Paul Reed Smith (PRS) Guitars have only been around since 1985, but despite their relative youth, they have made a surprising impact on the collectors market, and guitarists. The reason for this is due to the evolution of the business. The guitars were originally crafted for local Nashville players, not the mass market, as opposed to the usual manufacturer’s route of bringing out models initially to create high volume sales. As a result, this business and guitar development process has made PRS one of the leading manufacturers of top-end electric guitars.
Most of the top-end range have a mahogany base, and maple tops, although there are many variations, all however are constructed from high grade timber sources. The neck inlays are highly distinctive, and as well as being made from materials other than abalone shell, they have quite unique designs that feature for example birds.
Another factor which explains their success is that many of their guitar components are manufactured in house, and specific to their range. This includes most nuts, although some are made in Korea, where their ‘S.E.’ range are constructed. They have three original bridge designs that are high precision, and have a measurable impact on tone.
Their pickups are also constructed in house, and are very exclusive, and complex. Not content with creating guitars that just sound exceptionally good, they have also put a lot of time into ensuring that they look as good as they sound and have a range of highly worked finishes on offer.
Despite PRS’ ‘borderline bespoke’ production methods, they nevertheless have been subject to litigation by Gibson, who claimed that PRS copied the Les Paul design on the ‘Single Cut’. Initially upheld, the decision was reversed on appeal in 2005, and the guitar was in production until 2010, despite Gibson’s continued attempts to have the case reheard.
With such a high level of workmanship involved in the guitar making process, these guitars were never going to be be cheap, and to broaden their market appeal, PRS launched a much cheaper line of guitars in the 1990s that were, and still are manufactured in Korea, the Student Edition or SE.
Whilst the SE range are of less quality than the standard range, they still match many other manufacturers’ standard guitars in terms of quality. Although budget, they are definitely not low end as the guitar bodies are well constructed, but without the ‘bells and whistles’ of the PRS standard range.
Several models have been discontinued, which makes the ‘Soapbar’ for example one of the more recent ‘Vintage’ guitars that you can buy online. One of the more sought after models is the incredible sounding and highly playable SE Custom 22, which although not a great looker is compatible with most playing styles.
Newer models include the PRS SE Custom, which retailing at around six hundred bucks is exceptionally good value for the money. There are also several signature models in the range. The earliest ‘big name’ player of a PRS was Ted Nugent who was given a PRS by the company in an obvious marketing move. Their ‘biggest name’ player though is probably Carlos Santana, whose guitar credentials are impeccable, someone who claims to ‘play for God’ is obviously not going to do the job without having something special in his hands. Of more recent PRS players is Dave Navarro, an excellent player from Jane’s Addiction, who also filled in for the Chilli Peppers whilst they were going through one of their many recurrent ‘guitarist problems’.
PRS produce excellent guitars, and the only thing holding them back is their youth, and the name. There is nothing wrong with the name, but they will have to work harder against some more well known brands whose guitars are not any better, in fact in some cases inferior, however, as yet, PRS haven’t produced any ‘iconic’ guitars’, but as soon as the ‘next big guitarist’ is seen holding a PRS, things may change.