Guitar-builder Paul Reed Smith shared sonic secrets Wednesday evening during a visit to Ashland’s 4 O’Clock Rock Guitar Shop.
“This is one of the most dedicated Paul Reed Smith dealers in the world and I’m here because I want to be here,” Smith said Wednesday afternoon as he tested a new chorus-effect pedal through one of his own amplifiers.
“Wow! What a chorus pedal. Did you hear that? Oh my God. What do you want for that?” the self-described “gear slut” asked shop owner Dave McCoy after ripping a few notes through a Visual Sound brand Liquid Chorus. Smith said one of his favorite aspects of visiting music stores across the country is trying out new instruments and accessories for the first time.
“I’m always interested in what’s new. I’ve never seen one of these before and I like it,” he said, before launching into the intro riff of Robin Trower’s “Bridge of Sighs.”
During his visit to Ashland, Smith said he spent a lot of time with the staff at 4 O’Clock Rock and learned many things, including the preferences of local musicians. “It is fascinating. This is where the tread hits the road. We think we know at the factory, but we don’t know,” he said.
More than 50 guitarists and fans were waiting when the doors opened at 6 p.m. Among them was 16-year-old Olivia Raygoza of Lexington, who has “six or seven” of Smith’s guitars in the arsenal she uses with her “little Christian rock band,” Rapture. Raygoza didn’t hesitate with an answer when asked why she prefers PRS guitars.
“The quality. It’s the best I’ve ever seen. It destroys other guitar companies,” she said, later adding the opportunity to meet the builder “was amazing. My mind is blown!”
Her father, Jim Raygoza, said he also admires Smith for his work as an instructor at Johns Hopkins, and his desire to please his players.
“He’s willing to make what you want. He bends to make the customer happy,” he said.
During his hands-on demonstration of new Paul Reed Smith guitars, as well as amplifiers and a prototype bass, Smith discussed the “subtractive” nature of materials and provided side-by-side demonstrations of the equipment which bears his name as part of a presentation focused on “core guitar building.” As he replicated the tones of musicians including Duane Allman and Jimi Hendrix using the same amp, the audience of guitarists whose own styles included everything from punk rock to bluegrass, smiled and nodded with approval.
At one point, Smith said he is taking a hands-on approach to selling his guitars and equipment since he came to an undeniable conclusion. “I am in competition with Apple,” he said, explaining today’s customers must choose between purchasing something like a new guitar or amp, or an iPad.
For any aspiring luthiers in the area, Smith advised studying the works of master builders such as Ted McCarty and Leo Fender, as well as reliance upon the ideas and desires of the person who will ultimately play the instrument.
“If you steal from one person, that’s stealing. If you steal from 12 people, that’s research,” he said.
Commenting upon his own constant improvements and innovations, Smith simply shrugged and said, “Well, this is a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately world.”
TIM PRESTON can be reached at