The McCarty 594 from Paul Reed Smith is a do-it-all guitar for the player looking for that classic, retro styling and sound, but with the quality and dependability found in modern day components and construction. PRS Guitars has created what many consider to be the perfect guitar, and we’re gonna take a look at how that came to be.
It’s fairly public knowledge that Theodore “Ted” McCarty mentored Paul Reed Smith for a number of years. Ted, being the president of Gibson Guitars during the 50’s and 60’s, had more than an influence on the design of their models. To Paul, Ted held the keys to a vault of information that was begging to be opened and shared.
“My initial reason for talking with Ted was simple,” Smith explains. “I wanted to know what happened with Gibson in the 50’s. I wanted to know how they glued the tops on. I wanted to know how they wound the pickups, what kind of glues they used for the fretwire. I wanted to know all of it. I wanted him to come and consult to our company, our young PRS Guitars. I remember Clay Evans, who was the president at the time, says, “Just call him.” So I call him! He says, “I can’t, I’m blind. You have to come to me.” I was gonna hire him to consult for us, so I went up and interviewed him for a day. Went up and interviewed him another time. The third time he got really angry, and I said, “What’s wrong, Ted?” and he says, “Nobody’s asked me these questions in twenty years, and you wanna know how we glue the frets in, you wanna know how we made the bodies, you wanna know how we did all this stuff, and everybody that’s talking to me just wants to get rich quick.” For him, he says, “This is the way I make my living, and somebody is actually interested in the way I make my living.” And I think he was upset that a certain company hadn’t asked him how he did it.”
PRS Guitars isn’t just in competition with other new guitar manufacturers. One of their biggest competitors is the endless and constantly growing market of vintage guitars. Paul’s vision was to create an instrument that satisfied the need of the vintage guitar sound, while having none of the trouble that notoriously comes with buying a vintage guitar. “Unofficially,” Smith was after recreating his own version of the ’59 Les Paul. While the custom 24 was a happy medium between a Fender and Gibson, the McCarty 594 was an effort to appease the ardent Gibson patrons.
Starting with Ted’s acclaimed specs, Paul Reed Smith began the process he’s now famous for. From top to bottom, the McCarty 594 has been fine tuned to modernize a classic while paying due respects to its origin. The tuning pegs were given some “very special tweaks” so the guitar could freely ring. They decided to use a “super dried bone nut”. The neck was one of the more important features for Smith. He decided on a new, asymmetrical, “vintage carve” pattern which fits just in between a pattern regular and pattern thin neck shape. As for the scale length, this took some time for Smith to find the sweet spot he was looking for. Whether there’s a significant difference between the traditional scale length and the magical 25.594 inch scale length, we may never know, but we do know the end result of months of adjusting resulted in an incredible instrument.
Another change is to the bridge and saddle design. Where previously a knife edge saddle design created a somewhat significant angle to the bridge, Smith uses a high mass, angled saddle without a knife point. The added mass is known to help with added sustain and frequency response.
For the novice player, the change in the neck joint might be quickly noticed. The thicker neck joint on the traditional Les Paul can be a little more difficult to wrap around, giving the nod to the modified 594 which has a much more carved-out feel.
Another seemingly minor change is to the headstock. Using the traditional horned headstock again gives a small win to Paul Reed Smith by bypassing the awkward sharp angle the strings make as they cross the nut.
I’ll save you time and say what’s likely on just about everyone’s mind: “If these were problems with the Les Paul, wouldn’t Gibson have fixed them?” The answer, is no. The Gibson was an absolute God of its time, and remains an incredible guitar. For many, the fact that Gibson was able to create such an amazing instrument with the tools they had available, the technology of the time, the pickups, the electronics, the materials, etc., these all contribute to what an amazing guitar it is. Smith has made it clear he never aims to take the Les Paul off the market, nor does he likely believe he could. What he does confess, is to using its strengths as building blocks to build his own version of the great guitar using modern materials, modern techniques to and give tribute to the man who taught him many tricks of the trade. Over the life of the Les Paul, Gibson has kept many aspects of their design the same, and while players respect the intention, the door was open for Paul to take a shot at showing the world what ‘New and Improved’ can do.
The body of the PRS McCarty 594 is made from Carved Figured Maple with Mahogany as the back wood. Mahogany also makes up the pattern vintage neck, having a depth of 28.5/32”. The fretboard widens from 1 11/16” to 2 1/4” from the nut to body and is made of Rosewood with Faux Bone Binding. Traditional bird inlays are found on every stock model. Hardware include the PRS two-piece bridge, vintage style tuners and nickel hardware. Both the treble and bass pickup are 58/15 LT pickups, connected to two volume and two push/pull tone control knobs, as well as a 3-way toggle switch on the upper bout.
For those looking for even more from their McCarty 594, we always make sure to keep a few upgraded models in stock. In no particular order, take a look at some of these incredible guitars!