History of PRS Guitars

Paul Reed Smith Guitars (or PRS guitars for short) is a well-known and high quality guitar company. They are known for their famous double-cutaway solid-body guitar and the single-cutaway version of this guitar. The above are the only two models the company makes, but several different versions of both models are available.

PRS McCarty Sunburst
PRS McCarty Sunburst

PRS was started in 1975 by Paul Reed Smith. He built his first guitar at college and started the business making guitars by hand in the attic of his house in Annapolis, Maryland with a friend, John Ingram. The guitars received some attention from professional and well-known musicians when Ted Nugent tried out the second PRS guitar ever made. He eventually was given the guitar after Smith showed the guitar to other musicians. He sold it for $200 a few years afterwards. The company also built a guitar for Peter Frampton in 1976. Smith’s big break came when Al DiMeola ordered a 12-string version of the guitar. He spread the word, saying that the company could build the guitar of anyone’s dreams. This meant that in 1980 Smith got to make a guitar for one of his idols, the Mexican blues-rock guitarist Carlos Santana. Santana was hugely impressed by the guitar and would later use a custom-made PRS model as his main guitar.

PRS bodies are made of mahogany with a flame maple cap on most models. A few do not have flamed tops- the shortlived Metal models, with a graphic finish, the Standard model, which is all mahogany and sometimes painted, some painted EG models, and some McCarty models. These were deep-bodied semi-acoustics named after former Gibson Guitars president Ted McCarty, who was Paul Reed Smith’s mentor in the early days of the company.

PRS Mira
PRS Mira

PRS guitars use pickups and hardware made in-house. The company refuses to divulge any information about the wires and magnets used in the pickups. PRS finishes are usually natural, except on the aforementioned graphic-finish Metal model and some Standard and EG models. The natural finishes are very highly glossed and with a clearly visible and intricately patterned flame in most.

Some notable PRS models are the Standard, the Singlecut, which is similar to the Gibson Les Paul, the EG (with a scratchplate- PRS’ first attempt at an affordable model), the aforementioned Metal, the CE (Classic Electric, alder body), the Artist, the Dragon I, II and III models (flame maple finish, elaborate dragon inlay, very limited production), the Mira, with two equal cutaways (like Santana’s model) and the aforementioned McCarty hollow-body model. There is also a hollow-bodied version of the Singlecut, although this is not labelled as a McCarty model.

Some notable PRS users are Carlos Santana, Mikael Akerfeldt of Swedish progressive metal band Opeth, Alex Lifeson of Rush, Mark Tremonti of Alter Bridge, Chad Kroeger of Nickelback, Dickey Betts and Brad Whitford of Aerosmith.

In 2003 PRS suffered a lawsuit from Gibson when they claimed the Singlecut model looked too similar to their Les Paul model, although Gibson lost the lawsuit and PRS got to keep the Singlecut design and still produce it as of 2008.

PRS also have a budget brand called SE. SE stands for Student Edition. The guitars are geared towards non-professional musicians. Some SE models are the SE One (a Singlecut-style model with one P-90 pickup and a scratchplate), the SE Custom (based on the double cutaway PRS design with a flamed maple top), the SE Standard (again based on the double-cutaway PRS design, without flame top) and the SE Tremonti (designed with Alter Bridge’s Mark Tremonti, who also has a signature PRS as well as the cheaper SE).

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