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The Legacy of PRS Guitars

by | Gear Reviews, Guitarists

PRS guitars have been at the forefront of guitar manufacturing for over twenty-five years. From studio to stage, these guitars are world-renowned for their incredible playability and diverse tonal capabilities. PRS specializes in electric guitars, but they also offer impressive acoustic guitars, basses, and amplifiers. These range from affordable entry-level models to more high-end boutique designs. In this article, we’ll discuss the history and evolution of this iconic guitar brand, as well as feature some of their most accomplished endorsees.

Origin Story

Paul Reed Smith had been an avid guitar player from early childhood. Growing up in Maryland in the USA, Smith had decided from a young age to dedicate his life to music and became particularly fascinated with luthiers.

Smith experimented with guitar builds due to a lack of funds to purchase one from his local retailer. In 1975 he would construct his first functioning electric guitar as part of a college professor’s music project. The task left a lasting impression on Smith, who then abandoned his studies in 1976 to open his own guitar repair business and workshop. For the first nine years of his career, Smith would only manage to produce on guitar a month, but he was a driven and patient man.

Being an active musician, Smith would self-test every guitar that he manufactured at local gigs. This practice offered him a chance to gain hands-on experience with his designs and provided him with a broad scope of networking opportunities to grow his business. In 1985, Smith formally registered PRS guitars and set his sights on higher ground. He attended concerts religiously and would ask touring roadies to pass on his guitars to the musicians playing that night. His resolve would pay off, and PRS would find its way into the hands of players like Ted Nugent, Peter Frampton, and (after many failed attempts) Carlos Santana.

The Evolution of PRS

From the beginning of his Luthier journey, Paul Reed Smith had been a massive fan of the guitar designs of the mid-1950s and 60’s era. He also believed that his guitar designs had to incorporate high-quality material that would overshadow any competitive designs in their price range. These materials included rare forms of wood such as curled maple or exotic mahogany.

Smith believed that his guitars had to be distinct from their peers, be it the shape, materials used, or overall aesthetic. After officially opening shop in 1985, Smith drove himself and his employees to master most components of the electric guitar so that they would not have to outsource any materials or labor. PRS’s first commercial model was the Bolt-On, which would eventually become the first of their Classic Electric (CE) series, released in 1988. This model was one of the first PRS guitars to have the majority of its parts designed and manufactured in-house, a significant stepping stone for any growing company. By 1990, the first PRS released their first high-end model, the PRS EG. This guitar was geared towards big stage and studio performance and featured a dense weighty tone that became favorable amongst hard rock guitarists. Smith noticed the impact and would design his pickups and neck designs to favor players in this particular genre, to a resounding response.

In 1994, Smith contacted former Gibson president Ted McCarty and requested that the two collaborate under McCarty’s mentorship. The partnership resulted in the popular PRS “McCarty” Series, which consisted of the standard PRS guitar shape but with a brighter and more classic tonal quality.

By the turn of the millennium, PRS guitars had amassed a bevy of electric and acoustic guitar, bass, and amp patents, as well as a star-studded list of musicians to endorse and carry the PRS torch worldwide.

Famous PRS Guitar Players

John Mayer

There aren’t many budding blues or contemporary guitar players that aren’t familiar with John Mayer. He can be attributed for a prominent blues contemporary crossover with his Grammy award-winning album Continuum. Mayer has earned the adoration of the likes of legends like BB. King, Ray Charles, and Willy Nelson. He was the poster boy for the rejuvenation of fender guitar sales during the early 200’s before famously jumping ship to PRS in 2012 to produce his signature line of guitars.

Alex Lifeson

Alex Lifeson is one of the founding members of prog-rock giants Rush. Rush were one of underground music’s greatest success stories of the 1980’s era, steering far away from the typical glam and hair-metal of that era. During the summer of 2013, Lifeson partnered with PRS to release his first-ever signature guitar. The Alex Lifeson Signature model is an acoustic guitar slightly slimmer than the average guitar build can withstand long and rigorous tour schedules, much like its namesake.

Carlos Santana

Santana was one of the guitarists that Smith had hoped to endorse from when he opened his workshop in 1985. He would famously reject Smith’s guitars three times before Smith finally convinced him with a custom build. The relationship has lasted for over three decades, and to this day, Santana seldom uses any other guitars for his live performances or recordings. The Santana Retro is a tribute to the custom build that Smith designed for Santana and is a popular choice among several guitar collectors.

Mark Tremonti

Mark Tremonti is one of hard rock’s most innovative stalwarts. Tremonti rose to stardom with the band Creed during the late 90’s and early 200’s period before partnering up with vocalist Miles Kennedy to form Alter Bridge. Tremonti is well known for his incredible soloing ability and his seven-string guitar for his signature raw, visceral riff ideas. Tremonti’s PRS guitar comes with a signature series of pickups and has an exceptionally aggressive attack for more challenging music styles like rock, metal, and punk.

Final Thoughts

There are so many praises to sing about PRS’s journey from backyard building to worldwide success. The brand has managed to grow itself into a unique and incredibly reliable source of guitar products, and we can hear the evidence of their excellent craftsmanship on countless albums and concert recordings. If you’re an ambitious guitarist who enjoys thick tone and a high level of playability, you’ll love PRS electric guitars.

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