Why Doesn’t PRS Build Guitars For Players?


There are two types of people who hate PRS. The first are Gibsonites that hate the fact that a PRS just isn’t a Les Paul. And another side that thinks PRS guitars are just too damn expensive.

The first camp is a lost cause – If you’re trying to get the sound of an LP with a PRS, you should really take a moment to reevaluate the decisions that you’ve made in your life. The other side just might have a point.

Quality is not a question with PRS: They are by far some of the most carefully crafted and awesome looking guitars on the market. Feel is always subjective. Some people bitch about the neck heel, but you would be hard pressed to find anyone to complain about the rest of the neck profile.

Sound, to some degree, is also subjective. Whether it’s the McCarty pickups, or the 5708’s, PRS pickups are dynamic and responsive. They also have a mid-range punch that most guitar pickups lack. And, don’t get me started on their finishes. Their V12 finish makes every guitar shimmer like it’s just emerged alongside Excalibur from the magical lake of Avalon while not feeling gunky or sticky.

But, still…

The least expensive PRS is the NF3, and that rings in at a street price of $1,986 bucks. Again, it’s a nice freaking guitar. Korina body with a bolt-on rock maple neck combined with PRS Narrowfield pickups give the guitar bite. But, again, the damn thing is almost two grand!

Now some might say, well PRS has the SE series, which is a more affordable guitar. And to those people, I would bow my head and gently say, “You are correct sir. But it’s a damn import!” Yes, the SE series are good Korean guitars. But, are you telling me that in order for me to get into a US made PRS, I’ve got to sell one of my kidneys?

That brings me to the topic of this article: Why doesn’t PRS build guitars for players? It’s an important question. Some used to say that the PRS was a CEO’s guitar, meaning that you needed to be head of a Fortune 500 company to own one. There are definitely about 1% of guys out there who take home a Blue Crab Blue SC58, play the only two chords that they know on it, and then hang the guitar on the wall to collect dust next twenty other PRS guitars.

Line 6

But what about the players?

You know who I’m talking about. The guys who sweat all over their guitars night after night just so they can live out of the back of a van. Or even the weekend dudes who, after they’re done with their day jobs, play a few gigs a month just to get out in front of a crowd. There are a few slinging PRS guitars, but if you threw a rock into a crowd of guitar players, I’d be surprised if you hit one of them.

PRS just doesn’t seem interested in building a workingman’s guitar.

That doesn’t make PRS a bad company. Again, they make great guitars. And, I’m not sure it’s wise for PRS to cut their high standards of quality to build a cheaper US model. Quality should cost money. There are costs in building a high-quality guitar that can’t be avoided. Everything from the wood to the in-house pickups are going to cost some coin. But is it a good idea to keep your guitars at such a high quality that they are always out of the reach of your average player?

PRS’s marketing strategy even caters to guys that read Guitar Aficionado, not the guys who read Guitar Player (Yes, I realize that both magazines are published by the same company. But, you’re missing my point.) Glory shots of PRS guitars with Maple 10 tops and trans finishes against a dark backround remind me of ads for 25 year-old scotch instead of guitars.

Personally, I love my PRS guitar. It took me a long time to save up for it, and it plays and sounds great. But, I’m one of the few that spent the time and effort to save up for the thing. It’s almost bitter sweet. I love playing the thing, but I know that it’s the only PRS I will ever own.

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  1. Mike says:

    ‘Players’ just need to hold out, and shop carefully. And then get lucky lol
    My 408 came to me with just the tiniest incidental blemishes on the bottom edge; you can’t even notice them unless you really look. It’s a flame maple 408, and plays brilliantly and looks gorgeous. And I got it, from a major outlet, for $1700 instead of the $3600 – $4200 that any other equivalent 408 would fetch new.
    So you just need to be patient, and grab the stuff the CEOs let go when their finances turn for the worse.

  2. scott matheson says:

    You might surprise yourself by purchasing another PRS in the future regardless of price.I personally have owned 2 PRS guitars and being a guitars eventually wound up selling them (to my regret both times) and am now getting ready to buy a McCarty.Yes they are a lot of money but they are also one of the very best production instruments on the market.Everything about a PRS guitar beckons me back.The beautiful ergonomic design,the incredible curves and tone woods and most of all those perfect necks.I’ve never picked up a PRS that didn’t have a perfectly set up fast comfortable neck.

