PRS offered a first glimpse at their new amps at Experience PRS. Larger Image
There’s a new benchmark for gauging whether or not a manufacturer has a noteworthy following—the success of their celebration event. Just imagine the risk involved with throwing a big party where the brand faithful, endorsers, dealers, media types, company big wigs and worker bees gather in the name of a gear brand. A piddly attendance would be an embarrassment. The opposite—hundreds or even thousands of people coming together to check out new products, listen to music, mingle with artists, tour the factory and maybe drink a little beer—would galvanize a community of users while perhaps making an impact in the larger scheme of things.

Paul Reed Smith accomplished this feat with his second year of hosting Experience PRS in Stevensville, MD. More than 1300 people showed up for the event, some of them from as far away as Japan, Canada, England, Mexico and Australia. The artist roster included tone hounds, chop wizards, big stage vets and notable up-and-comers. For two days, PRS fans shuffled between clinics, performances and hang time with David Grissom, Al Di Meola, Mark Tremonti, Howard Leese, Paul Jackson, Jr.,

The Custom 24 is one of three models featuring the new 1957/2008 pickups. Larger Image
Johnny Hiland, Pat Travers, Kenny Greenberg, Nicky Moroch (David Sanborn), Bugs Henderson, Jim McCarty (Cactus) and many other notable artists. Paul Reed Smith sat in often and fired off his signature meaty string bends that showcase what his PRS tone is all about.

The festivities kicked off with a private party at Paul’s house that featured Ricky Skaggs, his Kentucky Thunder right-hand man, Cody Kilby and Celtic virtuoso Tony McManus picking on new PRS acoustic guitars in Paul’s living room.

It was the new gear, however, that truly stood out at the event. PRS officially released three guitars: the Starla, the Al Di Meola Prism and the Modern Eagle II. PRS also announced a limited run of three guitars decked out with the company’s new 1957/2008 pickups: the SC 245, the Custom 24 and an old-style McCarty. The 1957/2008 pickups, or the 5708s as they are already being referred to, are engineered for vintage tone. During a media briefing, PRS Director of Sales and Marketing, Peter Wolf, explained that the 5708s in the three limited run guitars were made from exclusively obtained wire that was also used in PAF-era pickups.

The Chesapeake Electric. Larger Image
The company obtained exclusive rights to wire from the actual machine that made that wire. They are using that wire to make wire for 5708 pickups that are in other new models.

The company wasn’t afraid to show off a number of new products it is already building, some of which are due for official release at NAMM 2009. Those include the acoustics, a line of amplifiers and a Strat-style solidbody called the Chesapeake Electric.

The acoustics have a unique bracing system that combines classical nylon string and regular steel string technology. Co-developed with Steve Fischer, they are big sounding but extremely well-balanced. Upon hearing Italian virtuoso, Massimo Varini fire one up, it was hard not to notice the wider than expected tonal range. Razor clarity helped define his shred-like runs while boomy base tones and rich mids resonated loudly.

Models at the event featured dreadnaught-type shapes and as well as thin waisted, bigger bottomed- models. The guitars had red or German Spruce tops, figured rosewood or mahogany backs/sides and fingerboards made of ebony or rosewood. The company is planning to release two of its five models at NAMM. Both are slated to be available in a cutaway and traditional non-cutaway shapes.

The new amps turned a lot of heads, but the company is keeping the details close to the vest until a January release. We do know that a normal line (non-Private Stock) of three (with a fourth in development) 50-Watt models is planned and that Doug Sewell helped design them. The prototypes at the show featured a brown paisley design.