Perhaps one of the biggest wave-makers in PRS history, the Silver Sky has achieved quite the reputation since its 2018 release. From its discernible body shape to its long list of modernized improvements, the Paul Reed Smith John Mayer Signature Silver Sky is a guitar that has challenged the definition of perfection.
Grammy award winning artist, John Mayer, already having an accomplished career, was scheduled to join former members of the Grateful Dead as a member of a new group called Dead and Company. Instead of searching for the perfect instrument, Mayer sought after creating his guitar from scratch – one that would be exactly what he needed for the new gig. Having recently parting ways with Fender, John was put in touch with Paul Reed Smith. “I’m not talkin' shit, I never talk shit,” Mayer says. “It’s just musical chairs. You don’t know who to call. [With PRS] I get to call the guy who’s name is on the guitar and we get to build stuff together. That’s too cool. That’s something I appreciate, and that’s something that anybody picking up this guitar or any guitar in the future should appreciate, because it opens up a direct connection between the artists and the guy who designs the guitars.”
This Masters collaboration first yielded the now famous Super Eagle (and Super Eagle II). The guitar had a unique 25.375” scale length, a first for PRS Guitars. Also particular to the model were specially wound 58/15 Treble and Bass pickups, 3 individual coil-tap mini switches and a built-in JCF preamp with treble boost. The design turned heads, to put it mildly, and has already become a collector’s item around the electric guitar world.
inspiration and turmoil
John Mayer has made it public for some time now that his instrument of choice for as long as most can remember is the 1964 Stratocaster. With a price tag seen exceeding $20,000 at times, the classic sound John has made his own is unobtainable for the masses. This would be the inspiration for both Paul Reed Smith and Mayer, to not only recreate that iconic sound and familiar body shape, but to also take a classic guitar and not update it, but modernize it, all while retaining the intimacy guitar players across the globe already have for the traditional Stratocaster. “It’s been a dream of mine for years to design a guitar that includes some of my favorite vintage specifications but with a modern spirit and aesthetic,” says Mayer. “After two years of study and refinement, the Silver Sky is my vision of what a reboot of the electric guitar should look and feel like.”
When word got leaked to the public that Mayer was not only tampering with an iconic design, but doing so with Paul Reed Smith, the internet blew up. With only headlines and rumors to go on, the keyboard warriors drew their virtual guns and aimed to kill. The idea of recreating the Strat, modifying a legend, tampering with perfection – Before the Silver Sky had even entered its third trimester, the congregation had it marked as an outcast. While Paul and John weren’t expecting such a swift and disappointing return, neither were slow to provide the missing information for those so hasty to condemn.
It’s understood that copying the design of an existing product and then calling it your own is a practice that’s rarely healthy for any situation. However, it’s common knowledge that the Stratocaster is not only the most replicated electric guitar body style in the world, it’s also considered "generic" by a legal stand point, and while replicating it may have some moral boundaries, on paper, any company has the right to create their own Strat. In a 40 minute live stream, Mayer explained a lot about the guitar to put his audience at ease, and to be honest, he did an incredible job.
“This has a lot to do with taking what my favorite ’64 Strat is. Taking the overall sensibility and tone of that guitar and giving it to people so that it becomes not something that's impossible to get for most people. I just love the idea of bringing it down to a place of accessibility for people. And I think to a certain extent, that’s really happened. Paul is a scientist as much as he is an artist… Again, this guitar is based off of the Strat. I think if people understood that I'm admitting that - yes, I have played a Strat for such a long time in my career that it didn't make sense to me personally to look down and see a different shape, and I don't think other people would want to see a different shape…So here's the three places that you have to stick in between. You want to remain classic to a design that's almost synonymous with electric guitar. You want to innovate in a certain way so that you see something new. And you also want to respect the language of design that PRS guitars have. So everything has to balance - this is all a game of balance. It's two years because of balance.”
As with any note-worthy partnership, when word finds its way to the public that something exciting is on the horizon, people want to know when, when, when! An interview between Paul Reed Smith himself and Rene Martinez, long time guitar tech for John Mayer, provided a few answers to these questions in March of 2018. Several components of the guitar, which we’ll attack again here momentarily, took more than a few days to perfect. It’s said that more than 50 redraws were made of the headstock alone, with good reason. One of the first “whys” that came from critics is in reference to the non-traditional headstock shape, layout and orientation. Both perfectionists when it comes to their instruments, one end goal for Smith and Mayer was flawless intonation. To help achieve this, the decision was made to use a 3 and 3 configuration as opposed to an inline 6 for the tuners. The first few drafts sent to Mayer, while appealing, missed a mark for two reasons, and it was a bit of a ‘Eureka’ moment when John discovered what was wrong. The traditional Strat, which again, they did not want to remove the familiarity of, has a sense of balance where the flares of the body mirror the heavy and light sides of the headstock; they’re opposite. The initial proposed headstock for the Silver Sky didn’t accomplish that. Mayer photoshopped a later version of the headstock and flipped it, making the famous “scoop” of the PRS headstock now mirror the “scoop” of the body. It immediately gave the guitar a balanced, finished look and also contributed to the intonation efforts. In the final configuration, the strings now were equal angle and distance. In addition, the angled neck (Fender’s straight neck in comparison) provides one of the major “fixes” the Silver Sky accomplishes. The precise angle of the headstock gives an equal angle to the nut for every string, eliminating the need for string trees, another seeming small yet significant improvement to the traditional design.
