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It's woodworking I guess - A tour of PRS Guitars when attending Experience PRS 2009

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Blog entry by Karson posted 1662 days ago 8469 reads 4 times favorited 22 comments Add to Favorites Watch

I signed up to attend Experience PRS 2009. It’s a Manufacturer show of the PRS guitars and also workshops, product demos and lots of Music Concerts. It’s all free if you sign-up before a cut of date. Approx 1700 people attended the 3 day event.

The first day is for members of the Signature Club about 400 people attended that day. I’m not a member so I didn’t go. I went as a guest on the Friday and Sat, Sept 25 and 26 2009. It was more crowded on Friday than it was on Sat.

My son Daniel (The guitar Player) LR’er GuitarFreak had to work both days so we were late getting there.

Fridays schedule was 1:15 to approx 10:00 PM, dinner was provided and free soda, coffee and water all day long.

Sat schedule was 9:30 Am to 7:00 pm but they didn’t finish the concerts until 9Pm on Sat night.

Because of our late arrival each day were not available to take advantage of all of the seminars but someone told me you need to take the factory tour so we signed up for a Sat tour.

PRS does not give tours of their factory. Maybe one a year but there have been none in 2009 and probably none in 2010. So taking it as part of the Experience PRS was an honor.

They have just completed the building of a new factory addition onto the original factory. The occupancy permit was not issued until the day before our tour so there was only 2 groups that had moved to the new building. The Amplifier build and the Private Stock storeroom. The Amp group got there about 3 hours before our 3:00 tour.

We entered into the area which will become the wood room. This is in the new building.

Behind these roll up doors will be a 125 degree room that holds wood until it gets to the 7% moisture content. To the left of these rooms is a room that has a temp of about 185%. It brings the wood down from about 20% moisture to the 10% range. They also cook the fret boards for about 35 days to shrink them before putting them on a guitar neck. They don’t want them to shrink when in a customers hands and the frets to stick out over the edge of the neck.

The Amp room is on the second floor.
They are building 15 Watt and 30 Watt Amps.

These have a circuit board with hand wired control knobs.

The 50 watt Amps are all hand wired.

It is a tube Amp.

The wiring station.

A workstation on the new factory floor.

In the background is the new spray booth for spraying the guitars.

Another under construction work station and in the background is the drying room for the newly sprayed guitars.

Off to the left is a private area that is off limits to us, but was where I really wanted to go. It’s the Private Stock area where all of the wood is stored for custom guitars. The customer can come and select the wood and what and how they want their guitars built.

We then left the new building and went to the old factory floor.

We entered through the current wood room in the old building.

The are blanks that will become the backs of the PRS guitars. They are mostly mahogany. They arrive as long planks they are air dried on the premises and are then cut up into approx sizes to be placed in the hot boxes to bring the moisture content down.

A sample of guitar tops for some of the guitars.

The guitar tops are not resawn locally. They buy them already resawn and that way they are able to grade the blanks as they arrive and don’t have to worry about embedded defects.

The wood manager does a rough grade of the blanks and sets them aside. After they have had some rough finishing done on them they may be graded up or down.

The one on the left and figure in the body area but is light in the top portion of the body. The second one has some nice tight figure. The third one is a quilt figure and might be going to the private stock area.

Samples of neck blocks and finger board blanks.

Some of these might arrive as lumber and are cut to size on site. The rosewood necks arrive already cut to size. The finger boards come in already cut to size.

Necks are the first thing to be made on a guitar. After the neck is completed then a body of the guitar will be scheduled. The necks have many more steps than the body so they are completed and then the body is scheduled.

The billet is sent through the CNC machine and is cut to rough size.

You can see in the center of the picture a neck that has been formed at the glue point for the body and at the other end. If it’s so good so far it is put back in and the round portion is cut on the neck.

If it’s OK there it will have a finger board glued on with epoxy glue. It will be CNC’d to size and then an accent strip is glued in place. And then more milling etc, etc etc.

The finger boards have inlays placed in them. The inlays are outsourced and the cutting of the inlay into the neck is outsourced.

More milling, by sanding the inlays flush to the surface, replacing any defective ones. They they sand the top of the finger board to a 10” radius curve. Other MFG’s might use a different radius.

They putting in the frets and finishing them off flush to the sides etc, etc.

When they are completed that they go to the area for holding so that a body can now be scheduled.


The top of the body is selected from a rack of tops.

The body man will surface the bottom and joint the inside edges of the top. He also planes to thickness. he then walks through the door into the wood room when we first entered and picks up a bottom. He joints and planes it to thickness. He glues the tops onto the base wood and puts them in a press.

