PRS Guitars set the bar for the highest quality electric guitar being manufactured today.
Back before the dawn of the “boutique” gear industry, Paul Reed Smith boldly positioned himself in between the two major American solid-body guitar builders and changed music history forever. He took the sleek contours of a Gibson, combined them with the pragmatic simplicity of a Fender, and added a 25” scale length that he felt best complimented standard tuning. The result was a family on instruments known as PRS, which would come to be endorsed by virtuosos such as John Mclaughlin, Carlos Santana, Peter Frampton, and John Mayer.
As a youth, Paul loved two things above all else: guitars and shop class. He attended college in Annapolis, MD, where a professor challenged him to combine his two passions and begin building guitars from scratch. He set out to design a new kind of solid-body that perfectly suited the era, and the first PRS guitar was born. At the time he was gigging with bands around campus, so as soon a prototype was completed, he would test it out live. Over the years, he refined his instruments to the extent that he was confident enough to present them to famous players passing through DC. His strategy was to arrive at shows early and befriend the security staff. After a while, he would entreat them to deliver a PRS guitar backstage for the artists consideration. This approach proved quite successful. Not only did it bring great exposure to PRS guitars, but the insights provided to him by legendary professionals such as Carlos Santana helped him to further perfect his designs. Apparently, it took four custom guitars (including one he tried to steal from Howard Leese) before Santana dubbed him his personal guitar builder.
By 1985, Paul was driving around the country with a car full of guitars, approaching dealerships, and taking note of what did and didn’t sell. He recognized that in order to compete with the big, established names, he would have to surpass them in tone, feel, and sheer aesthetics. Over time, PRS guitars developed a reputation for effortless playability, gorgeously figured woods, and stunning tone. This endless push towards innovation and perfection remains a crucial characteristic of the PRS company. He may not have invented the wheel, but many would say he built a better one.
Before long, Paul had enough orders for PRS guitars that he was able to open up his own factory in Stevensville, MD. They debuted a mahogany model at the 1985 NAMM show that not only introduced industry heads to the unique and sleek PRS body shape, but also featured a custom vibrato, tuners, and a rotary pickup selector. The guitar was a big hit, and within three years the PRS team had expanded to 45 people, building 15 guitars a day.
Throughout the 1990s, PRS continued innovating designs and unveiling new models. Before long, they’d asserted themselves as the biggest new name in solid-body electric guitars. Rock & Roll was getting heavier and heavier, and PRS responded to this trend with the 24-fret EG, EG II, and high-gain pickups with names like the Chainsaw and the HFS (Hot-Fat-Screams).
One of the most important guitars that they developed during this early period was The Dragon. In addition to dazzling, draconian inlay, the first Dragon (which was limited to 50) featured a wider 22-fret neck, new pickups, and a stop-tail, non-vibrato bridge. Later, limited-run iterations of the Dragon followed, but perhaps more significantly, the popularity of the improvements it featured led them to create one of their best-selling production models, the custom 22.
When the cultural zeitgeist circled back to classic designs, PRS formed an alliance with the illustrious instrument innovator, Ted McCarty. McCarty was the president of Gibson from 1950 to 1966 and oversaw the development of the Les Paul, the ES-335, the Explorer, the Flying V, the Moderne, the SG, and the Firebird. He also introduced us to the humbucking pickup and the tune-O-matic bridge. Paul Reed Smith considered McCarty his mentor and dubbed his new vintage-styled guitars the “McCarty series” in his honor.
After firmly establishing PRS in the world of rock and fusion, Paul Reed Smith embarked on his next venture: acoustics. By combining the bracing system used on classical guitars with that of a steel string, he was able to create a full, balanced tone that’s both lush and precise. He still adheres to the traditional dovetail neck-joint, but takes enormous care to ensure that the body slot is an exact “carbon copy” of the neck joint. The private reserve acoustics feature some of the finest grade tonewoods available and their new SE series offers manageable, giggable price points for working musicians.
Having spent so much of his life guitar building, it was only a matter of time before Paul turned his attention to what lay on the other end of the ¼” cable: the amps. In 2009 he met Doug Sewell of Sewell amps and convinced him to join the PRS family. Today they offer four basic models (available in different wattage and cabinet options) which cover tones ranging from crunchy to crystalline, vintage to modern, American to British
Solid-body electrics, however, remain the bread and butter of the company. Here at Midwood, we hold Custom 22s, 24s, and their more traditionally inspired “McCarty” guitars in the highest esteem. These are instruments that can take you wherever you want to go, on stage or in the studio. It’s uncanny how easy it is to find one that perfectly suits your sound. The hard part is deciding on the finish. With so many glorious options, we try and offer a wide range, from the earthy trampas green to the ominous charcoal smoke wrap. Stop by the shop and we’ll show you why PRS has always been one step ahead of the rest.