Skip to main content

"I thought the name Smith was a terrible name for a guitar so I put the bird in the headstock instead" – Paul Reed Smith reveals the first PRS guitar with Bird inlays

Every iconic step in guitar began with a first model; and even Paul Reed Smith's bird inlays had to start somewhere. But many won't realise the first PRS electric guitar with the fretboard adornments was actually made for Peter Frampton.

The latest episode of PRS YouTube series From The Archives finds Paul Reed Smith going into the PRS vault to show us the 1976 custom build. And as usual when the man talks guitar building, it's a fascinating insight. 

PRS / YouTube

(Image credit: PRS / YouTube)

"I got permission from him to play all his guitars," Paul explains on the backstory. "And so when I got to play them I had an idea of what he liked and I made it for him and took it to him, without finish on it, when he was playing at an American university. And he played it and he really liked it. I had to take it back home to finish it and when it was done I took it to Newark to show it to him."

PRS / YouTube

(Image credit: PRS / YouTube)

The guitar is dated on the back of the headstock as finished in April 1976, and Paul notes he would have been 20 when he built it for Frampton. He'd made "about a dozen" guitars before that and the guitar is not only his first build with the bird inlays that would become a signature PRS feature, but he even inlayed a bird on the heel of the guitar.

"It was a bad idea," admits Paul of the latter touch. And this '70s model also features a bird on the headstock. "The pearl I had wasn't big enough for the while bird, they were piano keys, so I put two of them together. And after that I stopped making the [headstock] birds so big." But why wasn't he putting his name on the headstock back then?

PRS / YouTube

(Image credit: PRS / YouTube)

"I thought the name Smith was a terrible name for a guitar so I put the bird in the headstock instead. It turned out Smith means maker of things - goldsmith, silversmith, you know."

But the big question is, why choose birds?

"My mother was a birdwatcher, and I never thought about it. I had this guitar to make and I needed inlays for it. It was never even a thought, I just went down and did it. From thought to inlay was so fast," Paul admits.  

He also admitted that now he's starting to take up birdwatching himself. 

Rob Laing
Rob Laing

I'm the Guitars Editor for MusicRadar, handling news, reviews, features, tuition, advice for the strings side of the site and everything in between. Before MusicRadar I worked on guitar magazines for 15 years, including Editor of Total Guitar. I've currently set aside any pipe dreams of getting anywhere with my own songs and I am enjoying playing covers in function bands.