The next thing that took a significant amount of time to tackle was the pickups. John’s request was to create a pickup that fell somewhere between a ‘63 and ‘64 sound and style. Let’s pause here a moment. This is a point where some may be inclined to turn up their nose, stop reading or get back to work. I'm on board with the idea of "perfection in imperfection." I personally understand the appeal of the cracks behind a classic vinyl track. At 15 years old, I remember wondering why anyone would choose a record over a CD when the quality is not comparable. How could I be hearing snaps and pops over this sorry excuse for stereo, while my Father sits cross-legged in his recliner, holding the sleeve to the Rumors album with his eyes closed, only hearing the simple brilliance of Mick’s clean and precise finishing touches to a brilliant Dreams track? The answer is in the question. No matter how perfect the ‘new’ and the ‘better’ get, they’ll never replace the classics. We will always have the ‘57 Chevy, but how fun would it be to drive a 2020 Camaro? We will always have Grandma’s cast iron pan, but why not use the 6 quart crockpot? And we will most definitely always have the Fender Stratocaster. What we now have, is a new guitar, inspired by something that was and is great, and the result is the Silver Sky.
The pickups, yes, might have been the heart of a classic, but just like the static of a 45, those inside the classic Strat have their limitations. What the team wanted to eliminate was any inconsistencies between all five strings on all 3 pickups. This may sound like an easy task for a duo as experienced and established as Paul Reed Smith and John Mayer, along with their respective support staff, but this is an accomplishment that Fender had not attained, whether attempted or not. “There’s this long list on the internet of all the things you do to make these pickups,” Paul tells during an interview. “You use this kind of magnet, you do this kind of length, you do this kinda wire, this kinda coating, these kinda turns, this is how you pot it – It’s a big ‘ol list! Two of em… are dead wrong. But that took a long time to figure out.” And that’s as much as he’ll tell. Reviews are consistent across the board that the pickups are not just an improvement, but damn near flawless.
In nearly every video after March of 2018, you’ll likely hear Paul Reed Smith say the word “retooled” a dozen times, often back to back. The continuing list of elements of this guitar that have been improved upon is extensive. We’ve spoken about the headstock and pickups, but the neck itself was another battleground in the PRS vs. the internet scuffle. For decades, many have steered clear of the 7 ¼ inch neck radius in Stratocaster style guitars with the belief that the size is limiting. News of the sizing left a plethora of negative feedback with users claiming the guitar had failed before it had even been released, that they’d narrowed their audience by giving the Silver Sky a neck that no player wants, and, at the top of the comments, that the guitar would not be suitable for solos, and that a company like PRS Guitars should very well know better. Paul’s response? He played a few licks himself, which sounded incredible. He’s no Mark Knopfler, but can play well enough to prove the radius isn’t an issue. Who IS Mark Knopfler, however, is Mark Knopfler. A select few guitar enthusiasts as well as a handful of music fans may have an ever-so-faint memory of a song called Sultans of Swing. Knopfler’s instrument during that iconic solo? You guessed it: 7 ¼ inch radius Stratocaster. I’ll spare you more examples, as one that bold is quite enough. But the straw that broke the camel’s back for the radius reviews is one that is not possible to argue with. The Silver Sky is not a “new standard” guitar. Nor is it an improved upon version of an existing PRS model guitar. This is the first of it’s kind, and created from the preferences of one man and one man only. The idea that John Mayer may have overlooked the neck radius being incompatible for his players is, to put it bluntly, dumb. Like every other piece of this guitar, the in-hand reviews quickly muffled the negative feedback and left everyone pleasantly surprised.
The new lineup of Silver Sky colors from NAMM 2020
Other items that have been retooled include the frets, pick guard and scoop shape. The body contour on the back side, the volume and tone knobs as well as the raised jack plate all went through numerous versions before landing on the version you see now. In 2 years, there wasn’t a part of this guitar that was left alone. Let’s take a closer look at the specs on what you’ll find on a 2019/2020 PRS Silver Sky John Mayer Signature Guitar.
The Silver Sky currently boasts an alder body, which many electric guitar aficionados are familiar with, both physically and sonically. Light weight and easily acquired from the West coast of the United States, red alder is a closed-pore wood, brighter than most other hardwoods, and supports sustain and attack incredibly. Alder is not known for its aesthetics, but more its versatility with its audible contributions.
The neck is made of the bright-toned maple, moderately weighted in comparison to other options, atop of which originally rested a rosewood fretboard, but now offers models with a maple fretboard as well. The rosewood option will have the traditional solid, inlaid birds that PRS fans know very well. The maple neck has a bit of an inverted appearance, with only the outlines of the birds being along the frets.
Sitting on the retooled pick guard are three, custom wound, single-coil pickups with master volume and two tone controls. The pickups have been appropriately named 635s, which stands for 63.5 – a split between the inspirational ‘63 and ‘64 designs. In Mayer’s promotional videos, he is always excited to share how improved the knobs are in both their feel and functionality. Where before rotating a tone knob may yield little to no response without making half a turn, the new Silver Sky knobs are audibly distinguishable between the slightest adjustments. Finishing touches include a bone nut, steel tremelo, vintage style, locking tuners and a special edition plate on the reverse side.
For any holding any doubts as to the sound, feel, or existence of this guitar, I encourage all to simply sit and play the thing for just a few minutes time. The immediate comfort and familiarity the PRS Silver Sky brings is not by chance, it’s by design. Through the efforts of Paul Reed Smith and the great John Mayer, PRS Guitars has created the Silver Sky and if you’ve got room for one more, I’d suggest everyone get at least one for their collection. I’ve tried to find a negative review online to balance the scales, and have come up empty. Some think it’s perfect, and some just think it’s great. I’d say we’re looking at a guitar that will be around for generations.
Heartbreaker Guitars in Las Vegas, Nevada is a proud Paul Reed Smith Guitars dealer. As of July of 2020, we have several varieties available of the PRS Silver Sky and we don't expect them to last long! Visit our Paul Reed Smith product page online to see all available Silver Sky models and feel free to view our entire Paul Reed Smith collection as well!