A pre-production PRS that foreshadowed the guitar builder’s future successes.
Paul Reed Smith grew up in the Washington D.C. area and became interested in building guitars as a high school senior in the early 1970s. At that time, he was able to get a part-time repair job at Washington Music Center in Wheaton, Maryland, helping him learn about important construction details. His guitar-building skills progressed rapidly through the decade, and he was soon making guitars for several high-profile musicians, including Ted Nugent, Peter Frampton, Howard Leese, and Carlos Santana.
Among this guitar’s charms are a one-piece cherry-stained mahogany body, a maple top with a non-finished natural edge simulating binding, and a Paul Reed Smith tremolo bridge system.
Although Smith’s guitars were well received, making one-offs was not a steady enough source of income. In 1984 plans to start a factory were set in motion with a new guitar intended for production. This new guitar concept was a departure from his earlier Les Paul Junior-inspired designs, and incorporated the best traits of Fenders and Gibsons. The resulting instrument, eventually known as the Custom, combined the body shape of a Strat and a Les Paul Junior. The scale length of the neck was 25”—midway between Fender’s 25 1/2” and Gibson’s 24 3/4”.
The 1985 PRS Custom pictured was built as a direct customer order in March 1985, just before full production was set to begin at the newly rented Virginia Avenue factory in Annapolis, Maryland. The guitar has most of the features that would be used on the assembly line Customs that started coming out of the factory that August. These include a 25” scale, a mahogany neck with a rosewood fretboard, a one-piece cherry-stained mahogany body, a vintage yellow maple top with a non-finished natural edge simulating binding, a Paul Reed Smith tremolo system (patented in 1984), a 5-position rotary switch that dials in both humbucking and single-coil sounds, and a “sweet switch” tone filter.
Rare Schaller prototype collars are on the locking tuning pegs atop the classic PRS-shaped headstock of this
This pre-production Custom has rare Schaller prototype collars on its locking tuning pegs, and an attractive one-piece flame-maple top finished in vintage yellow. The original price with a hardshell case was $1,490. The current value in excellent all-original condition is $7,500.
The original invoice shows this Custom’s date of delivery, March 20, 1985, and notes the buyer’s preferences for a vintage yellow top, cherry-stained mahogany body, and dot inlays.
The sources for this article are The PRS Guitar Book by Dave Burrluck, the original invoice and paperwork for the guitar, and a recent letter from Paul Reed Smith himself.