They stay in there overnight.

He lays a template on top of the body and draws the outline and then bandsaws to about 1” outside the line. These pieces now go to the CNC machine for machining.

They are placed on a vacuum block that will hold them in the CNC machine.

They come off with all of the milling done for the electronics and neck attachment points.

They then go to sanding. Sanding is the entry level job at the factory. You must get through that before you can go to any other job.

He is using a 10,000 OPM sander over a dust collector table.

A sanded top.

The top then goes to be matched up with its neck that was previously completed.

A hold area of guitars up to this point.

A Private Stock guitar that is not getting banged around with all of the other standard ones.


Down in the bottom of the hole is all of the information about the guitar. So if it’s a custom color it tells the paint man what color to use.

On the left is a guitar body.
To the right is a body painted. The sunburst is a 2 finger process. It’s not suppose to be any deeper into the body than 2 fingers. (Who’s two finger you might ask, If it’s really wide they had a big fingered painter working that shift.)
To the right is after wet sanding to 1200 grit. I didn’t ask if they use water or oil on the wet sanding.
To the right of that is after buffing.

After Wet sanding.

After buffing.

We now go to electronics.

They have a custom coil wiring machine to make the coils to their needs.

The different stages of a pickup for a guitar.

They then start to install all of the electronics in a guitar. This is another Private Stock guitar being built for a proud owner.

This is an employee guitar.


One of the benefits of working at PRS Guitars is at certain times of your career you can purchase a guitar at material cost. You don’t have to pay any of the labor costs. You go around the factory and select the best employees at each station and ask them if they will help build your guitar. It’s considered an honor to be asked to do that. I believe I heard her say that on certain anniversaries of employment you also get a free guitar.

Everyone we talked to stated that this was the best job that they have ever had.

Many happy employees.

PRS is starting to build Acoustic Guitars. They currently make around 25-30 per month.

Here is one that was in a holding rack.

They buy the sides I believe.

They are wetted and wrapped in tinfoil and put in this hot press.

Other presses are seen here.

It comes out of the press in the classic shape.

It is put in the jig and held tight and headstock and tail stock are glued in.

It’s then put in the shorter form and the top glue blocks are put in and the stiffing braces in the sides. The stiffer the side the the more vibration you get on the top and bottom and the better the sound.

The top has bracing glued in place.

And then the top and bottom are glue on. In the very background you will see a green guitar that looks like a mummy. It’s all taped up for the glue to dry.

On the far right you will see a guitar with a neck attached. It fits into a big dovetail in the body and locks in place.

Definitely a fun tour. I’ll plan to take the tour again next year and get to see the new building all setup and working.

-- I've been blessed with a father who liked to tinker in wood, and a wife who lets me tinker in wood. Southern Delaware karson_morrison@bigfoot.com †



22 comments so far

View PurpLev's profile

PurpLev

8473 posts in 2148 days


#1 posted 1662 days ago

I would love to take that tour…. thanks for sharing. one day… one day… I’ll build my own guitar. this was inspiring!

-- ㊍ When in doubt - There is no doubt - Go the safer route.

View Beginningwoodworker's profile

Beginningwoodworker

13335 posts in 2173 days


#2 posted 1662 days ago

Thanks for the tour, even thou I cant play guitars. :) I am a drummer!

-- CJIII Future cabinetmaker

View Dan'um Style's profile

Dan'um Style

12487 posts in 2483 days


#3 posted 1662 days ago

wow …excellent work Karson ! a real treat for sure…. nothing like eye candy

-- keeping myself entertained ... Humor and fun lubricate the brain

View MarkwithaK's profile

MarkwithaK

370 posts in 1678 days


#4 posted 1662 days ago

I can only imagine how exciting that would be. I have always loved the styling of the PRS but couldn’t justify the expense.

-- If at first you don't succeed then maybe skydiving isn't for you.

View Rustic's profile

Rustic

3110 posts in 2096 days


#5 posted 1662 days ago

I wanna work there and I don’t play

-- www.carvingandturningsbyrick.com, Rick Kruse, Grand Rapids, MI

View Karson's profile

Karson

34796 posts in 2900 days


#6 posted 1662 days ago

I could do sanding for a few days, Then I could step up to the guy glueing head stocks on bodys. Maybe even the wood room looking at all of the great looking wood.

Every Guitar that is made is played before it ever leaves the factory. They stated that a beginner in the electronics area may only make 1 guitar a day. And that it will probably be kicked back for a re-do about 7 times before it is right.

