Where Are PRS Guitars Made? Models Explained

PRS Guitars is an American guitar-building company headquartered in Stevensville, Maryland. It was founded by guitarist and luthier Paul Reed Smith in 1985 and became one of the world’s leading manufacturers of electric and acoustic guitars. It is the only brand that we can find between Gibson and Fender competing for the first position among American guitar manufacturing companies.


The guitars are made from the very beginning with high-quality materials and, despite having industrialized, they still preserve a fairly traditional manufacturing method, two of the reasons why PRS guitars have become highly prized by musicians and collectors around the world. Let’s take a look at its history.

Brief History Of PRS Guitars

Paul Reed Smith was born in 1956 in Bethesda, Maryland. As a teenager, he was obsessed with music and played in numerous high school bands. Knowing that this was not going to be his path, he began building his instruments at the age of 16. Initially, he made new bodies for existing necks, and soon after, a local guitar dealer was sufficiently impressed with the repair that Smith had made a friend’s Les Paul enough to offer him a part-time job at his shop while he finished high school.

At the same time that he was beginning his degree in mathematics, Smith began to build his instruments from scratch. He would hang around backstage at the big Washington D.C. and Baltimore concerts, hoping to get contacts. In 1975 he managed to arouse the interest of a rock star when he appeared at a Ted Nugent concert with one of his guitars. Nugent commissioned a solid-body version of a Gibson Byrdlant, a hollow-body Archtop electric guitar of choice for many 1960s jazz players. An increasingly self-assured Smith made a pact with Nugent: “If You don’t fall in love with the guitar, I’ll give you your money back.” Nugent did it and still has the instrument.


Smith understood that the key to being a famous luthier was for rock stars to use his instruments. Before handing over his guitar to Nugent, he had the opportunity to show it to Peter Framptom, who was then enjoying worldwide success with his album Framptom Comes Alive! Framptom also asked him for a guitar.

In 1976, at a concert at the Capital Center in Washington, Smith had the opportunity to meet one of his main targets at a performance that united Carlos Santana with Chick Corea’s band, Return To Forever. Although Santana liked the guitar, he did not commit to buying one. However, Return To Forever’s Al Di Meola was very impressed and struck a deal with Smith; Di Meola has used PRS guitar ever since.

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By the summer of 1977, Smith had made a total of just 17 guitars but was beginning to have an impressive client list. However, he still had an elusive goal: “I knew that if I managed to make a guitar for Carlos Santana, the rest would follow.” Smith got a second chance at the end of 1980, and this time he got the Mexican star to order an instrument for him.

In 1984, American manufacturers were in an all-out war against the competition from Japanese guitars. Smith saw this as a window of opportunity to expand the brand.

In 1985, he realized that he had taken custom instrument manufacturing as far as he could go, and raised enough capital to set up a small factory in Annapolis, Maryland.

Taking inspiration from classical guitars, he used maple tops, mahogany bodies, and beautiful fretboards with bird-shaped inlays, creating a guitar that sounded great and looked simply beautiful.

In that same year, Smith met Ted McCarty, the former Chairman, and CEO of Gibson. From that moment McCarty became a mentor and consultant to the company, introducing the model with the same name in 1994.

The first instruments to come off the production line were the PRS Custom in various variants. The guitars sold for about $1,500. The Standard, Signature, and Limited Edition models followed. Later, the Artist series, Dragon, McCarty, and the Private Stock line.

With the growing demand in the mid-90s, PRS had to go from mostly manual manufacturing and assembly (milling-cutting machines) to mostly mechanical manufacturing and assembly. The bodies and necks are now processed via CNC (Computer Numerical Control), although polishing, assembly, and finishing are still done by hand. CNC machines are more precise than previously used mill duplicators.

At the end of the 90s, PRS introduced a new, more accessible range to keep up with the demand. The SE models are manufactured in Korea and Indonesia, they are distinguishable by the opaque finishes and the lower quality of the woods, although some of these models also include patterned maple such as the Soapbar II. PRS SE models are increasing in popularity with hobbyists, just as the higher-end models tend to be used by professional musicians.

Today PRS produces about 1,100 instruments a month in the United States and 2,500 in Korea. The brand has also expanded its product line with amplifiers, pedals, and acoustic guitars.


