Guitar Notes from Brian Baggett

We Visit Paul Reed Smith, Part 1

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Handling precious prototypes and selecting woods

Stevensville, Maryland is a beautiful little island town in the Chesapeake bay. It has a comfortable, laid back coastal feel and has some seriously delicious crab cakes. But that’s not the main attraction for a guitar freak—Stevensville is home to Paul Reed Smith Guitars—the breeding ground of some of the most gorgeous instruments on the planet.

Stevensville, Maryland with birds

Stevensville, Maryland with birds.

My recent visit began in the PRS wood library. It holds some of the most beautiful tone woods on the planet and doubles as a conference room making it an inspiring place to meet. After brief introductions, Paul gets our meeting started by asking, “Why are you here and what do you want from me?” Great question! I explained I was there to talk about future PRS features in the Musician’s Friend catalog and get me an inside look at the PRS guitar building process. As the video presenter for the Private Reserve. it’s important I get an inside look at how these guitars are built so I can explain and demonstrate them better.

PRS Wood Library

PRS Wood Library.

We talked about the Private Reserve and its steady growth in the high-end guitar business. Paul quickly sketched a graph showing the decline in clothing manufactured in the U.S. over the last several decades. He looked at a guy across the table and said “Nothing you’re wearing was made in the USA.“

Unfortunately, guitar manufacturing is following the same path. Paul was excited to hear our high end guitar business is growing, meaning demand is strong for USA guitars. Sure, PRS designs and distributes affordable guitars under the SE line but Paul’s true passion lies in guitars built in the USA. The new PRS S2 line is made in Stevensville; they are fantastic American-made instruments. And this line is scary good for the price. I’ve played several S2 models side by side with Custom 22s, 24s, Singlecuts, etc…the S2s can hold their own.

After much discussion (and lunch) it was time to check out the PRS vault! It contains some of the first guitars Paul ever built, as well as a chronology of prototypes, first of-a-runs, and other intriguing instruments.

I got to play some really great guitars in here including the very first Dragon! The Dragons are the most coveted of limited edition PRS guitars. They feature an incredible, intricate dragon inlay on the fretboard. There is a Paul Reed Smith Dragon guitar at both the Smithsonian Institute and the Museum of Modern art. It’s revealing that these early instruments Paul built himself already had a distinct PRS feel and are very close to the classic PRS shape as we know it. Even then he was challenging the rules of tone.

2015 marks the 30th anniversary of Paul Reed Smith Guitars. This means 30 years of Paul tinkering with his design—most notably wood, pickups and hardware. He is constantly changing pickup shapes and windings. He even showed me a top secret machine he uses to gather data from pickups.

I heard all kinds of stories from the PRS team: Paul bringing nut blanks to meetings just to listen to them hit the table. Deciding he didn’t want the string posts on the tuners covered and having someone remove the chrome plating from every tuning machine post. “Everything that touches the string is god”, Paul says. This theory has led to brass tuning posts and inserts on the bridge saddles, an intense search for the perfect nut material and much more.

Brian Baggett holding PRS Dragon #1

Paul Reed Smith Dragon #1.

Brian Baggett holding early PRS guitar

Brian checks out an early PRS in the Vault.

After meeting with Paul and playing guitars in the vault, I hit the factory floor for a private tour. For a guitar geek like me, this is ground zero! I love guitars and there are hundreds of beautiful, incredible, amazing guitars hanging in the air at various stages of the build process. People are hand-sanding bodies, gluing bird inlays into fretboards, winding pickups, etc.

Have you ever noticed the meticulous shaping of a carved PRS top? PRS craftspeople hand-sand each one to keep that carve (the “dish”) as sharp and three-dimensional as possible. I was also surprised at the quantity of flamed maple (including neck blanks) around the factory. I am a sucker for figured guitar necks and PRS guitars have some of the most beautifully figured woods I’ve ever seen—plus one of the best-looking finishes in the guitar industry to exploit those figured woods. At the factory they often use several different stains/colors on a single instrument to bring the figured grain alive.

Guitars During the finishing process at PRS

During the finishing process at PRS.

Bird Inlays Glude Into Fretboard

Bird inlays are glued into the fretboard by hand.

PRS Quilt Top Body

Lovely Paul Reed Smith quilt top!

PRS Flame Neck and Quilt Back

WOW! PRS flamed neck and quilted back! The coloring evokes images of sand and sea.

I spent quality time checking out PRS Private Stock instruments. Although many of these guitars are built expressly for PRS artists, some Private Stock guitars are available through authorized PRS dealers like Musician’s Friend Private Reserve to the public as well.

Musician’s Friend Private Reserve has some nice Private Stock pieces as well as some beautiful PRS Wood Library guitars. The options for a Private Stock PRS are endless and it was here that I saw the most unique and adventurous guitars on my tour.

PRS Private Stock Guitars

An inside look at some Private Stock guitars.

After the tour, it was time to select wood for an upcoming limited run. Musician’s Friend Private Reserve will soon be presenting twelve very special Custom 24 30th anniversary models. To really get a feel for what each piece of wood will eventually reveal, the PRS team keeps a spray bottle handy so you can wet the wood and observe how the grain “pops.”

I didn’t think about this until I got home, but it would have been so easy for me to pick out a pile of wood for my own guitar. Oh well. maybe next time.

Here’s the result of a previous Private Reserve trip to PRS in which the wood selection was for a run of Custom 24 Floyd guitars.

PRS Custom 24 Floyd Wood Library

Private Reserve’s hand picked “Wood Library” Custom 24 Floyd

For my inaugural trip we chose exquisite korina for our 30th Anniversary Custom 24 necks and backs, ebony for the fretboards and figured maple for the tops. Korina was a customer favorite a few years back, so we placed a lot of emphasis on the weight of the wood, looking for the lightest pieces that would translate to comfortable, resonant instruments. We also chose dense ebony for the fretboards which will give these guitars lots of snap and presence. We then went through the exhaustive process of selecting bookmatched, figured maple tops, finding just the right pieces with the most unique and uniform figuring. We can’t wait to see the finished instruments.

Hand-Picked Wood for Musician's Friend Private Reserve

Hand picked wood by Musician’s Friend Private Reserve is earmarked for a special run of 30th Anniversary PRS Custom 24 guitars.

But if you can’t wait and would like to get your hands on a PRS instrument right now, it’s a great time to do so! Musician’s Friend Private Reserve is offering some unbelievable deals on many PRS model year closeouts!

Remember the second half of Paul’s question? “What do you want from me?” I asked Paul if he would have us back to film guitar demo videos at PRS and introduce each 2015 model personally on video.

His answer? “Absolutely!”

Stay tuned for part two of Guitar Notes from PRS! Until then…keep playing!

Read more Guitar Notes from Brian Baggett: Guitar Notes The HUB.

Tags: Electric Guitars PRS Private Reserve Guitars Guitar Notes

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