Aug 202015
 

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This is an excerpt from the all-new SEPTEMBER/OCTOBER 2015 issue of Guitar Aficionado magazine. For this story with complete photos, plus features on Cheech Marin’s Blazing Chicano guitars art project, B.B. King and his Lucille guitars, Guitar Salon International, Paul Weller, and much more, pick up the new issue of Guitar Aficionado at your newsstand, or online by clicking anywhere in this text.

ENTER THE DRAGON: The Story Behind Paul Reed Smith’s Dragon Model

By Chris Gill

The guitar industry was not in the healthiest state back in 1985 when PRS made the transition from a luthier workshop to a budding guitar company. “Fender was struggling and about to go out of business,” says PRS Guitars founder, owner and master luthier Paul Reed Smith. “Gibson was getting ready to discontinue the Les Paul, and they weren’t making many of them anymore. The window of opportunity was wide open for a company like PRS that wanted to bring the art of guitar making back to our industry, but back then all we wanted to do was get in and survive.”

Back then, vintage sunburst Les Paul Standards were selling for five figures, but PRS was one of only a few companies focused on building guitars like the classics used to be made. Hot-rodded super Strats with bold colors and graphic finishes dominated the marketplace so overwhelmingly that PRS could barely get anyone to give their guitars with exquisitely figured curly maple tops a second look when PRS first displayed its Custom model at the Winter NAMM show in 1985.

“At NAMM shows back then, the only place you could find curly maple was in the violin section,” Smith recalls. “Sam Ash was my earliest supporter, but I got into an argument with Ritchie Ash, who said there was no way that anyone would be able to sell guitars with curly maple tops anymore. Fortunately his own sales staff didn’t agree, and they told Ritchie to buy the curly maple-top guitars because they knew they could sell them. Ritchie tried to argue with them, but his sales team stood firm, so Ritchie finally ordered some at his employees’ insistence. Ritchie made a very ballsy move to help PRS get started.”

Smith encountered similar resistance seven years later when he introduced the first PRS Dragon model in 1992. “My national sales manager refused to sell Dragons,” Smith reveals. “Absolutely everybody else didn’t want anything to do with it. I had this ledger with all of our dealers on it, and the entire column for the Dragon model was marked ‘no.’ Finally Greg Bayles (of Make’n Music in Chicago) ordered some.”

The first PRS Dragon model was limited to only 50 guitars and sold for $8,000. Anyone who bought one back then and held onto it made a wise investment, as some examples recently have sold for $70,000 to $80,000. PRS introduced the Dragon II in 1993 and the Dragon III in 1994, each in runs of 100 guitars, but because sales were slow and the guitars required meticulous labor (the dragon inlays consisted of more than 200 individual pieces), the decision was made to stop producing them. After a six-year break, PRS introduced the Dragon 2000 in time for the new millennium, followed by the Dragon 2002. Since then, PRS has rolled out new Dragon models for its 20th, 25th and 30th anniversaries.

To celebrate the 30th anniversary of PRS Guitars, we’re taking a look back at the company’s various Dragon models as well as their new anniversary guitars.

Below: A 30th Anniversary Dragon with Tiger-Eye finish

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Below: A 25th Anniversary Dragon with Santana/Howard Leese body shape

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This is an excerpt from the all-new SEPTEMBER/OCTOBER 2015 issue of Guitar Aficionado magazine. For this story with complete photos, plus features on Cheech Marin’s Blazing Chicano guitars art project, B.B. King and his Lucille guitars, Guitar Salon International, Paul Weller, and much more, pick up the new issue of Guitar Aficionado at your newsstand, or online by clicking anywhere in this text.

Inside Paul Reed Smith’s Exquisite Dragon Models
Source: Guitar Aficionado