1984: First Orders
In 1984, Paul needed money to start his company and purchase the equipment necessary to build guitars. He set out on a tour of East Coast guitar dealers to generate orders. He was armed with only two prototypes - a vintage yellow Custom model (maple top / mahogany back) and a pearl white Standard model (all mahogany). Sam Ash placed the first order with Paul for 30 guitars, bringing a $20,950 value to the company. All of the orders Paul received during this sales trip would later help convince investors that Paul was worth their time and attention.
1984: Tremolo Patent Awarded
In early conversations building guitars for Carlos Santana, Carlos insisted that Smith build him a guitar with a vibrato that stayed in tune. During the phone call, Paul Smith said "OK, I'll put a vibrato on it that won't go out of tune." After hanging up Paul remembers thinking, "How on earth am I going to do that?" And the quest began.
During the mid-1980's locking vibratos like the Floyd Rose and Kahler were state-of-the-art. Both used nut locks that required an Allen key to engage or disengage the locks. Additionally, the Floyd used locking saddles. These systems made string-changing a chore for artists. With the help of John Mann, Paul Smith set out to develop his currently patented PRS Tremolo system. It uses a six-screw pivot (like a Fender vibrato) but with each screw notched to accept the knife-edge of the bridge. The saddles sit within a walled top to eliminate any sideways movement that would throw your guitar out of tune. When Smith paired this design with his locking tuners, the system worked wonderfully, and to this day PRS guitars have a great reputation for tuning stability.
1985: Open for Business
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 a factory on Virginia Ave in April. For four months, a small team of fewer than 15 employees began building 20 un-serialized guitars. Those guitars would later be used that year at the Summer NAMM trade show in New Orleans.
1986: 1000th Guitar
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.
1987: Wide Thin Neck Option Introduced
Neck shapes are quintessential to the feel, comfort, and playability of a guitar. The introduction of the Wide Thin neck option in 1987 was PRS’s first step toward offering players a higher level of customization within the product line. The popular design sold well with shred-crazed metal and hard rock musicians. Those players felt the thinner neck allowed for faster movement on the fretboard. To this day, a variety of neck shapes are offered so that players can better find a guitar that feels “like home.”
1990: First CNC Machine
CNC ("Computer Numerical Control") machines are computer-driven millers that replaced hand routers, shapers, and manual carving machines in the PRS wood shop. CNC’s help ensure a higher level of quality by providing more accurate and repeatable operations. While PRS Guitars are still completely hand sanded, assembled, and quality inspected, the CNC machine allowed for the perfect body and neck carve without the margin for human error.
1990: EG Line - The Grandfather to S2
In order to appeal to a larger audience of musicians, PRS introduced the EG line as an affordable option for guitarists. It was an American-made guitar with two different pick-up layouts: three single-coils or two single-coils and a humbucker. The EG also introduced a new shape to the PRS line and provided the first 22-fret production guitars at PRS. The flat-alder body, bolt-on neck, dot inlays, and PRS standard vibrato with non-locking tuners kept costs down for customers. Though the EG would last only until 1995, it is now considered the “grandfather” of the affordable, Maryland-made S2 Series (introduced in 2013).
1992: Double Action Truss Rod
In 1992 the truss rod in PRS necks 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 not only allowed for increased adjustability, it also helped create an even more stable neck.
1992: Dragon I
When Paul Smith was 16, he dreamt about a guitar with a dragon inlaid down the neck. 20 years later, he thought it was time to make his dream a reality. In 1992, the PRS Dragon guitar was born. With a list price of $8,000 it was an ultra-high-end "collector" guitar. Other Dragon models would follow, including the Dragon II, Dragon III, Dragon 2000, Dragon 2002, Dragon 2005, and the 25th Anniversary Dragon.
1993/1994: A Step into the Vintage Market
In 1993 and 1994, PRS introduced the Custom 22 and McCarty Models (respectively). Though the EG and Dragon I both featured a shorter 22-fret neck, the Custom and McCarty were the first set-neck production models with this 22-fret feature. 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. Now with both 22 and 24 fret guitars in the lineup, PRS was beginning to expand its appeal to players of all styles.
1996: Move to Kent Island
As PRS sales and production grew, additional factory space and equipment was needed in order to keep orders timely. Groundbreaking began in 2006 and in 2008 phase 2 of PRS Guitar's Stevensville factory was completed.
