In 2006 I was invited by Ricky Skaggs to visit his studio just outside Nashville as he had some guitars he wanted to show me. These were early prototypes of acoustic guitars from PRS and they were great- very plain and simple but, loud and clear, these were quality guitars.
I wasn’t sure why Ricky had asked me to look at them till several months later he called to tell me he “had Paul Reed Smith build one of those gittars for ya, how do you want that thing set up?” I like that kind of call!
The following week I was in Asheville, NC when I took a call from an unknown number- “hi, my name’s Paul Smith. I’m a guitar builder”. So began a conversation over several months that drew me into a really fascinating process. During the conversation- which involved a highly animated Smith who would call at virtually any time day or night- Paul would exude enthusiasm about each improvement they’d made to the guitars.
Prototype 1 (actually #18) duly arrived at the door-a great guitar with Brazilian rosewood back and sides and, like the ones I saw at Ricky’s studio, very plain.
The conversation continued and Prototype 2 arrived- again in Brazilian but this time beautifully inlaid with Celtic knots which I’d like to say were there just for me but…..
By this time Paul and I had yet to meet face to face but I got an invite in September 08 to play at the unveiling of these guitars in, of all places, Mr Smith’s home with 250 invited guests from the press and other media, assorted rock stars, PRS staff and some members of the public who were there to “Experience PRS”- the company’s open house trade show where fans and industry folks meet for a two day series of concerts, workshops, factory tours and product launches.
Having spoken by phone for so long, it was great to finally meet the man behind one of the most successful guitar companies in history and talk about things other than guitars! Paul is a true force of nature and I was engaged by his seemingly limitless enthusiasm for music of every kind and his desire to make his contribution- the guitars- as good as it can be. The crew at PRS are driven in the same way that my “boutique” luthier friends are- the only word I can use is passion- didn’t expect to find it at a large operation like PRS but there it is by the truckload.
Paul and I hit it off immediately and in a very short time had been given a tour of the new plant, met Steve Fischer and the acoustic crew, seen the guitar archive, been shown some astonishing timber in the “wood library” and then I was off home.
Next up was the 2009 NAMM show in LA. We formally launched the PRS Acoustic line and did a seemingly endless series of demonstrations of the two models. It’s a testament to the appeal of these guitars that at the end of several days of very intense, very fragmented playing (where I’d play for two minutes, Paul would talk, I’d play for two minutes, rinse and repeat) I went to my hotel room took the guitar out of the case and played for three hours solid.
The success of that NAMM show led to appearances for PRS at the Dallas Guitar Show, the London Music Show, the Meinl Guitar Festival in Germany (along with Steve Vai, Andy Timmons and Bernie Marsden). At all of these events I was struck by the care PRS takes over the artists playing their guitars and the loyalty those artists give in return.
My current guitar will become the basis for a PRS Tony McManus signature model in due course and I’m very proud of my involvement with this incredibly dedicated team of builders. This relationship has broadened my musical horizons beyond measure, bringing me into contact with rock and blues musicians like Carlos Santana, Jim McCarty, David Grissom, Howard Leese, Davy Knowles, Mark Tremonti, Neal Schon….and making my music heard by audiences far removed from my usual “compartment”. It’s an exciting journey!
The team at PRS Guitars- Paul, Steve Fischer, Larry Urie, Bev Fowler, Grover Duval, Marc Quigley, Janet Shawn and many more- have become valued friends and I look forward to working with them all in the coming years.