When it comes to guitar playing prowess, I’m closer to Dave Lister than Dave Meniketti (for you Red Dwarf fans!) That didn’t stop me from taking a short run up the M57 to the Park Hotel on the outskirts of Liverpool, for this event hosted by local guitar retailers Sound Affects. Paul Reed Smith is an American guitar luthier whose instruments have been played by many leading rock musicians; to name but a few, Mark Tremonti and Myles Kennedy of Alter Bridge, Zack Myers of Shinedown, Rich Moss of Stone Broken and former Whitesnake guitarist Bernie Marsden. The event was held partly to launch the Silver Sky guitar, a model produced in conjunction with John Mayer which has caused no little controversy for it’s (intentional) resemblance to a classic 1964 Fender Stratocaster.
On entering the Aintree Suite at the hotel, we were invited to enter a prize draw to be held later in the evening (to win a PRS acoustic model), and there was a display of various PRS models for enthusiasts to pore over, ranging from affordable to stratospheric in price! Sound Affects had listed all of them at their retail price as well as a specially-discounted ‘show price’ to tempt those who might have been looking for a new guitar. All of them looked beautifully-made, and would have tempted even me, were my pockets sufficiently deep to indulge!
Following the obligatory browse around the guitars on display we were led into the other half of the suite where the talk would take place, and Paul Reed Smith himself was introduced to the packed hall by one of the Sound Affects guys. He chose to deal with the issue of the Silver Sky guitar first of all; he’s well aware of the internet firestorm that has surrounded this model and was suitably dismissive of the web naysayers! He demonstrated it with a quick playthrough, and described (in some detail) how they worked alongside John Mayer to get it absolutely right. Some of his talk was a little technical for me, though when he explained sustain and how the classic guitars of the old days ‘sustained’ much better than comparable instruments around today, even I could get that! He asked the assembly whether anyone had owned a classic ’63 or ’64 Strat, one audience member put up his hand and was immediately handed the Silver Sky, to ask how the neck felt. That’s something that was a little ‘over my head’ as a non-player; the guy who was handed the Silver Sky did verify that it felt very close to his own ’64 Strat though.
Paul Reed Smith was accompanied by Paul Miles, who oversees the company’s ‘Private Stock’ line of custom guitars. The Private Stock line is their version of ‘Custom Shop’; guitars built to order, even in the colours of your choice. Paul Miles gave many examples of customers coming up with colour requirements based on a sunset, for example, or even a purple balloon held up to a light! The two of them had also brought along several pieces of wood, which wouldn’t have meant much to me but these were to illustrate what sort of wood they use in their instruments. These had quite prominent grain patterns, which is evident in their finished guitars, but again this was rather beyond my scope of knowledge so I was happy to bow to their expertise in this field!
The two men took questions from the audience, and were quite forthcoming in their answers, Paul Reed Smith in particular would explain himself in detail, often more than was asked for! Another entertaining interlude came when a guy asked about a particular model, and was handed it to inspect. As he was accompanied by his fiancee, the guitar maker even gave him several lines to use in order to persuade her into letting him buy the guitar of his dreams (!)
Following the talk the two Pauls mingled with the assembly before Paul Reed Smith did a photo and signing session (several people had brought their own guitars to be signed by the head of the company which made them), meanwhile they had made the Silver Sky available for anyone who wished to try it. I had to have a go – to my amazement, I found I could play those difficult barre chords much more easily on that guitar than I can on my own instrument. The guitar felt beautiful to hold and play, and it was a privilege to try it out.
This was a thoroughly enjoyable evening, it was a pleasure to hear one of the world’s leading guitar builders talk about their instruments. I might even have to pick up my own guitar and try once more to get the hang of it, then there’ll be good reason to save up for one of these beautiful instruments!