Materials, Mechanics, Pickups, and Finishes For PRS Guitars

Wood selection plays a major role in the making of a PRS guitar. The bodies are made of mahogany, with a maple top layer on most models. Sometimes they include special quality patterns, such as flame maple and quilt maple, and even fancy patterned maple creating the effect of tiger stripes. PRS necks are typically made from mahogany, although some models offer Indian or Brazilian maple, or rosewood necks. The fingerboards are made of rosewood. The knobs of the pegs are made of synthetic material. The fret number indicators on PRS signature guitars include moons on the low-end line and birds on the high end. The moons are similar to typical dot-shaped inlays but with the silhouette of a crescent moon highlighted. The bird-shaped inlays represent nine or ten different birds at the appropriate frets. The inlay material includes semi-precious stones; all kinds of iridescent shells, including abalone, gold, and even some exotic and expensive materials like mammoth ivory.

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The tuners are PRS’s design, although the ones that come with some models are Kluson, made in Korea. PRS guitars offer three original bridge designs: The pre-tuned PRS stop tail, unique to PRS in that the design specifications are highly polished. However, this design does not allow it to be adjusted to compensate for changes in string thickness or alternate tunings. This is due to the manufacturing process, with CNC technology. The other two designs are the PRS tremolo, which looks like an old Fender Stratocaster but allows for more stable tuning due to less friction, and the newer wrap-over bridge, which allows for height and octave adjustments.

The pickups are designed and wound by the company itself. PRS is more tight-lipped about magnets, windings, and construction than other pickup manufacturers. PRS humbucker-type pickups have had a variety of names, including HFS (Hot, Fat, and Screams); Vintage Bass; McCarty; Santana I, II, and III; Archtop; Dragon I and II; Artist I through IV; #6, #7, #8, #9, and #10, RP (after the designer’s initials) 57/08 and Soapbar. Even adding more obscurity, many of the above pickups are a pair of pickups wound in opposite directions, one for the bridge position and one for the neck position.

PRS is known for “popping the grain” on its maple-topped instruments, a process that accentuates the 3D quality of maple through a multi-step impregnation process. Finishes are transparent, translucent, or opaque and include automotive-grade polyurethane or satin nitrocellulose.


Models and Price Range

PRS manufactures five types of guitar models, and their prices vary from $600 for the cheapest in the SE range and $4000 for the most expensive in the Private Stock range.

  • Core Models

    within the Core models we can find classics such as the Custom 22, the P245, the Paul’s Guitar (the guitar used by Paul Reed Smith himself), or the P24. In other words, this is where the classical guitars that started the path of what is today the PRS brand are found. Within the Core Models, we have the Custom, McCarty, Hollowbody, Specialty, and Signature series.

  • PRS Bolt On

    The bolt on are the 2-piece models: neck bolted to the body. Within this range, we find mythical models such as the CE24 and the Brent Mason signature. The only series in this range is the Bolt On Electric with 3 types of guitars: CE 24 (classic PRS shape), CE 24 Semi Hollow, semi-hollow with an f-shaped opening, and the Silver Sky, a model similar to a Fender Strat.

  • PRS S2

    The S2 models are guitars with the PRS core but with shapes that depart from the classic shape of the PRS body. Here we find more classics and best sellers from PRS: the PRS Mira, the Standard 22 and 24 (by the number of frets), and the S2 Custom 24. The series within the S2 are: S2 Custom, S2 Standard and S2 Singlecut.

  • PRS SE

    They are the low-end models made to satisfy the demand for a more affordable instrument. Among these models, the PRS SE Santana, the SE Custom 22, the SE Standard 22, or the signature models by Dave Navarro or Mark Tremonti stand out. Within the SE range, we find the SE Solidbody, the SE Semi-Hollow, and the SE Signature. Thus, for about $600 you can have a great guitar with good wood, fine finishes, and PRS pickups.

  • Private Stock

    Finally, we reach the very high range. Guitars made to measure for the client with some standardized models that are around $4,000. Here the 20th Anniversary models, the Santana Retro or the McCarty are known. Its production is very limited in units and hence the prices are very high. At Private Stock we can decide on the wood for the top of the body, the wood for the body, the wood for the fingerboard, the fingerboard inlays, the guitar hardware, the pickups, and up to 100 different colors, being able to create our color.

Final Thoughts

As we have seen, Paul Reed Smith did not rest until he achieved success with his brand of guitars. Not only thanks to his constancy, but also to the excellent quality that he always chose for his fabrications. This is how we talk today about the only brand that can perhaps compete in the market with the giants Fender and Gibson. Not bad for the young man who fixed guitars in the city workshop.

Source of the images: www.instagram/gourasmusic

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