  3. john says:

    This is a stupid article….comparing Apples and Pecans.
    First off, Gibby’s are the most overpriced pieces of garbage…AND MORE EXPENSIVE.

    Comparing the quality and craftsmanship of a PRS to Gibson, there is no comparison…

    Gibson just plain ole sucks in today’s market. I know because I’ve sent 5 delivered Les Pauls in a row back to the retailer thanks to “manufacturing flaws” at Gibson. And 2 of these guitars were “Custom Shop”.

  4. john says:

    This is a stupid article….comparing Apples and Pecans.
    First off, Gibby’s are the most overpriced pieces of garbage…NOT MORE EXPENSIVE.

    Comparing the quality and craftsmanship of a PRS to Gibson, there is no comparison…

    Gibson just plain ole sucks in today’s market. I know because I’ve sent 5 delivered Les Pauls in a row back to the retailer thanks to “manufacturing flaws” at Gibson. And 2 of these guitars were “Custom Shop”.

  5. Oscar Lopez says:

    yup, US made PRS’ are some money, I’ve owned a few now, but all were second hand, for very reasonable prices, I still regret selling a beautiful black flamed SC245!! have had an early 2000’s CE, which as for playing/working had no complain at all! i have played a SE Santana recently, and where i can tell ” it’s a good affordable instrument”, doesn’t get to a US model, still are cheap woods, hardware, all!! well thought for a kid who’s father is a PRS lover (…me!) I recently sold a NF3 to a friend, and when not as well know and loved as a CU24, it’s a pretty unique guitar on it’s own, way better built than a F-der..which I had a 50th anniv model back in the days; other that I didn’t like much was a SC tremolo, beautiful quilted black, but sound was too thin for me

    as for time beings… I am saving to get an Artist package DGT model!!! thinking as to be my last expensive PRS, still can’t decide between this DGT or a used Modern Eagle! ??? lol

    which one would you go over!?

  6. Steve says:

    Interesting to see how the market has evolved since 2012.

    “Real” USA-built Fenders and Gibsons have climbed significantly in price.

    Blinged-out PRS’s still sell for CEO level prices, but as they have been quietly doing all along, they still offer simpler instruments for the working player.

    When I bought my dot-neck McCarty in 2009, it was considerably less than a Les Paul Standard. If I had been on a tighter budget, I could have happily taken home the Mira X that was my second choice for hundreds less.

    The S2’s have taken over from the Mira X, offering similar value and greater variety.

    Meanwhile, the PRS SE line continue to quietly improve. The latest semi-hollows offer a beveled plain maple cap with a really nice veneer, birds, etc., for considerably less than a top-of-the-line Epiphone or one of those awful Gibson Studios.

    The new-for-2016 Indonesian Standards look interesting as well, bringing the SE designs down to the beginner market.

  7. Jonathan says:

    Tone King – love the videos!

    I’m hoping you’ll do a review of the PRS S2 lineup. They really nailed what you were talking about in this post, and even did a number of their core guitars in basic finishes to lower the price even more. I’d love to see what you think of them – especially compared to the few Gibson left in that price range.

  8. Ed says:

    I own quite a few guitars. Fenders, Gibsons, Ibanez, upper end LTD’s, etc. You get the picture. Out of all of them my PRS Custom 24 30th Anniversary with 10 top outplays them all. I used to think they were overpriced but then I checked out Fender Custom shop and of course the Gibson reissues. Compared to those I think PRS is pretty much in the same ballpark.

    Just recently I was in the market for another Gibson Les Paul Standard. Then I saw the price. Over $3700 for a Standard? WTH? I got my PRS for less than that. It was perfect right out of the box vs the last Les Paul I got needed a setup and fret work right out of the box. I will gladly give PRS my money any day of week.

    Also don’t forget you can find them used for a pretty good price. I previously picked up a used Stripped 58 in great condition for $1300, that’s just a little more than a new Fender American Standard.

  9. db9091 says:

    I think if you’re talking about a PRS Custom, you have to compare custom guitars. A Custom Fender will cost you about $3000 or $3600 if you’re a lefty like me. A Gibson is also right on up there. So don’t compare apples to oranges.

