For a relatively young company, PRS has rapidly risen to be amongst the greatest guitar makers in the game. Staking their claim on a seamless design, powerfully voiced pickups, and unrivaled playability, PRS guitars attract players from all walks of life. The one thing they have in common? They're experts who know a great axe when they play one.
Paul Reed Smith, PRS's founder, mastermind, and namesake, has always been a true innovator. Looking back on his early life, he seems to have been destined to build these amazing guitars. Paul took multiple shop classes in high school and went on to build his first guitar for a music class during college. The "A" he received in return gave him the motivation to pursue his dream of making guitars for a living.
In the early days, Paul would build a guitar a month, and then test it himself at a gig. Like all great inventors, he learned from every idea, misstep, and variation in his designs. His design eventually combined the best aspects of all his learning to form the first Custom 24.
But as any entrepreneur will tell you, having the superior product is only half the battle. He'd then spend hours at venues before concerts, trying to make friends with roadies, and get back stage to connect with the artists who might love his guitars. The perseverance paid off. Paul connected with some big names like Al DiMeola, Howard Leese, and Carlos Santana—the latter would eventually become his first and longest running signature artist, before PRS even had real production capabilities.
When Paul reached 50 orders, he settled on two prototypes. He then took a road trip up along the East Coast, trying to convince retailers to carry his guitars. He steadily accumulated enough orders, and investors, to make PRS a real-deal guitar company. They've been thriving ever since.
While there is variation between models, PRS guitars, as a whole, are known for a few important aspects. Most of their models feature mahogany bodies with beautiful maple tops. Almost all have set mahogany necks (obviously excluding the aptly named "bolt-on" series), which create excellent sustain. Overwhelmingly, PRS fretboards are cut from rosewood and adorned with PRS's trademark "Birds-in-Flight" inlays. PRS guitars are almost exclusively stocked with a dual humbucker pickup configuration—and the humbuckers they come with are extraordinary.
PRS divvies up their guitars by build and material quality. But make no mistake — even the most affordable PRS is an excellently made guitar.
SE: The SE series are well-made guitars which are manufactured outside of the United States. Though much more affordable, the specs and build of this series are quite similar to the more expensive series models. Most notably, SE models are mahogany bodied, with veneer maple tops. The tops are generally not beveled or beveled a bit less than more expensive series. SE's often have maple necks with rosewood fingerboards. The standard dual humbuckers on SE guitars are 85/15 "S" pickups. SEs also sport PRS designed tuners. The SE Series also encompasses some special guitars, like a 7-string and baritone, artist models such as that of Zach Myers, Mark Holcomb and Santana, and some PRS hollow body models.
S2: S2 guitars are the first step up into American made (Maryland made to be exact) PRS axes. The bevel on the guitars with true maple tops in this series is much more prominent. There are a few additional options for Standard models in this line, as well as the expected Custom models, but artist models have been left out of the S2 series. Instead you'll find the McCarty line, which features a unique 24.594 scale length, vintage tuners and 58/15 "S" pickups. The necks on S2 Series guitars are cut from mahogany. Those models outside of the McCarty line have also been upgraded to PRS Low mass locking tuners. You'll still see the Rosewood fretboard and bird inlays.
Bolt-On: The Bolt-On Series is an exclusive club of PRS axes which feature maple bolt-on necks, instead of their usual mahogany set necks. It includes the CE 24 and CE 24 Semi-Hollow, as well as the Silver Sky and DW CE 24 – the artist model from Between the Buried and Me's Dusty Waring.
Core: Core guitars are the premier USA production models from PRS. They may look similar at first glance, but they are constructed with the absolute finest pieces of mahogany and carved figured maple. They are finished in such a way that the colors and grains are exquisitely highlighted. The tuners on Core models are PRS Phase III Locking. The bridges, whether tremolo or stop tail, include gold hardware pieces, as do the 85/15 pickups. This preeminent Series includes McCarty's, a number of signature models including Paul's guitar and the Santana Retro, as well as a number of incredible hollow bodies.
Check out our Guitars of Distinction collection for Bolt-On and Core models.
PRS is known for a few inimitable guitars which have truly expanded the variety of options available to players. Here are some of the most well-known, popular PRS guitars.
Custom 24: The Custom 24 is the PRS flagship guitar, introduced at Winter NAMM '85. It has been a top-seller for PRS ever since. The Custom 24 popularized 24 fret guitars with guitarists that weren't necessarily all about heavy metal. The iconic design is known for its dual humbuckers, mahogany body with carved figured maple top and tremolo bridge.
Custom 22: The Custom 22 is the 22-fret sibling of the Custom 24. They vary only slightly — in the amount of frets on the rosewood fretboard.
McCarty 594: The McCarty 594 is named after Ted McCarty, a friend and mentor of Paul's, as well as its scale length. The scale length from the mahogany neck to two-piece bridge is 24.594". It's made with a mahogany vintage neck and thicker mahogany body for rich sustain. It also features carved figured maple on top and dual humbuckers, but sports an additional two control knobs for a more traditional layout.
Hollowbody II: The Hollowbody II is a gorgeous hollow electric. It is built with a mahogany body and topped with carved figured maple sporting dual F-holes. It has a stoptail bridge, which on certain models, encompasses a piezo pickup.
John Mayer: John Mayer needs almost no introduction – blues based, pop icon, who plays with Dead and Company, as well as selling out arenas solo. His signature model, the Silver Sky, was designed from the ground up just for John.
Mark Tremonti: As a solo artist and lead guitarist from Alter Bridge and Creed, Mark Tremonti needs the heavy versatility that PRS provides. He plays a signature PRS singlecut axe with a trem.
Mark Holcomb: As one of the three incredible shredders in prog metal monsters Periphery, Mark Holcomb brings a distinctly beauteous sound to heavy playing. His PRS signature model is based on a Custom 24 and stocked with Seymour Duncan Alpha and Omega pickups.
Carlos Santana: PRS's first signature artist is of course also their longest—and perhaps the most prominent. The depth and feel of his playing has been aided by a number of PRS guitars over the years. Nowadays he has a few signature models to himself.
Zach Myers: The singlecut signature model from Shinedown's Zach Myers boasts a unique design, which includes a singlecut semi-hollow Custom 22 body and wraparound bridge.
PRS for All
PRS guitars are expert guitars for players who want to play their best and sound their best. Their options are wide-ranging, elegantly designed, and highly playable. With all their options, guitarists with even the most detailed specifications can find a PRS for them.
Stuck deciding between two PRS models? Have a dream PRS in mind but don't see it listed? Sam Ash is here to help! Give us a call at 1-800-472-6274, or chat with us online, and one of our experts would be happy to assist you.