Paul Reed Smith on Fighting the Good Fight

Paul Reed Smith shares some astute intel on the state of guitar.
Publish date:

In an industry filled with entire platoons of very smart people, Paul Reed Smith’s rapid-fire, ever-so-slightly defiant, and spot-on missives about tone, guitars, and music making are always thought provoking, educational, and inspirational. Here, he shares some astute intel on the state of guitar.

What is PRS doing to ensure its guitar business stays strong?

How many guitars have you bought in your life?

Me? Probably upwards of 50.

Okay. Do you pay for something that’s not worth the money?

I do not.

Right. Now we’re talking. My experience is that this is not a dead market. People are simply being unbelievably careful with their money. They’ll argue over 50 bucks if that makes a difference. But when they think something is worth it, they’ll hand over the money. When we have quality meetings with the PRS managers, my number-one question is, “Did the player get their money’s worth?” When you do that, all hell breaks loose. I mean, how many Priuses have they sold? It’s unbelievable. When car sales were bad, they were lining up at Toyota dealerships to buy Priuses. People were getting their money’s worth.

So I believe that the money and desire are just sitting there. For example, I went to a vintage-guitar show that was packed, but nobody was selling anything. Then, a ’57 Strat came up for sale for 20 grand, and I never saw stacks of hundred-dollar bills come out so fast in my whole life! I learned something important right then—everybody is watching, and they’re waiting for the right thing to wet their whistle.

Do you think the watchers are somewhat frozen by the sheer amount of data they have to absorb before they find that “right thing?”

Possibly. There’s just so much stuff out there. There used to be 12 guitar brands. Now, there are something like 450. People don’t know what’s going on anymore. They can’t swim through the mud. But I’ve found that while the way people get their information has changed, the love of guitars hasn’t changed. When I go on the road now, I talk to people who are hungry for information. They aren’t disinterested at all. In fact, we have people who live on the PRS website as “pain-relief medicine.” They want real communication. Sometimes, I go up there and look at the discussions just so I can feel better at the end of the day.

So, to recap, it kind of comes down to the old adage of “building a better mousetrap?”

Listen, when we release a product, we hold our breath like everyone else in the industry, because the market is going to say “yes” or “no.” There was an explosion of pedals a while back, right? People bought a lot of pedals in the last nine years. Now, I truly believe that people are interested in owning guitars again, and all we can do is fight back. The 594 was a fight back, the Starla was a fight back, the S2 was a fight back, the Mira was a fight back, the change in the Custom was a fight back, and the new SEs are a fight back. We just need to put the right products out there, because a really, really, really good amp, pedal, or guitar is going to sell.