    That said, I’ve had a Custom Shop Fender that was beautiful, sounded great, but being a bolt on neck, was a different guitar every week. Temperature changed the action, so it needed constant setup to be “good”. YET, I have an American that is better. And I’ve had MIM that were as good once you upgraded the pickups, but their tone never was similar.

    I have a Gibson Trad Plus and it’s a solid good guitar. In the $2k range new, it has the best distortion I’ve ever heard in a guitar. But it’s short scale, while great for bending, is not so great above the 12th fret. So longer scaled guitars (like my Larrivee RS4) are much more versatile across the whole neck, and the intonation stays better on my Larrivee than my Gibson. Also, tune? The Gibson goes out of tune in a minute of serious bending. The PRS, not. Intonation, not.

    So PRS has much better staying in tune, keeping intonation, longer scale better fretting above 12. Can a good guitar player handle a Gibson’s short comings? History proves it so. It’s highly individual.

    I have come to love my Gibson for it’s tone, my Larrivee for it’s versatility in tone and playability, and the PRS for all of the above.

    The Custom PRS’s are right in every area, and the only thing they fall short of is that “classic” sound of the Gibson distortion. But you have to get the RIGHT Gibson. I love the Classic 57/57 Plus pickups. Not a fan of the others as much, although the Burstbuckers are nice. I hope to own an R8 or R9 one day.

    All in all, PRS’s aren’t priced out of the market and it’s slightly higher price is well justified by better attention to the crafted finish, and being a PERFECT working man’s guitar: One that stays in tune, intonates well, and has a huge versatility in tone.

    BTW, I love my MusicMan Axis Sport with MM90’s, but it’s small neck is hard to bend and stay on the neck sometimes, and it’s not got the same attention to detail and crafstman ship, but it’s a great players guitar (locking tuners are awesome) but it cost near $2k too (the Super is the current one)

  10. Chris G says:

    I’ve owned a Custom 24 10 top and a Mira and a Custom 22 Hollowbody. I don’t know what experience with guitars people who buy them have, but they have more fret buzz than any of the 40+ Gibsons I’ve owned. I have gone off Gibsons, which is why I looked at PRS but they’re just not up to snuff. They’re not worth the money I paid for them. They just don’t play well and the tone isn’t that good either. They’re not terrible by no means, but certainly for the money I expected a hell of a lot more based on all the bs people talk about these guitars. One of my guitars now is a ’96 Patrick Eggle Berlin from the UK. It’s everything I had hoped a PRS would be. I wish the PRS played like the Eggle as I still can’t believe how bad the PRS guitars are. I keep pulling them out but they fail to deliver every time. I’ve sold two of them and a third is now for sale. PRS Piece of Real Shite!

  11. Looking for real estate for sale in Texas?

  12. Mr.Fuzzwah says:

    A PRS is worth every penny. A Gibson is an overpriced piece of hit-or-miss crap. Google ‘Gibson SG neck tenon’ to see what I mean. I played 3 Gibsons in a store – the 2 expensive models had improperly cut nuts. The cheapest budget model tuned and played best. I had cash to spend and would have but the guitars were not right.

  13. Joe says:

    A standout guitar (feel, sound and look) is more expensive. Made in a country with good wages? Even more. People complain that USA PRS guitars are too expensive because they want one but aren’t committed to buying quality. Quality and value are two different things. PRSs aren’t value, they are quality. Once a company has the right wood, they need to then make the guitar good. Its much more than an assembly of parts, craftsmanship and quality control. I’ve never played a bad USA PRS, I don’t think they let them out the door.

    There is always going to be a more expensive whatever for those who make it a priority with their cash. I have 2 USA PRS guitars. But I bought a beater used car. I could go out and get an Infiniti or whatever, but my car is not my priority. I wonder how many people who complain about the price of a PRS put themselves in debt getting the sexiest car they can barely afford with all the options? Though I’d prefer an Infiniti to my beater, I’m not going to complain about the price.