-- I've been blessed with a father who liked to tinker in wood, and a wife who lets me tinker in wood. Southern Delaware karson_morrison@bigfoot.com †

View dustyal's profile

dustyal

1191 posts in 1975 days


#7 posted 1662 days ago

Great post Karson. Thanks.

The acoustical guitar bending machine seems to be a handmade jig?

-- Al H. - small shop, small projects...

View Karson's profile

Karson

34796 posts in 2900 days


#8 posted 1662 days ago

No acoustic guitar leaves the plant until it is played by Paul Reed Smith and two other highly qualified officers of the company.

Maybe that why only one is made a day.

-- I've been blessed with a father who liked to tinker in wood, and a wife who lets me tinker in wood. Southern Delaware karson_morrison@bigfoot.com †

View Karson's profile

Karson

34796 posts in 2900 days


#9 posted 1662 days ago

Al it sure reminded me of that when I saw it.

In one of the booths was one of the employees and he was handcarving a guitar. he asked me if I wanted to try. So I did for a few minutes.

He stated that the chisles were sharp. I tested it and it was very sharp. I didn’t ask him how he sharpened them.

Later that night after the tour, I was sitting watching the concert and he walked by, I grabbed his arm and asked him why he was out there hand carving guitars when they had a CNC machine inside that was doing it.

He stated that he makes prototypes on new guitars that they don’t have the numbers yet to cut them on the CNC and also that the larger sized guitars are all hand carved. I think he stated that all of the Private Stock Guitars are hand carved.

I should have gotten his picture, he had about three rings through his lips and eyebrows and ears. But a great friendly employee. I’d like to sit and try some carving with his tutorial.

They had lots of figured cut off and people were trying their own dye jobs on the wood blanks. I tried a sun burst. They were using Mosers water based stain.

-- I've been blessed with a father who liked to tinker in wood, and a wife who lets me tinker in wood. Southern Delaware karson_morrison@bigfoot.com †

View Chris Wright's profile

Chris Wright

524 posts in 1981 days


#10 posted 1662 days ago

Those are some great pics. I wish I could have gone. Would love to work there too.

-- "At its best, life is completely unpredictable." - Christopher Walken

View Napaman's profile

Napaman

5275 posts in 2577 days


#11 posted 1662 days ago

quote of the blog:

“Everyone we talked to stated that this was the best job that they have ever had.

Many happy employees.”

How often do you hear that…??? SOunds like a great day karson!!! Thanks for sharing…

-- Matt--Proud LJ since 2007

View Mario's profile

Mario

902 posts in 2551 days


#12 posted 1662 days ago

Thank you for posting this. It is a great look into how the process works, you captured it well and took great pics as well .

Thanks.

-- Hope Never fails

View lew's profile

lew

9829 posts in 2255 days


#13 posted 1661 days ago

Wow, Karson!!

What a place!! As an old electronics technician- from back in the days before transistors and integrated circuits- I love those hand wired, tube amplifiers.

Lew

-- Lew- Time traveler. Purveyor of the Universe's finest custom rolling pins.

View Mark Mazzo's profile

Mark Mazzo

352 posts in 2413 days


#14 posted 1661 days ago

Karson,

Awesome tour of PRS!

The company has come a very long way. I traveled to Annapolis Maryland in the 80’s to have Paul Reed Smith build me one of his custom electric solid-body guitars. I was able to pick out much of the wood and talk with him about the process (my guitar looks alot like Carlo Santana’s guitar that Paul originally made for him). At the time I was into music and not woodworking – but I was getting interested. My guitar doesn’t see much playing time today but it is a great instrument. At that time Paul made all of his guitars himself in a small shop on the second floor of a building on the main street in Annapolis. Now his factory produces arguably the finest mass-produced electric guitars in the world! I was not aware that they were making acoustics. I’m sure that they will be of great quality.

Thanks again for the tour – it brought back a lot of cool memories for me.

-- Mark, Webster New York, Visit my website at http://thecraftsmanspath.com

View Kent Shepherd's profile

Kent Shepherd

2694 posts in 1786 days


#15 posted 1661 days ago

Wow! That was interesting Karson. I would absolutley love to see their facilities. Obviously I have an interest
in guitar building. It’s great to see how the Pros do it. Unfortunately, Texas is a bit far to be able to do that. I would have to spend so much on airline tickets, and that would eat into my tool money. Maybe someday I’ll get to do that, but for now the picture tour will have to do.
If I were young, I might seriously consider that as a career choice. I would love having the kind of reputation that PRS does. It would be way more satisfying than manufacturing raised panel cabinet doors. (Oh well—- that has paid the bills for a long, long time)

Thanks for sharing.

-- She thought I hung the moon--now she just thinks I did it wrong

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