Two Days of Guitar Porn at PRS

Guitars in the finish room at the PRS factory

Paul Reed Smith doesn’t just have a great music story. He’s got a great business story.

After teaching himself how to make guitars in his bedroom, he talked his way backstage to get early prototypes in the hands of Ted Nugent, Peter Frampton and Carlos Santana.

Now, 25 years later, he presides over a 200-person operation in Maryland that makes some of the best guitars in the world. And, once a year, at the PRS Experience, he throws that operation open to industry, media and of course as many of his signature artists as he can get to come.

The scene: a couple thousand guitar nerds and gear sluts, genuflecting at the altar (and the ego) of Smith.

By definition, of course, such niche confabs always include an element of checking your coolness at the door (if not your bravado—most of the attendees seem poised at any minute to throw down like Ralph Macchio, should Satan/Steve Vai make an appearance). As far as attire, you’re much more likely to see a Dokken t-shirt than an OK Go! t-shirt. Probably because that guy browsing the merch tent once toured with Dokken. The top activity for guests is bouncing around the new gear demos, and wandering around the factory asking the craftsmen esoteric questions about truss rods, curly maple and preamp gain.

That is, when they’re not catching the constant live performances in one of two massive tents erected in the factory’s parking lot. Last year, Smith got Santana and Buddy Guy to perform. This year was mostly B- and C-list PRS-affiliated talent, mostly blues-rock players.

So, one gets his fill of ascendant British blues/jam wunderkind Davy Knowles (whose virtues I’ve extolled here before), sideman-turned-frontman David Grissom, former Heart lead player Howard Leese, and—somewhat surprisingly—a panoply of young female guitar slingers like Kristen Capolino, Canadian Donna Grantis and Australian pop songstress Orianthi, who was slated to be Michael Jackson’s lead guitar player on his comeback tour. Why yes, they are all attractive.

For an event that happens to be free, you’ve got to work awfully hard to get in. Most of the crowd was made up of retailers and other industry types, or had begged their way in via their local guitar shop. Of course there was one guy whose wife confessed that he had 24 PRS guitars at home. He probably didn’t need to beg.

Paul Smith interviews Davy Knowles onstage.

Howard Leese demos the new SA-15 hollowbody.


A machine carves out the back cavity for a new Santana edition guitar.

Nearly finished guitars await setup.

In the amp room, a whiteboard details an order for Warren Haynes.

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