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.
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 soon moving to Virginia firstname.lastname@example.org †