  14. Vince says:

    The reason all USA made guitars are expensive is because of the middle-man (i.e. retailer) has to have a 50 to 100% markup. Carvin makes a guitar every bit as beautiful and well crafted as PRS, and certainly better than what I’ve seen coming out of Gibson and Fender USA factories over the last 20 years, probably longer. I purchased the PRS because the ’91 Les Paul Studio I bought the year before turned out to be crap. I have both a PRS Standard 24 with a maple top but is solid black, and a Carvin CT624m with a beautiful quilted top and Birdseye maple fretboard. I purchased the PRS in 1992 for $1,500.00, and the Carvin in November of 2012 for about $1,600.00 delivered. Sure the neck has a different feel, but frankly it’s faster than the ’92 PRS. If you walked into a Guitar Center, you would pay over $3,800.00 for a similar quality guitar, and I got EXACTLY what I wanted. Carvin has shitty resale if you try to trade one in at a retailer because they don’t want them in their store, it clearly demonstrates their new stuff simply cannot compete. I have got 80% of what I paid for a lowly TL60 6 years after I bought it due to inflation with a private sale. This guy went on to buy further Carvin’s once he realized what he was hearing wasn’t true. If you want a well crafted players guitar, look no further than Carvin. With the good quality quitars coming out of the orient retailers are having a harder time selling Gibson, Fender, and PRS already. These companies are operating on a reputation from 25 to 60 years ago.

  15. Brett says:

    I saved up and bought a PRS Custom 24 (it was my “I survived the war in Afghanistan” present to myself) and I love it, I use a SE Paul Allender as a back up, I’m ok with not having 2 USA built PRS guitars because the one that I have is SO good and such high quality that even though I play in a band that spends at least half the month living out of our van I think i have only had to pick up the back up twice because I was lazy and didn’t change my strings. I’ve owned Fender Americans, EB Music Mans and Gibson Les Pauls and JP Ibanez guitars but for me, nothing quite plays like that PRS, its true not anyone can afford it but if you want it bad enough and do not want to skimp on quality you will make it happen

  16. Venom Juice says:

    Although I have the money to spend and support buying things made in the USA, I just don’t see how PRS can justify pricing their guitars in the $3k to $4k range which is out of reach by many people. Just look at the private stock SC-245 on musiciansfriend.com website. They want $13,999 for that guitar alone!!

    Don’t tell me that it’s because each technician at PRS is making $30 per hour with union benefits or their lathe, sanding, binding and other machines costs tens of thousands of dollars. Or maybe its the marketing, advertising, PR, sales and other non hardware issues that is costly. Paul Smith has a right to price his guitars at whatever price he wants. However, he is not going to sell a mass quantities of his $4k guitars nor will he turn a big profit on those either. Never mind the $664 SE series guitars because that’s another story.

    Eventually those chinese knockoffs are going to get better and better with newer generations ironing out all the kinks and problems from previous ones. I think PRS and Gibson were their own victims and the culprits with all those thousands of counterfeit guitar being cranked out every year.

  17. Dave says:

    Trophy wife and trophy guitar not much difference and same issues with both…

  18. Ariel says:

    No thanks to PRS guitars, sorry they hold nothing special to me. Frankly neither does Gibson, all way too expensive. Fender at least make their standard series which is probably as much as I’d ever spend on a guitar. I know they are made in Mexico, but the factories are like a stones throw apart and watching video tours of both factories it certainly looked like the same people in them.

    I’d love a Les Paul style guitar, or even a PRS custom, but I’ll be satisfied with an import given most manufacturing left the US long ago. Not happy about that? Write your congressman.

  19. Deneteus says:

    This is pretty much self explanatory. This is what you are paying for.

