Dreaming of Jeff Beck (a night with Paul Reed Smith)

By Massimo D'Angelo

Last Thursday (Nov.11) before more than a hundred impassioned fans of the brand and of the 6-string, the Hard Rock Cafe in Madrid turned into an unbeatable stage for the presentation of the new 2017 models PRS Maple Top “SE”, in the hands of Adagio Distribution. And who better to preside over the event than Paul Reed Smith himself?

Having turned 60 in February, Paul is delighted with his first visit to the country “that invented the guitar..It all was born here!” A band was hastily put together 2 hours before the event to rehearse four classic rock and blues tunes. He was beside ‘gramps’ who, with guitar in hand (one of 2 he has), showed his best babyface, the one that keeps grinning. The genius looked like he was going to have more than a good time on stage and his pleasure started up with Cause We’ve Ended As Lovers by Stevie
Wonder. Yes, Paul can hold his own on a 6-string and have a ball.  

After warming up his amp with Waitin’ For The Bus/Jesus Left Chicago by ZZ Top, the night rolled on with Fire On The Bayou by The Meters and finished with White Room Cream. Mission accomplished.

After this short and emotional flash the exciting show went on, a moment of seriousness occurred with some ritual advice, “Play as many guitars as you can...and remember to give a PRS a chance...”,there are ‘cheap’ guitars that sound better than the high end ones”, “ we have strict quality control: every Thursday evening all the managers of PRS and myself, go down to the factory to try out the new models SE and each Friday morning, we start the day by devoting ourselves to the high end ones.”- before giving out dozens of t-shirts to a dedicated public. As in every prestigious event like this, there was also a draw for one of the new SEs. Autographs, photos, hugs.   

Then came the moment to go down to the private room in the HRC and enjoy a brief chat with Paul, surrounded by the best gems with his signature engraved on the head.

GUITARS EXCHANGE: You've done it, you're the only luthier who has been able, in 30 years of hard work, to rub shoulders with Gibson and Fender (with permission of Bob Taylor from Taylor Guitars). Do you consider yourself a businessman now?
PRS: I'm a luthier, a guitar maker, and I always will be. That's what it says on my ID under 'occupation'. And no, I don’t hobnob with Gibson and Fender. Though it is true that here, in this place, this evening, I'm the most important guitar maker.  

GUITARS EXCHANGE: What was your secret, apart from keeping such a high standard and top quality?

PRS: There are no secrets. It’s hard work. And then comes the moment when you have to take a small million dollar step.  

GUITARS EXCHANGE: What advice would you give to a young luthier just starting out?

PRS: Make a lot of guitars, as many as you can make. Sell them and learn every day.  

GUITARS EXCHANGE: What do you consider the most important part of the making process?

PRS: Everything is important. From the wood selection - nowadays there are guitars with too high a percentage of humidity- to the mechanics and pickups. Generally you have to pay close attention to all elements that come in physical contact with the strings: the pegs, nut and bridge.  

GUITARS EXCHANGE: Speaking of luthiers, in your opinion, who could be the next Paul Reed Smith?

PRS: I wouldn’t know what to tell you. There are a lot of craftsmen out there, and they're very good.  

GUITARS EXCHANGE: If you had to buy a handmade guitar from a luthier, what would we be talking about?

PRS: In Spain, they make very good guitars. There’s an Italian fellow living here who makes very good Spanish guitars. His name is Daniele Chiesa. He’s very good.  

GUITARS EXCHANGE: There are many famous guitarists that play your guitars...but of all that don’t, who would you most like to see with a PRS in his hands?

PRS: There are many, but if I had to pick one, it would be Jeff Beck. I would love to see him play a PRS.  

Our chat went on between beers and laughs, and we probably got more questions than answers out of him: Paul is a down-to-earth person; interesting and funny, in love with his work and who has shown the know-how to perfection on both the job as promoter, and marketing director of these objects of desire that bear his name. Who better than him?

Massimo D'Angelo