the money to purchase one, he persuaded a music instructor to let him construct a guitar for credit score. He received an A, in fact. He additionally dropped out to play and restore guitars, opening a store in a seemingly haunted garret in Annapolis.

“As a repairman engaged on each conceivable sort of guitar, I turned satisfied that classic devices have been fascinating not as a result of that they had improved with age, however as a result of that they had been constructed in another way from present fashions,” Smith relates. “The rationale among the electrics from the ’50s and early ’60s felt and sounded so good was that a fantastic consideration to element went into the manufacturing course of, and that the producers had an actual sense for the delicate factors.”

Racked and prepared: 4 decks of PRS guitar necks wait for his or her closing locations on the firm’s Stevensville, Maryland, guitar-building location.

Pondering tips on how to reintroduce these traits within the devices he needed to construct, Smith stumble on the thought of contacting Ted McCarty, who was president of Gibson from 1950 to 1966—the golden period of electrical guitar making. “I’d sit on the store, and I used to be afraid to name him,” Smith says. “We didn’t have heaters and we have been sporting winter coats inside, as a result of in the event you opened the door for a supply, it received to be 30 levels in there. So, Clay Evans [a friend and, later, early PRS executive] and I are sporting our coats, and Clay’s saying ‘Name him! Simply name him!’ And I’m like, ‘I can’t….’ However I known as him and defined who I used to be and what I did, and he requested, ‘Would you be keen to come back go to?’ So, we picked a date, and I went.

“The primary time I went, he received very, very upset on the finish of the interview. It was about three hours. And I mentioned, ‘What’s flawed?’ He goes, ‘No person’s requested me these questions in 30 years. No person’s requested me tips on how to glue the fingerboard on, what glue we used to connect the frets in…. All they need to know is tips on how to get wealthy fast. ‘The place can I discover a Les Paul? The place can I discover a Flying V? The place can I discover an Explorer?’ No person’s requested me these guitar-making questions, and that is how I made my residing.’

“I assumed it was stunning,” Smith continues. “I simply saved coming again and coming again. I used to be very grateful for his consideration, and it ended up being a grandfather relationship. I sang to him on his deathbed, with a guitar.” And, in fact, Smith additionally paid tribute to his historic mentor with PRS’ vintage-informed McCarty collection.

Over the many years, Smith and his workforce have made guitars for a coterie of world-class gamers that features John McLaughlin (together with a 6- and 12-string doubleneck), David Grissom, Nancy Wilson, Mark Tremonti, Jimmy Herring, Mark Lettieri, and, in fact, Carlos Santana.

“What Robben Ford needed and what David Grissom desires is that each a kind of fashions we ship is a his-caliber instrument. He doesn’t need simply the couple we tweak for him after which put his title on a bunch of others.”

“The primary guitar I made for Carlos Santana modified my life,” Smith provides. “At first, he didn’t see me as a guitar maker. He made me earn his respect, which I honor. He mentioned the primary devices I gave him have been ‘accidents of God.’ He thought it was like any person wrote successful tune, but it surely was nearly an accident—and he didn’t see me as a repetitive hit author. He actually mentioned, ‘Okay, it’s an act of God, are you able to make me one other one?’ Then, after the fifth instrument, which was a doubleneck, he known as me up and mentioned, ‘Okay, you’re a guitar maker.’ That was great. Each Christmas he would name and thank me in regards to the sound popping out of his guitar. He considered it as an enormous, male saxophone tone, and he adored it.”

So, what does a world-class musician demand in a guitar? “If you happen to take a look at guitars basically as a line, and about four-fifths of the way in which alongside that line you draw a vertical line by way of it, what’s past that graduates from being a guitar to a musical instrument,” Smith says. “They need musical devices. What Robben Ford needed and what David Grissom desires is that each a kind of fashions we ship is a his-caliber instrument.

Preliminary sanding occurs after the general physique form, electronics cavities, and different cuts are made.

He doesn’t need simply the couple we tweak for him after which put his title on a bunch of others. Carlos Santana desires a guitar that he can take out of the manufacturing unit, put within the limo, go to the gig, pull it out, and play it. And by the way in which, I’ve watched him do this. It’s a bit of scary to have him play to fifteen,000 folks with a guitar that’s solely been performed a couple of minute-and-a-quarter its complete life. David Grissom doesn’t take a guitar to clinics. He takes ones off the wall on the retailer to carry my arms to the fireplace. Carlos calls me consistently and has requests to make ’em higher. David desires them higher. He simply received one which has a hole, single f-hole in it, and he’s dropping his noodles over it.”

It’s been years since Smith has constructed a guitar himself. “I’ve a bench the place I restore audio gear, and I’m my spouse’s furnishings restore particular person, however that’s it,” he says. Nonetheless, he’s a daily presence on the PRS manufacturing unit flooring, checking the progress on fashions in improvement, eyeballing the wooden stock, trying out pickups, providing recommendations, and evaluating as he formulates plans for the corporate’s future. “It’s nearly a soothsayer job,” he provides. “It’s like having a crystal ball, however you gotta do it from expertise, along with your ear to the tracks.”

A high-quality instrument begins with good tonewood, and the manufacturing unit retains an ample stock for each necks and our bodies.

A part of that’s making an attempt to rout the competitors, which he clearly enjoys. On the Nashville social gathering, Smith recounted a narrative about paying prime greenback for a Klon Centaur, after which placing it by way of its paces. Pleasing at it was, he felt there have been shortfalls in tone and management, so he determined to attempt to beat it. The result’s PRS’ Horsemeat Clear Overdrive (get it?), however his firm’s engineers took it a step additional, additionally designing the Mary Cries Optical Compressor and the Wind By the Bushes Analog Flanger, which all debuted in September. Nonetheless, Smith’s objective was to not increase into pedal making, however reasonably to lure gamers who’ve prevented PRS. “I’ve really heard feedback like, ‘I like these pedals, perhaps I’ll take a look at their guitars once more,’” he says.

Earlier final yr, he took on the template, working-player’s Stratocaster with the discharge of the SE Silver Sky, a low-cost, high-performance model of PRS’ John Mayer signature mannequin. After I point out the guitar, his fast response is, “How about these pickups?” He then associated that he labored along with his suppliers in Indonesia, the place the guitar is constructed, for 2 years on the remarkably wide-ranged pickups. “Initially, they weren’t proper, and we didn’t have direct management over their creation, like we do with fashions we construct right here, however the pickups nonetheless needed to lay in precisely the appropriate place sonically. When John performed ’em, he thought they have been the very best overseas-made single-coils he’d ever heard, and he signed off on them actually that second.”

“The primary guitar I made for Carlos Santana modified my life,” Smith provides. “At first, he didn’t see me as a guitar maker. He made me earn his respect.”

Though a lot has modified over the many years at PRS, the corporate’s distinctive three-and-three headstocks have remained unchanged for the reason that early ’80s—regardless of being a turn-off for some trad-minded gamers. Smith explains why: “The design was half sensible and half reflective of the entrance curve of the guitar. It’s like a Dan Armstrong headstock, the place the strings went straight to the tuning pegs. On a Fender, they went straight to the tuning pegs, however they have been all on one aspect. That it goes straight to the tuning pegs is essential.

“After I began placing tremolos on guitars, Carlos Santana ordered one and he goes, ‘It’s gonna keep in tune, proper?’ I mentioned, ‘Certain!’ I had no thought how I used to be going to do it. Seems what makes a distinction is how you chop the nut, having it as near the tuning pegs as doable. Additionally, the strings have to be as straight as doable, and it’s a must to scale back the headstock angle. It’s a mix of these three dimensions.”

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