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Tech Notes

By Jim Miller

   From the mid-1980s until about 1992 or so, I got so involved with the evolution of sampling keyboards that I totally lost track of what was happening in the guitar world. I even let my subscription to Guitar Player run out, so I had no idea at the time that there was a new guitar company called PRS that was making some exceptionally fine guitars out of the Maryland area. In fact, the first Paul Reed Smith guitar I ever saw belonged to ace Sweetwater Sales Engineer Kenny Bergle who was performing solo at a local Ft. Wayne night spot.

Can't blame him for smiling: Kenny Bergle with a PRS Custom 22.
Can't blame him for smiling: Kenny Bergle with a PRS Custom 22.

Not only did it sound absolutely sensational — well, it helps that a talented guitarist was playing it — but it was also a drop-dead gorgeous instrument with a whale blue quilted maple top. I had never seen anything like it.

   The next PRS I happened upon was a few months later at a north Florida guitar show. It had a beautiful flamed maple top (what PRS calls a "10 top") with a lustrous tortoiseshell finish (a very warm reddish brown) and abalone birds inlaid in the fingerboard. It was a 1986 model, just the second year of production for PRS, and it carried a price tag of $1395. Looking back now, I realize what a steal that was, since some early PRS guitars now sport price tags of three or four grand… talk about wanting to kick myself.

   Not long after that, I found out my new next door neighbor was a guitarist and a serious guitar collector, as well. He owns a superb cherry sunburst PRS Custom with 10-top and mother of pearl bird inlays, plus a silky-smooth tremolo system. This is actually the Paul Reed Smith I ended up sampling for the highly acclaimed Sweetwater "Ultimate Guitars" CD-ROM (which received a perfect 20 out of 20 stars in Keyboard magazine, the first sample disc to be awarded a perfect score). Believe me, it was very hard handing that instrument back to its rightful owner — this baby played like a dream.

   Only a few months after that, I was in Orlando for another guitar show and Jay Wolfe (one of the exhibitors) showed me an absolutely mint 1985 PRS in a vintage yellow finish with the most unbelievably figured top I have ever seen. I think I might have blacked out there for a second or two, the instrument was that stunning. I didn't even ask him the price; by that time I'd done my homework and knew how PRS guitars appreciate in value.

   One of the absolute coolest features of most PRS guitars is their versatility. Though equipped with humbuckers, most PRS models (like the CE, Standard, Custom and

Incredible looks and sound: A PRS Custom 22 in vintage yellow with a killer "10-Top."
Incredible looks and sound: A PRS Custom 22 in vintage yellow with a killer "10-Top."

Artist series) allow you to dial in a very credible single coil sound: That much sought-after "in between the treble and middle pickup" tone. McCartys, on the other hand, let you convert either humbucker into a single coil pickup. Quite nice.

   Believe it or not, I still don't own a Paul Reed Smith, but I know I can't live without one much longer (please don't mention this to my accountant). Naturally, when I heard that Sweetwater was going to be carrying the full PRS line I was nothing less than ecstatic, particularly when the PRS folks told Chuck that they truly believed the instruments coming out of their shops right now are the best they've ever produced. What's more, the wood they've obtained for their 10-tops is some of the best they've ever had.

   While there are PRS guitars in almost every price range, I've narrowed my selection down to either a McCarty model (named after legendary guitar guru Ted McCarty) or a Custom 22. Both have PRS stop tailpieces and wide fat necks (my personal favorite) and are available in many great finishes with 10 tops and birds optional. Then again, if my ship comes in real soon, I'm heading straight for a Santana model which is based on the original instrument Paul built for Carlos. Wait! I might actually be happier with an Artist model which features extra resonant mahogany and an exceptionally figured curly maple top plus abalone inlays. Hmm, if it weren't for that money issue I'd have one of each.

   Which PRS are you interested in? By the time you read this, most (if not all) of the PRS guitars Sweetwater has received will be individually posted (with photos!) on the Sweetwater Web site, so you can check out each one and pick the model, finish, features and options that appeal to you. I can tell you from personal experience that, in all likelihood, you will never play an electric guitar that feels as good, looks as good or inspires you the way a Paul Reed Smith does. I strongly suggest you call your Sweetwater Sales Engineer immediately and get first choice from of the great selection now available. I can only hope you don't get to that Custom 22 (or McCarty or Santana or Artist) I've had my eye on before me. Don't be like me and kick yourself later: Your dream guitar is sitting in the Sweetwater warehouse right now, just waiting for you to play it!

   On a non-guitar-oriented subject, I just received evaluation copies of four software plug-ins from DUY S.A. and Ionizer 1.2 from the folks at Arboretum Systems. Wow! These are some of the most useful and exciting plug-ins I've ever had the pleasure to use. A full report will follow next issue (I've sort of used up most of my space already and these products deserve a column all their own), but if you do any hard disk recording on a Mac, I'd suggest you check with your Sweetwater Sales Engineer for information on these red hot items.

   Have you ever uttered these words: "All I need is a (insert name of specific equipment here) and my studio will be complete."

   Who are we kidding? Studios are never complete. It's the first rule of music and actually comes before rule number two, which is that you will always need one more track than you currently have available on your multitrack. And even if you thought your own studio might be complete, here comes another NAMM Show to prove you're wrong.

   I've been putting money into the cookie jar and saving up for a flight into L.A. for the big event and I can hardly wait — I haven't been able to get to the show for the last four years since my move to Florida and, like any proper NAMM junkie, I'm well overdue for my "fix." I'll be taking my camera with me, so I promise there'll be plenty of NAMM photos in the next Sweet Notes and on our Web site. What's more, I guarantee there will be a special in-depth report for those of you who couldn't make it to Southern California for the music industry's biggest bash.

   So meet me back here next issue and together we'll take a look at all the new gear unveiled at the show. I'm willing to bet there will be one or two things you just might need for your studio…

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