To address the age-old problem of fretted instruments not playing in tune at the nut-end of the neck, Paul Reed Smith invented a compensated nut to improve intonation throughout the fretboard.
After Carlos Santana requested a guitar with a vibrato that stayed in tune, Paul Reed Smith began his quest of creating the currently patented PRS tremolo system with the help of John Mann.
In 1984, Paul set out on a tour of East Coast guitar dealers armed with two prototypes (pictured). Sam Ash placed the first order with Paul for 30 guitars on this trip, bringing value to the company that would later help secure official investors.
After attending his first winter NAMM show in January of 1985 with a small selection of guitars, Smith returned to Annapolis, Maryland and moved into the PRS Virginia Ave factory. For four months, a small team of fewer than 15 employees began building 20 un-serialized guitars.
In order to have full autonomy of the tone of the instruments he was building, Paul Reed Smith developed the PRS Standard Treble and Bass Pickups in 1985. In 2015, these pickups were named one of the “33 Biggest Innovations in Pickup Design” by Guitar Player Magazine.
The very first production serial-numbered instrument came off the line in August 1985. On June 27th, 1986 PRS celebrated "The Night of the 1,000 Guitar Party." PRS Guitars was gaining momentum.
In 1992 the truss rod in a PRS neck was changed from a single-action to a double-action style. With the ability to correct both bowed and flexed necks, the double-action truss rod allowed for increased adjustability and helped create an even more stable neck.
When Paul Smith was 16, he dreamt about a guitar with a dragon inlaid down the neck. 20 years later, the first PRS Dragon guitar was born. With a list price of $8,000 it was an ultra-high-end "collector" guitar.
In 1993 and 1994, PRS introduced the Custom 22 and McCarty Models (respectively). Paul believed that the shorter neck provided a fatter, more vintage tone, and with the McCarty model he was paying tribute to his teacher, Ted McCarty, a master of the vintage market.
CNC ("Computer Numerical Control") machines are computer-driven millers that help ensure a higher level of quality by providing more accurate and repeatable operations. While PRS Guitars are still hand sanded, assembled, and quality inspected, the CNC machine allowed for the perfect body and neck carve without the margin for human error.
After outgrowing the original Virginia Avenue shop, PRS Guitars moved to a new building across the Chesapeake Bay on Kent Island. With 20,000 square feet of space, the new facility provided a more mature manufacturing space and workflow for PRS’s growing family of luthiers.
Based off of the 1995 "Guitars of the Month" program, Paul Smith, Joe Knaggs, and a small team of talented luthiers began building custom guitars for musicians under the Private Stock program. The Private Stock team remains small and highly talented, constantly striving to create the best guitars money can buy.
When the Smithsonian National Museum of American History assembled an exhibit on the role of the guitar in American popular music, a PRS Dragon I was proudly included as part of the display. This marks the first of many PRS guitars to be displayed in museums across the nation.
As PRS grew in the late 90's, PRS hired its 100th employee. Today, PRS’s headcount hovers around 355 employees, covering a broad spectrum of important roles, including production, R&D, sales, marketing, artist relations, customer service, supply chain, and more.
In 1997, a 65-foot tall PRS McCarty model was placed atop the Hard Rock Cafe in Baltimore Maryland’s Inner Harbor.
PRS Guitars introduced the first piezo equipped guitar in 1998. After customizing the system with LR Baggs, the design was granted a US patent in 1999. The LR Baggs / PRS Piezo system provides musicians with both beautiful acoustic guitar tones and electric guitar tones in one instrument.
In 2000, PRS received its first Musikmesse International Press Awards for “Best Electric Guitar.” Press from all over the world vote for this accolade and winners are announced at the Musikmesse / Prolight + Sound trade show. As of 2019, PRS has received nine “Best Electric Guitar of the Year” awards.
The SE line began in 2001, made with the goal of providing an affordable instrument with the high-quality and dependability players love from PRS. Carlos Santana played a large role in bringing the project online and the Santana SE was the first model to be introduced.
