At PRS Guitars, a Second Golden Age

Custom Instrument Maker Praised for Quality, Sound

Creating a custom PRS guitar.

Creating a custom PRS guitar. Zachary Smith hide caption

itoggle caption Zachary Smith
Smith with two of his guitar artisans.

PRS Guitars CEO Paul Reed Smith with two of his young artisans. Zachary Smith hide caption

itoggle caption Zachary Smith

Music Trade Magazine, an industry periodical that's been around since 1890, selected PRS Guitars as its 2002 company of the year. NPR's Jacki Lyden recently toured the PRS factory and talked with CEO Paul Reed Smith about the exacting art of making guitars.

Smith made his first instrument as an extra-credit project while studying at St. Mary's College in Maryland, and he was hooked. Smith started his company in the 1980s, to manufacture guitars that met the same standards of craftsmanship that characterize American-made instruments built during the guitar industry's "golden era" from 1955 to 1963.

A student of the guitar and an excellent technician, Smith meticulously studied these earlier instruments built by Gibson and Fender and incorporated much of the details into his new instruments. The results gained immediate acclaim — and some say Smith's success has spurred a rise in quality standards throughout the guitar industry.

And Smith is also a clever businessman. He promoted his company by giving guitars to musicians like Carlos Santana and Mark Tremonti of Creed. Critics say Smith has created the same kind of excitement at his Stevensville, Md., factory as the early dot-coms.

"There are a lot of people who think we are in a second golden age because of the selection and quality," says Brian Majesky of Music Trade Magazine. "And (PRS CEO Paul Smith) deserved some of the credit for that."

Craig Burris of SmartCEO.com adds that Smith is not just a musician with a meticulous nature and a gift for making guitars. "Here is a guy that just started out as a rock and roller in a bar... He then had to transform himself from an artist who can make guitars to an artist at building a business — and he has figured out how to make himself a very effective leader."

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