1996: PRS First Website
In 1996, the internet was growing and PRS knew they needed to be there. A number of web consultants reached out to PRS offering their services in building a website. Unsatisfied with the apperance and work of the consultants, two employees from PRS decided to take on the challenge themselves. Marc Quigley (then customer service rep) and Geoff Jacobsen (IT manager) hand coded the first PRS website. It gave customers a place to quickly explore PRS products on the web.
1996: Private Stock Introduced
Based off of the 1995 "Guitars of the Month," Paul Smith, Joe Knaggs, and a small team of talented luthiers began building custom guitars for musicians. Smith said it was as if they had started up the old workshop again and would make pretty much anything a customer wanted. Private Stocks were primarily customer-driven, with PRS taking orders directly from the dealers who were providing a quote.
The first Private Stock guitar was completed on April 19th, 1996. A year later, over 85 pieces had been built. As of October 2014, Private Stock number 5,000 was shipping out the door.
The Private Stock team remains small and highly talented, constantly striving to create the best guitars money can buy.
1996: PRS Guitar added to the Smithsonian Collection - Washington, DC
When the Smithsonian National Museum of American History in Washington DC assembled more than a dozen guitars to exemplify the role of the instrument in American popular music, a PRS Dragon I was proudly included in the exhibit. It was donated by Chuck Levin of Washington Music Center in Wheaton, Maryland, one of PRS Guitars’ first dealers. This marks the first of many PRS guitars to be displayed in museums across the nation.
1997: 100 Employees
As PRS grew in the late 90's, PRS hired its 100th employee. Today, PRS’s headcount hovers around 230 employees, covering a broad spectrum of important roles, including production, research and development, sales, marketing, artist relations, customer service, and more.
2000: Piezo Patent Granted
PRS Guitars introduced the first piezo equipped guitar in 1998 and 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. This system allows guitarists to plug into their favorite electric guitar or acoustic guitar amp or DI into a soundboard, giving a new set of tonal possibilities to players.
2000: PRS Receives MIPA Award for Singlecut
In 2000, PRS received its first Musikmesse International Press Awards (mipa) for “Best Electric Guitar.” Press from all over the world vote for this distinguished honor each year and winners are announced at the Musikmesse/Prolight + Sound trade show in Frankfurt, Germany. The mipa is known as the “Grammy" of the Musical Instrument/Pro Audio industry. As of 2014, PRS has received the “Best Electric Guitar of the Year” accolade nine times. Other PRS model winners include the the Santana SE in 2002, the Santana II in 2003, the 513 in 2005 and 2006, the PRS Singlecut in 2007, the 305 in 2010, and the NF3 in 2011. PRS also received the “Best Acoustic Guitar” mipa in 2009, the line’s inaugural year.
2001: SE Line Introduced
The SE line begain in 2001 in an effort to provide high-quality, dependable guitars to players... all at the most affordable levels. PRS endorser Carlos Santana played a large role in bringing the project online, as it was his desire that players would be able to afford a quality guitar that they could enjoy playing. The Santana SE was the first model to be introduced. The all- mahogany flat top design was the first PRS Guitar made overseas in Korea. Previously the most affordable PRS Guitar was the CE Maple Top, listed at more than $2,000, when the Santana SE was introduced, it had a list price of just $738.
2007: 1st "Experience PRS" event held at PRS Headquarters
PRS President Jack Higginbotham and a small group of PRS employees came up with the idea of throwing a large party at the PRS factory in Stevensville, MD. The goal was to celebrate the company and show appreciation for the thousands of PRS fans and players around the world.
The free public 2-day event consisted of factory tours, guitar demos, and live music performances. At the seven Experience PRS events held to date, artists such as Buddy Guy, Carlos Santana, Opeth, Orianthi, SOJA, Al DiMeola, Mark Tremonti, and Ricky Skaggs have headlined the evening concerts. PRS hosted the event from 2007-2013 with a year off in 2014 to prepare for the company's 30th Anniversary.
2008: Stevensville Expansion Opens
As PRS sales and production grew, additional factory space and equipment was needed in order to keep orders timely. 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.
2009: PRS Introduces PRS Acoustics
After four years of design and prototyping, the Angelus Cutaway and Tonare Grand acoustic models were introduced at Winter NAMM 2009and began full production later that year in PRS Guitars’ recently expanded manufacturing facility.These newly designed and artist approved models came standard with features normally considered expensive options in the industry. Five years later, PRS Acoustics have maintained their small shop build quality and are still produced in exclusive numbers. Several artists have proudly put their names behind these guitars, included Tony McManus, Martin Simpson, Ricky Skaggs, Alex Lifeson, Ray LaMontagne, and John Hiatt.
