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PRS Guitars: History & Current Lineup

Paul Reed Smith started out as a shop class whiz and part-time guitar slinger with a dream of creating a 6-string that boldly positioned itself between the two giants of the industry: Fender and Gibson.

The History of PRS Guitars

During the 1980s, the two major guitar manufacturers in America were Fender and Gibson, each a household name and their own reputations. During the mid 80s, however, they started to run into trouble from imported guitar manufacturers and more affordable brands such as Jackson and Kramer.

With the two guitar giants’ grip on the market weakened by imports and newcomers, Paul Reed Smith identified his opportunity, and decided that it was time to stick his foot in the door. He knew that in order to generate sales, he’d have to create a product that was more visually appealing, more enjoyable to play, and produced a better sound than what was available at the time. The bird inlays were one of the many tricks used to help PRS guitars stand out in the early days.

In 1985, Paul Reed Smith manifested his dream in the form of a uniquely contoured 25” scale length solid body guitar with a rotary pickup selector and custom hardware. The guitar was a hit at NAMM, and within three years the PRS team had expanded to 45 people, building 15 guitars a day.

PRS Guitars Today

35 years later, PRS has sprouted an impressive family of instruments that has something to offer every kind of guitarist. PRS Guitars are broken into five series:

  • Core
  • Bolt-On
  • S2
  • SE
  • Private Stock

Core PRS Guitars

The Core Series is where you’ll find the guitars that are closest to the company’s roots. The Custom 24, McCarty, and the McCarty 594 signature models are a few of the most popular in the Core Series.

PRS Custom 24

The Custom 24 is very similar to the original guitar that Paul Reed Smith used to impress at NAMM back in 1985, utilizing a 25” scale length, custom 85/15 pickups (conceived in 1985, most recently refined in 2015), custom Gen III tremolo, Phase III 

locking tuners, 24 frets, and a mahogany body with a carved, figured maple top. It is the quintessential PRS Guitar, and is the first image that many people see when they think of a PRS Guitar in general.

PRS McCarty

The McCarty models pay tribute to former Gibson president, Ted McCarty, who mentored Paul Reed Smith in the company’s early days. The McCarty models are slightly thicker than the Custom 24s and feature vintage Gibson-inspired, underwound 58/15 pickups (conceived in 1958, refined in 2015), a stoptail bridge, vintage tuners, and 22 frets to the body.

PRS McCarty 594

The McCarty 594s get their name from their unique 24.594” scale length. They also differ from the regular McCartys in their pattern vintage neck shapes, two-piece zinc bridges, and four-knob configurations. The McCarty 594s are also offered in hollow-body and single-cut options.

Bolt-On PRS Guitars

Demonstrating their inclusive appreciation for the history of electric guitar craftsmanship, PRS offers a line of bolt-on neck guitars, as well. The Bolt-On Series offers some of the most comfortable to play guitars on the market, and covers all of the bases when it comes to tone.

PRS CE 24

The CE 24 is their classic 24 fret model with the addition of a bolt-on neck (it’s also available as a hollow-body). To make a CE 24, PRS takes a traditional body consisting of a mahogany back and maple top, and pairs it with a bolt-on maple neck and luscious rosewood fretboard.

PRS Silver Sky

The Silver Sky is a Strat-inspired masterpiece designed by Paul Reed Smith and John Mayer. One of the most coveted PRS guitar models, the Silver Sky combines the best elements of an early 1960s Stratocaster with modern touches that make it play smoother than butter; or about as smooth as John Mayer.

PRS DW CE 24 “Floyd”

The DW CE 24 “Floyd” starts with a PRS CE 24 bolt-on platform, a slightly thinner neck carve, and the ready-to-rock Floyd Rose tremolo system. The pickups are Dustie Waring’s signature DW Tomahawk by Mojotone, which pack a serious punch. The PRS DW CE 24 “Floyd” captures the classic PRS look, but is faster, hotter, and chuggier (it’s a word now) than other PRS models.

PRS Fiore

The Fiore (Italian for “Flower” was designed in collaboration with guitarist, composer, producer, and instructor Mark Lettieri. With a custom humbucker in the bridge and custom single coil pickups in the middle and neck positions, the Fiore allows players to really experiment with their tone. That’s not all, however, as the Fiore also features two push/pull tone controls, allowing you to further shape your tone.

S2 PRS Guitars

For those who want to get straight to the soul of the PRS sound without all the trimmings, there is the S2 series. These inspired guitars are still American made in Stevensville, MD, but feature more cost-effective parts and appointments. They have their own vibe, though, especially the S2 Velas which veer into vintage “off-set” territory.

PRS S2 Custom 24

The S2 Custom 24 is similar in concept to the original PRS Custom 24, but is re-imagined with cost effective materials and fewer features than you’d find on the Custom 24.

PRS S2 McCarty

The PRS S2 McCarty is very similar to the Core McCarty, but with more cost effective materials and slightly stripped-down features. The S2 McCarty comes in three flavors, the classic McCarty 594, the McCarty 594 Singlecut, and the McCarty 594 Thinline.

PRS S2 Standard

The PRS S2 Standard comes in many shapes, sizes, and finishes. The Standard 22 and Standard 24 look and feel familiar to the Custom 24, while the Vela offers a vintage tone in a beautiful offset body.

SE PRS Guitars

For beginners, or players on a budget who still want to join the PRS family, the SE series leaves little to be desired in an electric guitar. This line of import models accurately reflects the greatness that established PRS as one of the biggest names in the industry.

Paul Reed Smith has worked closely with his team of builders in South Korea to ensure that every SE guitar rises to the PRS standard. Featuring many of the same body styles as the core series, the SE guitars has proven popular amongst students and professionals alike.

Private Stock PRS Guitars

PRS Private Stock guitars are the pinnacle of craftsmanship, playability, and tone when it comes to electric guitars. You may not personally like the look of any given PRS Private Stock model, but you’d be hard-pressed to find a better built instrument anywhere else in the world. Hand crafted by the most talented luthiers with the highest quality of materials, Private Stock guitars can be fully customized to your exact specifications.

If it says PRS on the headstock, it’s bound to be a great guitar, but the taxonomy can be daunting. Whether you have specific questions about a particular model, or want a recommendation on which series would be best for you, give us a call and we’ll help you navigate the nomenclature. It’s what we do. We’re immensely proud to be a PRS dealer, and we want these fine instruments to go to good homes.

If you need some help finding the perfect PRS Guitar, or would like to learn more about the guitars that we have in stock, contact Midwood Guitar Studio today.

Feb 16th 2021 Robinson Earle

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