Take a first glance at Paul Reed Smith in his distinct glasses and you might think of Clark Kent. But when Smith leaves his phone booth—or, in his case, studio—he turns into a “Super” guitar and amp builder. So said several celebrity artists who talked about Smith’s guitar-making prowess during Experience PRS, which took place on Sept. 24 and 25 in Stevensville, Md., located on the aptly named Kent Island. “I remember when I came here a few years ago, I asked Paul if I could have a sleeping bag in the corner because it was so beautiful watching all of these guitars being made,” said Orianthi, known for her solo work, as well as opening for Carrie Underwood and playing in Michael Jackson’s band. She played PRS guitars in the Michael Jackson documentary “This is It.” Orianthi held up her PRS SE while talking. “It’s amazing. I’ve been using PRS guitars since I was 11. I remember begging my dad for a PRS guitar. I got a secondhand PRS and couldn’t put it down. I would practice Santana, Jimi Hendrix and Stevie Ray (Vaughan) for five hours a day. The guitars are pieces of art, as well. If you don’t have a PRS guitar, go get yourself one.”
“I feel like I’m in the family. That’s the great thing about PRS,” said Coby Kilby. “People always ask me what guitar I’m playing because it sounds so great. They are always asking about the PRS.”
“I bought my first PRS in 1985,” said David Grissom. “I’ve stuck around here ever since. PRS has been gracious by allowing me to have some input on the design of the guitars. Sometimes, I gave a lot of input. By saying Paul has a relentless pursuit of tone is an understatement….I also want to say the PRS amps rule. They kick butt. PRS is an amplifier company as well as a guitar company. The amps are on par with the guitars.”
“Paul has been making my instruments since 1979. He made me the Golden Eagle, which I still use,” said Howard Leese. “The 25th anniversary amp is the best-sounding amp I have. If you’re looking for tone, try one of these new amps.”
“I got my first PRS acoustic guitar two years ago,” said Martin Simpson, “with a note saying, ‘I want you to tell me what you think.’ I looked at it and played it. I thought it was great, but there were some things I thought would make it greater. So I told Paul. He listened. He sent me another one that he had modified. It sounded better. I said, ‘That’s great, but would you please do the following…’ So he did ‘the following’ because he listens. PRS put a wide fingerboard on it and a wide neck. They used ebony for the bridge. They did everything I asked. I have had access to the best guitars made by the most legendary builders on the planet. I’m not here because I’m getting paid. I’m here because Paul Reed Smith listens to what I say. It sounds like the biggest acoustic guitar on the planet.”
“It’s great to be in the family with Paul and everyone here,” said Ricky Skaggs. “Paul is a great listener. To be a great inventor or creator, you have to be a really great listener. I’ve told Paul guitars need to look great, feel great and sound great. I think he’s knocked it out of the park. I was playing a new model earlier and I didn’t want to eat lunch. I just wanted to keep playing.”
Smith himself admitted that the event, open to the public, is a big party. But as the famous song by KC and the Sunshine Band says, “That’s the way uh, uh, (he) likes it.”
“I want to clarify what this event is about,” Smith said during a press conference. “It’s become a gathering of friends to party. But we want you to know what we’re up to and what’s new. If you’re going to travel this far to be with us, can we just have a great time? This shouldn’t be work. This should be fun. We didn’t work this hard not to have a good time.”
Experience PRS reported more than 2,200 registered visitors. PRS expected more than 2,500 walked through its doors. The inside of the building had a museum-like feel, with guitars spread out across the factory. Clinics took place inside, as well.
The outside of the building on Log Canoe Circle had many tents set up offering performances, workshops, and food and libations for sale at low costs. For example, a cup of quality beer cost $3, as opposed to a bar, which would charge $5 to $7 for the same item.
The night before the event got underway, Paul Reed Smith and his wife hosted a party at his Annapolis house. Simpson and Leese performed in Smith’s living room. Food buffets and drinks were provided. Guests were even invited into Smith’s studio.
The event clearly was founded to have fun. A partnership with Mel Bay was announced. U.S. customers will receive a free Mel Bay/PRS gift package when they purchase a PRS guitar and return a warranty card.
Several new products were launched. New products seen by the public for the first time at Experience PRS 2010 were these: The DC3 and NF3 three-pickup models, which feature PRS’ new flat body shape; the McCarty 58, an homage to Paul Reed Smith’s mentor, Ted McCarty, with a design that Smith felt his guitars would look like had PRS been around in 1958; the SC 58, featuring a single-cutaway body shape; the JA-15, a collaboration between Paul Reed Smith and Paul Jackson Jr.; and the ME Quatro, PRS’ update Modern Eagle. Also launched were several additions to PRS’ amplifier line. A 25-piece limited run of Experience PRS recording amps debuted. So did the company’s first two-channel amplifier in pre-production form. Also introduced were a limited number of Sweet 16 and PRS 30 amps with special aesthetic appointments. PRS made another announcement. Its SE Santana, Carlos Santana’s signature model, was to be available in stores last month.
Of course, selling guitars is always a key goal. But Smith stressed that PRS does not sell guitars directly. Members of the general public could purchase products from retailers, however.
During the press conference, Jack Higginbotham, PRS president, and Tom Wheeler, whom Higginbotham referred to as “the industry historian,” served as masters of ceremonies in addition to Smith. Wheeler, sporting a memorable bright orange tie, introduced many PRS artists who were in attendance. “I’d like to order a guitar that looks like Tom’s tie. I’m serious,” said Bugs Henderson.
That list of introduced celebrities included Peter Denenberg, well known for his work with the Spin Doctors; slide player Kirby Kelley; blues rock musician Davey Knowles; Tallan Latz, only 11 years old and a former contestant on “America’s Got Talent;” longtime rocker Bernie Marsden; and Ted Nugent vocalist and guitarist Derek St. Holmes.
PRS Experience has become an annual event. With this year’s attendance rise of more 700 people, you can definitely expect the event to return in September 2011.
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