2009: PRS Introduces PRS Amplifiers
After nearly four years of close collaboration with master amp designer Doug Sewell, PRS Guitars introduced their highly anticipated 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. Artists such as Derek Trucks, Warren Haynes, David Grissom, and many, many others have embraced the PRS lineup, which includes everything from high-gain, two channel modern marvels to vintage style single channel amplifiers.
2009: PRS Introduces the PTC
PTC stands for the PRS Tech Center. In 2009 PRS selected a few of their most experienced luthiers and guitar technicians to create the only authorized PRS service and repair center.
The PTC is dedicated to the responsible repair and authentic techniques that are true to a PRS guitar’s original construction. The members of the PTC team have more than 50 years of combined PRS experience - no outside contractors are used. Their personal approach and in-depth knowledge of PRS traditions are directly reflected in the meticulous quality of their work.
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.
2010: 5-Way Blade Switch Becomes Standard
In 2010, PRS updated their flagship Custom 24 model by replacing the 5-way rotary pickup selector with a 5-way blade switch. This change provided a dual humbucking option on the Custom 24 model for the first time.
2011: Phase III Tuners Designed
In keeping with Paul's motto to never stop improving, PRS released the Phase III locking tuners in 2011. Since Paul's earliest guitar builds for Carlos Santana, tuning stability has been of extreme importance. Starting with the winged locking tuners of the 1980's Paul gradually made improvements in the design and functionality of his tuners. Phase III's keep the efficiency of PRS’s locking function and update it with an elegant open back design.
2013: PRS Introduces S2 Series
PRS’s desire to fill the gap between its affordable line of SE instruments and its renowned US core line with an American-made line of guitars was a long-harbored goal. In 2013, the S2 Series was introduced, not only offering customers a more affordable USA made instrument, but offering reimagined guitars for a new breed of player. PRS blended new design elements and manufacturing techniques with their practiced US quality control and workmanship to offer 3 new guitar models: the S2 Mira, S2 Starla, and S2 Custom 24.
A little over a year later, the S2 family has grown from 3 guitars to a family of more than 10, now offering singlecut options, semi-hollow options, and a trio of "standard" all-mahogany guitars with pickguards.
2013: PRS Electric and Acoustic Guitar added to The Met's Permanent Collection
On October 7th, 2013, The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York accepted a Paul Reed Smith electric guitar, Acoustic Steel String guitar, and Acoustic Classical Nylon String guitar into its permanent collection. The presentation of the electric guitar included a public performance and demonstration of the guitar by PRS Artist and world-renowned guitarist John McLaughlin.
The custom made guitars were built by PRS Private Stock luthiers and made from the finest instrument grade woods. The electric guitar was built with American curly maple for the neck, ebony for the fretboard and headstock veneer, European red curly maple for the top, African ribbon mahogany for the back and red heart abalone side body purfling. The “Museum Bird” inlays, specially designed for this instrument, were cut from mammoth ivory which is found regularly in arctic ice. The neck carve, 25” scale length, PRS narrow “408” pickups, electronics, knobs, and PRS designed stoptail bridge with brass inserts are all standard appointments for PRS. The guitar features a specially designed light tiger eye micro burst finish with natural binding.
2014: Paul Receives Lifetime Achievement Award from NAMM
At the 2014 NAMM show, Paul Reed Smith was awarded the Music and Sound Retailer Magazine Lifetime Achievement/Hall of Fame Award, joining the ranks of guitar industry peers, including Bob Taylor and Hartley Peavey. Every year for 28 consecutive years, The Retailer’s large community of musical instrument dealers are asked to nominate a distinguished innovator whose musical contributions have achieved elevated levels of acclaim and respect within the musical community. Recognizing Paul’s dedication to the guitar’s rich heritage as well as his innovation through the last thirty years, this award by no means Paul is finished yet.
2015: PRS Re-Opens Public Factory Tours for 30th Anniversary
Guitar building is an ongoing process of discovery. While 2015 marks the thirtieth year of PRS Guitars, the success of the company depends on the culture it has built over the last three decades. Since 1985, PRS has worked to not only build the highest quality guitars but to serve its employees, customers, suppliers and community with distinction. To that end, PRS will proudly be reopening for public tours in January of 2015 (a service that was put on hold through the past several years of construction and expansion). Come celebrate this milestone year at PRS Guitars.