  20. TVLTNT says:

    That was a good read TK. I seem to be on the other side of the fence. Meaning I’m pretty happy with the Gibson’s that I own have have collected over the past 40 or more years. To me the first model of a PRS was nothing more than a Les Paul type look a like guitar. This was before the double cutaway model. So Gibson decided to come out with their own version back in the early to mid 80’s. Some proto types had just the name Gibson on them but then they decided to have the “Epiphone” name on top of the headstock’s and in Mother of Pearl there was this Diamond shaped that had the name GIBSON right in the middle of the headstock. It has a beautiful Antique Natural Finish with a nice flame Maple Top. Plus it has what look like 2 passive EMG type of humbucking pickups on it. Plus what looked like the same type of vibrato bar system that PRS was putting on their model of this guitar. I will get pictures of this and send them to you once I have gone into Vault #2 of my collection as you well know will be happening soon. 🙂 For the life of me I just at the moment can’t recall the name that Gibson called this model. Needless to say, PRS got a bit pissed at the time and Gibson did stop making the guitar after only be out for a little over a year. These guitars were also actually shipped during the 80’s in the big really nice Gibson PRO II guitar cases that say GIBSON right in the middle of the case in big SILVER letters. I finally remembered it was called the Gibson Epiphone Nouveau guitar. And while it still looks like the PRS it still feels and plays as great as any Gibson Les Pauls that I own. At the time when these guitars were new, I was selling them hardshell case and all for right around $400 bucks or perhaps less as an Authorized Gibson dealer. Even today I’d bet that a used one on Ebay in Very Fine to Excellent condition that it could be had for as low as under $800 bucks or less minus the hardshell case though. I do think that these are collectible as well as still made for that player that is out there kicking ass and making a living playing music full and or part time. Hence I could care less about what I think are well made PRS models from Korea but I still feel that they are way overpriced compared to many other companies guitars like BC RICH or DEAN or DBZ, Squire by Fender, Epiphone models from Gibson, certain Ibanez models and the list could go on and on.
    With that being said, there is NO REASON what so ever that PRS shouldn’t have much better price points on their Korean made guitars so that your article here would ring true to that company so that many younger and hard working players and not just CEO’s can own and enjoy playing a PRS inspired import made guitar because they can’t afford to be a working musician and carry around such expensive axes on the road with them where terrible things could go wrong either with them or they could be stolen as this type of thing happens everyday these days to the struggling young guys out there. I do hope that TK that your article does not just fall on deaf ears as well as the comments being made here by others might make a difference to PRS and it’s marketing plan hopefully in the VERY near future.

  21. stephen says:

    Yes, the US made PRS guitars are costly, but in my opinion they’re worth it. The comment about Gibson is correct-the top tier Gibsons cost as much or more. The reissue 1956 gold top costs over $4,000!

    Also, no mention has been made of the SE line of guitars, which are high quality, affordable instruments. I have 2 US built PRSs, and one SE which was about $600. It’s an excellent guitar by any standard, and a good alternative if you don’t want to take an expensive guitar on the NYC subways at night.

  22. Warped says:

    Has anyone looked at Gibsons lately? A Les Paul Standard is around 2300 USD. Sure, you can buy cheaper Gibsons and they get more expensive also but PRS is a company that decided what market they wanted to persue and they’re very successful at it. If they weren’t happy with their market share they’d change their strategy.

  23. Brian says:

    The question I have for the author is, given your premise that PRS doesn’t make affordable-enough guitars: compared to what? A USA Les Paul will cost you $1,600 or so. A made in USA Strat a little less. Sure, you can get a Les Paul Studio for maybe $700-800, but no maple top. So, what guitar maker is making “players instruments?” Ibanez, maybe. BC Rich? But you turned your nose up at PRS’ “imports,” so I guess that rules those out.

    Compared to what?

    The SEs are really, REALLY nice guitars if you don’t have a CEO’s salary.

  24. Sergio Terol says:

    Well… if you dont want to pay that much for a US made guitar, next time talk to your senator or whatever authority you need to talk to, and ask him to bring to the congress a new law diminishing salary on craftsmanship on your country. That simple. I mean, we, outside the US know something:
    If you want a US made product you have to pay more for it, and the reason is, that US claims to have the best quality control in the universe, and that might be right, i mean, yes… i would very much prefer to purchase a US made les paul than a chinese made washburn (like the one i have that costed me around 100 dollars). Also, i don’t really know about this but im pretty sure, that if you buy a US made PRS, and you are in the US, and you have the bad luck to get the ugliest sounding one, you should be able to call PRS and tell them: Hey!!! you sold me a piece of crap. And… im pretty sure they will do anything they have to, just to make you be hapy with your purchase. Because thats the US way, and… you also pay for premium materials, and premium electronics. I believe they are expensive, of course, but i guess there is a really good reason for that to be like it is.
    Personally, if i had 2000 dollars i would spend them carefully, and yeah, maybe i would go for a PRS… even when thats half the sum of what companies pay for office jobs in my country per year.

  25. gabe says:

    so very true, dont know why more companys cant make guitars more affordable to players. One does however, and that is Godin, very fine instruments and affordable, I love the one I got more companies should be like them, and the laugh is, there from Canada and assembled in the USA like thats a bad thing!

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