Hello everyone and welcome to another edition of the Heartbreaker Guitars blog. Today I wanted to look at the amount of work it takes just to build a neck for a Paul Reed Smith Guitar. We have discussed the wood selection, drying and carving of the necks, yet that is only half of the story. So let’s start with the truss rod installation and fingerboard glue-up. Since Paul Reed Smith spends so much time selecting the highest quality woods for their necks to ensure stable wood and then drying them properly, they do not have to rely on the truss rods to force the neck into position. This ensures they are used to support, making sure the neck is in the correct position. That time making sure they dry properly and letting them settle over weeks really does pay off in the end. Paul Reed Smith builders like Herman Efland, who has worked at PRS for over 13 years, receives the neck blanks that have the CNC machines carve the slots for him to install the truss rod and then they are glued in to eliminate some common problems inherent with guitar necks, such as “S”ing and bending. After the neck and truss rod have been left in the pneumatic press over night to set, the neck is sent back to CNC for further work on the head stock and the heal, which gets them closer to the famous Paul Reed Smith headstock shape everyone knows.
Now the neck is ready for the fretboard to be glued on, which they use an epoxy mixture to ensure a permanent seal. Then the necks are placed in the pneumatic press for approximately 5 hours where 60 pounds of pressure ensures everything is secure. Finally when they come out of the pneumatic press, every neck is “tap-tested” to confirm the truss rod doesn’t rattle. As an authorized Paul Reed Smith Dealer, Heartbreaker Guitars loves to know the attention to detail that PRS puts into every guitar they make, even small things like PRS having their truss rods custom designed and built for them, no step in the PRS building process is overlooked.
Let’s move on to the inlay process for PRS guitars. We know there is one question we have always wondered at Heartbreaker Guitars, and I am sure everyone else that has seen a PRS Guitar, “Why birds for inlays?” The answer is that Paul’s mother was an avid bird watcher, so when it came time for Paul to pick an inlay it seemed like the obvious choice and we think they are beautiful and definitely one of a kind. Paul Reed Smith inlays are glued in while the fretboard is still flat, then the very top layer of the inlay material is sanded off, which means it is very important that PRS materials are beautiful inside and out. The birds on PRS fretboards (from the first to last fret) are as follows: Peregrine Falcon, Marsh Hawk, Ruby-throated Hummingbird, Common Tern, Coopers Hawk, Kite, Sparrow landing, Storm Petrel, Hawk landing, and a Screech Owl on a branch (24-fret models only).
Once the inlays are finished, PRS move on to the slotting of the fretboard. PRS used to slot fretboards with a milling machine where the slots were calculated based on “x” and “y” axes, and each slot was manually and individually cut. This was an extremely labor intensive process that could take up to a half hour per neck. Since this was being done by hand, it meant there was opportunity for errors that could cause intonation issues once the guitar made it to Final Assembly. By that time the PRS Team has spent many hours and dollars so there would be nothing worse than having to start over on a neck because of a human error. To avoid this, Paul Reed Smith purchased their first slotter in 1986 it was for 25” scale length guitars and as they added different scale lengths to the line, of course they had to purchase more slotters. The slotters have custom cutters that are adjustable for the depth of a slot and they are precise to a thousandth of an inch – which means to every guitar player buying a PRS, perfect intonation every time, and that is music to every players ears. We will finish this journey next week, so tune in to the Heartbreaker Guitars site for more tasty facts on Paul Reed Smith and the amazing guitars they build.