Guitar hero: Paul Reed Smith factory


The magicians at Paul Reed Smith Guitars on Kent Island turn slabs of wood into works of art — that sound good, too

Guitars await the next stage in their production.

Guitars await the next stage in their production.

Music magic is happening every week day in a business park on Kent Island — that little island at the east end of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge.

Paul Reed Smith Guitars creates high end acoustic and electric guitars for Carlos Santana, David Grissom and regular people, too.

If you love guitars or if you love seeing talented hands creating something of beauty, you just have to plan on a tour of PRS.

Because I was on a press tour, our visit took us only to the electric guitar factory. (That was awe-inspiring all by itself.) But the regular tour, offered twice on Tuesdays and Thursdays, takes visitors to both factories, as well as the shop where you can buy t-shirts, guitar picks and other PRS-branded merch.

The router gently drills holes on an unpainted guitar body.

The router gently drills holes on an unpainted guitar body.

I love factory tours. There’s something about getting behind the scenes and seeing how stuff is made that gets me giddy.

I’ll come clean right away. In all these years of looking at guitarists strum those bright shiny red and yellow electric guitars, I always thought they were PLASTIC!! Now I’ve held a turquoise blue baby in my hand, glossy as a sheet of ice, and felt the weight of the mahogany from which it’s made.

At PRS, visitors get to see all the tools in action. Tiny bits of shell become the birds that will inhabit the frets. A drill as delicate as a ballerina dances around the guitar body creating the holes for switches. There are planers and sanders — and lots of noise.

But the best part is seeing the artisans at work, close up. These craftsmen hunch over their benches, wielding tiny slivers of sandpaper or cloths loaded with wood stain. Bit by bit planks of maple and mahogany and other woods become PRS guitars.

Who wouldn't love a yellow guitar?

Who wouldn’t love a yellow guitar?

It takes more than three months for that hunk of wood to become a musical instrument. I saw it happen in an hour. A square piece of wood became the sensuously curved body. A long slab became the neck, complete with frets and those delicate signature birds. The plain wood turned a dark gorgeous brown or some outrageous color. It became glossy or got a satin finish. Then I saw the electronics go in, the strings get tuned until at the end, one final craftsman tuned a finished guitar to perfection. It was ready for the guitarist who would make it sing.

Magic? No. Hard work and great skill are what made this tour so fascinating. But when I saw the finished guitar and heard its sound I couldn’t help but wonder if, perhaps, magic really was involved after all.

A finished guitar is tuned and ready for its new owner.

A finished guitar is tuned and ready for its new owner.




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