Hello everyone and welcome to another edition of the Heartbreaker Guitars blog. Today I wanted dig deeper and look at the love and attention that goes into making the bodies for Paul Reed Smith Guitars. It might seem on the on surface that it wouldn’t take much time to make a guitar body, you just grab some wood, cut out a shape, do some gluing, sanding and painting, voila you have a guitar body. Wait maybe that does sound like it takes some time? Like every aspect of the construction of a PRS guitar, there are many small but critical steps PRS take along the way to insure these guitars look, sound and play amazing.
As with the necks, Paul Platts and his team are hand-selecting wood from trusted suppliers and cutting it down to PRS spec in the “rough cut” area. After this, the top and back woods are palletized and spaced, so they can dry evenly, in a specific hot room for three weeks. The great thing about Paul Reed Smith Guitars growing, is the capability to have a hot room just for drying bodes, unlike in the beginning where everything is drying in the same room, even the beef jerky. This body hot room is only used for bodies so the process can be controlled and set just for this one crucial task, drying of the bodies.
After the body wood has reached the desired moisture level, it is moved out onto the floor to acclimate for approximately three days so it can adjust to the temperature and humidity in the shop. Once the acclimation process is complete, the wood is ready to be pulled to fill the run schedule for that day or week. PRS will base the production schedules of what is being built according to customer orders and the necks available, if we remember from the last blog, it can take up to a month for the necks to be completed because of the time it takes for them to settle. Once the schedule is established, bodies are pulled according to color and grade and labeled to match an order.
Paul Reed Smith has a wide variety of woods available for their guitar bodies, including mahogany, maple, alder, ash, spruce, and one that you might not be familiar with, obeche. Paul Reed Smith is first and foremost, going to always use the finest materials, the best maintained machinery, and the most capable employees, regardless if they are building a single piece mahogany body or a more complex maple top / mahogany back body. I will discuss the steps in a little more detail what is involved for making these magnificent guitars. This will show the dedication and attention to detail that made us want to be a PRS dealer and carry these awesome instruments.
At PRS, most of the time the body starts in three pieces: one piece for the back and two pieces that will become the book matched top. The body construction begins when the top and back are run through the joiner, what is a joiner you ask? The joiner makes the wood perfectly flat so that it can be planed down to the specified thickness. After the wood is flat and planed to Paul Reed Smith thickness specs, the top is run through a smaller joiner that creates a perfectly flat centerline so the top can be book matched perfectly. PRS understands the importance of keeping a well maintained shop. All of the machines in the shop have the blades sharpened, tolerances tested, etc. on a daily basis to make sure they give the best results. An example of the importance of well-maintained tools and equipment, if the blade on the centerline joiner is not sharp enough, it will not create a flat edge and the top will not lineup correctly. To finish the top, the curl on the top is aligned and marked with 3 lines so it can be glued together perfectly. After alignment, a bead of glue is applied to the centerline and the top is placed in a press. Paul Reed Smith will use a radio frequency machine to “zap” the centerline in 3 different locations, which helps decrease drying time. The top will then be flipped and the process repeated.
After the top is assembled, the body shop will plane it down a few more times and keep checking the glue joint to make sure it is sealed perfectly. A trace line is drawn onto the top using a model specific template aligned by the center glue line (one of the reasons this must be a perfect fit). Then they make a rough perimeter cut using a band saw, leaving a little bit of excess room to nail the top and body together. After another pass through the planer to eliminate the rough edge left by the band saw, PRS are ready to glue the top to the back. They roll on, like painting a house, an even coat of glue that is applied to both the top and the back before being nailed together. Then the glued top and back are placed in the pneumatic press, with almost 6500 lbs of pressure, to stay overnight before the CNC operator takes the body for some precision machining. Not everything in the Paul Reed Smith factory is shiny and new, besides the guitars of course, they have had their current press almost 10 years.
In the olden days the press was individually hand-tightened, can you imagine having to do that for every body they make, in numerous places. This would be like tightening the lugnuts on your car tire which could result in uneven pressure being applied in different spots of the body. The current press is switch operated and applies a consistent and even amount of pressure to the bodies. PRS has spent a good deal of time and experimentation to determine the right pressure to yield a strong bond without leaving a glue line. It truly amazing how much thought goes into every step of the building process, that is why Heartbreaker Guitars is honored to be a Paul Reed Smith Dealer and part of a passionate and super talented family.