In September 2005, the U.S. Court of Appeals dismissed Gibson’s suit against PRS. After appeal, the United States Supreme Court decision ended Gibson's multi-year effort to thwart legitimate competition under the guise of intellectual property law. PRS immediately resumed production of the PRS Singlecut.
With the goal of celebrating the company and showing appreciation for the thousands of PRS fans and players around the world, PRS held its first free public multi-day “Experience” event consisting of factory tours, guitar demos, and live music performances.
As PRS sales and production grew, additional factory space and equipment was needed yet again in order to keep up with demand. Groundbreaking began in 2006 and in 2008 phase two of PRS Guitars' Stevensville factory was completed. The new building added 90,000 sq feet of much-needed production and office space.
After years of designing and prototyping, the Angelus Cutaway and Tonare Grand acoustic models were introduced at Winter NAMM 2009 and began full production later that year in PRS Guitars’ recently expanded manufacturing facility.
After nearly four years of close collaboration with master amp designer Doug Sewell, PRS Guitars introduced their highly anticipated all-tube amp line at Winter NAMM 2009. Sewell and Smith worked together to produce a line that covers the needs of varied playing styles while providing some uniquely different tonal possibilities.
In 2009 PRS selected a few of their most experienced luthiers and guitar technicians to create the only authorized PRS service and repair center, known as the PTC. Over the years, the PTC has seen and repaired hundreds of guitars, from tragic tales of headstocks being knocked off, to simple setups, re-frets, and hardware upgrades.
2009 marks the introduction of the “Artist Grade” Wood Library – a collection of highly-figured maple tops set aside for dealers to handpick for their orders. Eventually, this led to the Private Stock Vault, which houses PRS’s finest collection of exotic woods and inlay materials.
Paul Reed Smith was joined Leo Fender, Les Paul, and Ted McCarty in Vintage Guitar Magazine’s Hall of Fame. Publisher Alan Greenwood noted, “Paul is the first of his generation of guitar builders to be inducted to the Vintage Guitar Hall of Fame, his entry marks a changing of the guard.”
After a lengthy R&D process, the S2 Series was introduced in 2013 and aimed to fill the gap between PRS’ affordable line of SE instruments and the renowned US core line. The American-made line of guitars has grown from three instruments to more than a dozen and caters to a new breed of player.
In 2013 The Metropolitan Museum of Art accepted a Paul Reed Smith electric guitar, Acoustic Steel String guitar, and Acoustic Classical Nylon String guitar into its permanent collection. The presentation included a performance by PRS Artist and world-renowned guitarist John McLaughlin.
In celebration of its 30th Anniversary, PRS reopened factory tours inside their Maryland headquarters, showcasing the production of its electric, acoustic, and amplifier lineups.
The McCarty 594 was introduced with the goal of offering a vintage-sounding instrument with the reliability of modern-day manufacturing. For the first time in production, the 594 offered a 3-way toggle on the upper bout of the double-cutaway PRS body shape, a 24.594” scale length, and introduced 58/15 LT pickups.
After years of development and collaboration with John Mayer, PRS introduced the Silver Sky, a three single-coil guitar inspired by Mayer and Smith’s favorite 1963 and 1964 instruments. The launch created waves in the guitar community and traffic unexpectedly crashed the PRS website for a brief period on launch day.
“TCI,” meaning Tuned Capacitance and Inductance, was a technology revelation discovered in the research and design phase of the Silver Sky’s 635JM pickups. More than a pickup, TCI is a process that allows pickups to be fine-tuned to sound exactly as desired. As part of the 35th Anniversary celebration, PRS house-wound pickups have all been tweaked with TCI.
As demand for PRS Guitars and amplifiers increased, new employees were trained and hired bringing the PRS headcount to over 350 employees for the first time.
2019 saw the opening of a dedicated facility in Surabaya, Indonesia where employees focus on building only SE instruments to PRS’s exacting specifications.
PRS’s Maryland electric guitar production switched over to a new proprietary lineup of Signature Series strings, complementing the existing classic series strings which were used on PRS Guitars for more than 30 years. Signature Series strings feature a reformulated alloy for louder and brighter tone as well as soldered ends for extended string life and durability.