PRS had been making guitars since 1975 by hand with the aid of a very small crew. In 1984 that all changed as Paul hit the road with Tim King to visit music stores on the East Coast to gather orders for his new company. It was about this time that Paul became more businessman and less luthier. Sam Ashe in NYC was one of the first to jump on the bandwagon and with those orders in hand Paul was able to gather investor support. Records on production numbers are very sketchy for these pre factory guitars, Paul has said that he built about 100 hundred guitars himself and that of those 20 were the maple top version. Of all the pre factory models most were what we now know as the Santana model. This is the double cutaway asymmetrical shape that was made famous by Carlos Santana.
The modern "Custom" body design began in 1984, after much late night discussion and many modifications to the design. We have seen a very few of these "Custom" body style guitars that were customer ordered.
Two guitars were taken by Paul on his sales trip and 6 more were made for the NAMM show (Feb 1985). Many of these NAMM guitars have remained intact and were a mixture of Customs, PRS model and Metal Guitars. None of these guitars were serialized and in fact another 20 guitars were finished for the summer 1985 show, Soon after in August of 1985 PRS opened the Virginia Avenue factory, thus ending the era of the hand made PRS guitar. PRS guitars are as native to Annapolis, Maryland as the Rotary crab feast. Paul started here and still lives very close to where PRS guitars was born. As I have said before I was not some kind of visionary when it came to buying and selling the early PRSs. Employees and local players just brought them in and I soon became impressed with the quality, beauty and yes the playability.
My shop started out with just vintage guitars and we were not really looking to make a market in new stuff. But like I said the PRS stuff just kept showing up, and soon I got to be the go to guy for the old stuff. We handled guitars from some of the PRS investors, like Kenny Bernstein's guitar which graced the cover of the 1985 catalog. It had a wild motorcycle style paint job, which later became known as the metal model. These guitars were the all Mahogany PRS model that we now know as the Standard. Bud Davis, known for his outstanding paint jobs on Motorcycles was approached by Paul after he saw one of Buds Bikes outside a local bar. Paul tracked Bud down and Bud was very instrumental in a lot of Paul's early finish work. Bud was and is an outstanding guy who painted almost everything Paul made up till the first year of the Virginia Street factory. The factory on Virginia street Opened in August of 1985 and it is interesting to note that Paul was more fond of calling it Virginia Avenue so if you look at any of the early catalogs or letter head from PRS they use Virginia Avenue rather than Street. The local Post office eventually got used to it.
Kenny Bernstein was one of the early PRS investors, seizing the opportunity when he had a chance to invest in PRS. He also asked Paul to build him a guitar, and Paul utilized the Metal paint job that Bud was doing, Kenny wanted something special so Paul inlaid stars of David as position markers instead of moons or birds as others requested. The photo of Kenny's guitar which graced that first catalog showed the guitar from the bottom standing horizontally, in this fashion it is now as obvious that the markers are stars of David, but that they are, symbolizing Kenny's Jewish faith.
They say you can never be a legend in your own hometown, but then THEY also say that you can never go home again. So what do THEY know? Many people have begun to believe some of the hype about the quality of the 1985-1995 PRS. There is a sort of general feeling that the old guitars are somehow better instruments. Small neck heel, handmade, BRW fret board, real abalone shell, are some of the reasons cited why these guitars are better. I would personally like to say that the "heel from hell" description is simply not true and seems to originate from someone who simply likes to hear himself talk. PRS changed the heel to make a stronger guitar and to make the guitars better, and though there is some getting used to the feel the advantages of a stronger guitar outweigh the slightly larger heel.
There are many reasons to collect older PRS guitars, and I am one to encourage doing so, but to believe that the old ones are better instruments is not exactly true. The older instruments contain wood which has had much longer to dry and thus more resonate, but that is seemingly one of the only advantages. PRS is one company that has not had to recreate its original designs to get sales.
PRS has not and in my opinion never will have a vintage reissue, It is simply not the way the company does business.
The older Dupli carver was less consistent than the C&C machines of today and thus there was some variability in each guitar made on them, But the sanding, finish and painting were and still are done by hand.
We are approached on a regular basis from those interested in starting or improving a PRS collection, and are asked what makes up the essential PRS collection since PRS has made so many different collectable items. In response we do not feel that all guitars that are meant for collections are worthy of collecting. This is simply a matter of what the market for these guitars has shown us and not our opinions.
We therefore recommend the following as the basis for the ultimate PRS collection:
1982-1984 PRS Pre Factory Santana Style, Try and find one.. Maple tops are king!
1985 PRS Custom, Vintage Yellow, birds, low serial number
1985-1986 PRS Guitar (now known as the Standard), Magenta pearl, sea foam green, powder blue, canary yellow are the rarest colors
1985-1986 Metal Model, with birds if possible, Magenta pearl or green are rare ones
1986-1991 Signature model, 1st choice is quilt, We had a Purple one, Bonni Pinks are the coolest!
Bonni Pink- THE Rare PRS color, it is hideous to behold but every PRS collectors has to have one, Sig, Custom, Etc...
Signature Limited-Maple tops are RARE, others are cool too!
1992 Dragon I, amber quilt, pearl wings #1 choice
1993 Dragon II, amber quilt, pearl wings #1 (not as popular as 1 or 3)
1994 Dragon III, Indigo quilt
Dragon prototypes are cool also
2000 Millennium Dragon, Black Cherry is most common,
2002 Dragon Singlecut, Solid Brazilian Rosewood neck
1994 McCarty models, numbered ones are cool, but earlier ones had CU22 style features and heel
1996 Artist III-these have been the favorite and have held value
1994 Artist Limited-Indigo Quilt
1996 Santana I, the numbered ones, Santana Yellow is best
1988-1991 Studio Model, maple tops are best
1987-1991 Special Model-crackled finish
Single Cut Brazilian Rosewood-no other PRS sounds better with a Brazilian neck
Rosewood Limited-Semi hollow and tremolos are rare
Employee Guitars-the closer to a Private Stock the better
Guitars of the month- not many around
Rarest PRS The Golden Dragon I
HG-70 and HG 212 Amps
PRS Acoustics- no more than 13 made in two batches from early 90's (11) and two made later by Dana Bourgeouis
These are a sampling of what to collect, and of course it's a guide, but there a lot of great PRS out there and I don't know of anyone that has them all.
Until next time, Take care and God Bless.