News / USA

American Guitar Maker Stands Out in Crowded Industry

Paul Reed Smith holds one of the guitars he makes as he discusses what is involved in the craft - and art - of creating these customized instruments, June 2011
Paul Reed Smith holds one of the guitars he makes as he discusses what is involved in the craft - and art - of creating these customized instruments, June 2011

Multimedia

Jeff Swicord

In the early 1980s, a young guitar maker named Paul Reed Smith first tried to sell his guitars to major artists. Now more than 25 years later, Smith's guitars are considered some of the finest instruments made.

Latin artist Carlos Santana, and jazzman Al Di Meola play two different styles of music. But they both have something, or rather, someone in common: Paul Reed Smith.

“I started building guitars in wood shop in high school, in my brother’s bedroom and in my bedroom," he said. "And I would rent equipment.”

State of the art

Not anymore. Today, Paul Reed Smith Guitars are built in a state of the art factory on the Maryland eastern shore.

The company’s 260 employees made 13,000 guitars in the U.S. Another 25,000 guitars were made in South Korea for a less expensive line. PRS earned $40 million in sales last year.  

Since its founding in 1985, the company has carved out a niche in a competitive market. When asked about his business philosophy, though, Smith simply says he just tries to make the best guitars possible.

“We have been asked why the guitars are different and I have come to the conclusion that it is a very complicated, long list of attention to detail,” he said.

Attention to detail

That detail is most apparent in the built-to-order Private Stock line, often referred to as part works of art and part instrument.

“We have maple tops, we have mahogany necks… ,” said Smith.

PRS president Jack Higginbotham said building an exceptional guitar starts with the wood.

“Nice piece of mahogany," said Higginbotham of one block. “Nice ring to it,” he said as he tapped on it.

Exotic wood

PRS buys exotic woods from around the world, and its guitars are known for their eye popping, curly maple tops.

“This is a pretty exceptional example of what will become a private stock guitar," said Higginbotham. "What we are about is just trying to obtain the very best wood as far as visual goes and sound goes.”

Higginbotham said the manufacturing process is equally important. Wood is slowly dried in a special room. The guitar is shaped within a thousandth of a millimeter on computerized milling machines. All pieces are hand-sanded, stained, and lacquered. Neck inlays are done by hand. On average, it takes about six weeks to build one guitar.  

Smith said his company seeks perfection.

“Our job is to try to make the guitars better and better and better. And then when we get to the point where we don’t want to mess with them, then we try to repeat the same thing over and over again,” he said.

That attention to detail is not lost on musicians. Brian Meader sells guitars at Chuck Levins Washington Music Center, one of the first stores to carry PRS.

“This is the PRS Custom 24, it is the original PRS guitar… ,” said Meader.

Quality production

He said that when it comes to quality, for a mass production guitar, PRS is unmatched.

“You are getting custom guitar construction, build quality and tone from now a production guitar company," said Meader. "And there are very few out there that can kind of compete with them on all of those levels at the same time.”

Paul Reed Smith is applying the same attention to detail to a new line of acoustic guitars.

“I mean the thing is going nuts," said Smith. "It sustains forever right?”

PRS guitars range in price from around $600 to tens of thousands for the Private Stock line.

You May Like

DRC Tries Mega-Farms to Feed Population

Park at Boukanga Lonzo currently has 5,000 hectares under cultivation, crops stretching as far as eye can see, and is start of ambitious large-scale agriculture plan More

Video Survivor Video Testimonies Recount Horrors of Guatemalan Genocide

During a conflict that spanned more than three decades, tens of thousands of indigenous Mayans were killed More

Video War, Drought Threaten Iraq's Marshlands

Areas are spawning ground for Gulf fisheries, a resting place for migrating wildfowl, source of livelihood for fishermen and herders who have called the marshes home for generations More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOAi
X
August 31, 2015 2:17 AM
Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOA

Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video War, Drought Threaten Iraq's Marshlands

Iraq's southern wetlands are in crisis. These areas are the spawning ground for Gulf fisheries, a resting place for migrating wildfowl, and source of livelihood for fishermen and herders. Faith Lapidus has more.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Rebuilding New Orleans' Music Scene

Ten years after Hurricane Katrina inundated New Orleans, threatening to wash away its vibrant musical heritage along with its neighborhoods, the beat goes on. As Bronwyn Benito and Faith Lapidus report, a Musicians' Village is preserving the city's unique sound.
Video

Video In Russia, Auto Industry in Tailspin

Industry insiders say country relies too heavily on imports as inflation cuts too many consumers out of the market. Daniel Schearf has more from Moscow.
Video

Video Scientist Calls Use of Fetal Tissue in Medical Research Essential

An anti-abortion group responsible for secret recordings of workers at a women's health care organization claims the workers shown are offering baby parts for sale, a charge the organization strongly denies. While the selling of fetal tissue is against the law in the United States, abortion and the use of donated fetal tissue for medical research are both legal. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video Next to Iran, Climate at Forefront of Obama Agenda

President Barack Obama this week announced new initiatives aimed at making it easier for Americans to access renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Obama is not slowing down when it comes to pushing through climate change measures, an issue he says is the greatest threat to the country’s national security. VOA correspondent Aru Pande has more from the White House.
Video

Video Arctic Draws International Competition for Oil

A new geopolitical “Great Game” is underway in earth’s northernmost region, the Arctic, where Russia has claimed a large area for resource development and President Barack Obama recently approved Shell Oil Company’s test-drilling project in an area under U.S. control. Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Philippine Maritime Police: Chinese Fishermen a Threat to Country’s Security

China and the Philippines both claim maritime rights in the South China Sea.  That includes the right to fish in those waters. Jason Strother reports on how the Philippines is catching Chinese nationals it says are illegal poachers. He has the story from Palawan province.
Video

Video China's Spratly Island Building Said to Light Up the Night 'Like A City'

Southeast Asian countries claim China has illegally seized territory in the Spratly islands. It is especially a concern for a Philippine mayor who says Beijing is occupying parts of his municipality. Jason Strother reports from the capital of Palawan province, Puerto Princesa.
Video

Video Ages-old Ice Reveals Secrets of Climate Change

Ice caps don't just exist at the world's poles. There are also tropical ice caps, and the largest sits atop the Peruvian Andes - but it is melting, quickly, and may be gone within the next 20 years. George Putic reports scientists are now rushing to take samples to get at the valuable information about climate change locked in the ice.

VOA Blogs