Back when I started on guitar -- 1967 or so -- I played a Gibson SG Special (still around, BTW). I don't know if it was one of the highly touted "fretless wonder" models, but the frets are certainly not tall. And the materials used were pretty soft, needed the occasional polish and fret dressing, etc. This seemed to be the standard size fret guitarmakers were using for a long time. I didn't notice significant differences for years.
I don't remember the fret size on my first PRS that I bought in 1991. The guitar was superb in its time, very playable, and came with .009 strings, that were the PRS standard issue on most models until relatively recently. I had quite a few PRS guitars between 1991 and now, and I remember that the frets had a sort of bronze color, and didn't seem to be as tall as they are now. Though they seemed different from the Gibson frets, they definitely weren't as tall as they are now. I only began to notice changes in the past few years.
As I got started playing .010s with the taller frets on newer models, I also noticed that the frets on these more recent models have been slick, beautifully polished, and feel even smoother and faster than before. I'm guessing that the material has changed, but I don't honestly know. They seem to be less susceptible to wear, and even after nearly 2 years, the frets on my 2011 Artist V are as slick, shiny, and unworn as new frets! And they aren't the bronze color, they seem to stay more silver.
When the Sig Ltd arrived here a couple of months ago, I expected the Artist frets to feel comparatively less polished, less new. They don't. The frets are still just as slick as the brand new ones on the Sig.
So I need a history lesson -- I'm just curious -- is it my imagination, or have the fret materials been upgraded? Or is it just a better polishing job at the factory these days? Or what? I love it!
What inspired Paul Smith to go with the taller frets? I realize he experiments a lot, but something must have fundamentally impressed him about it, because it seems to have taken place with all of the newer models I've played.
Did the fret wire material itself change, and if so, when?
Is it my imagination, or are the frets made from a harder and/or smoother material now?
Finally, I love the tone of the most recent PRSes. I find them more playable than ever, despite the switch to .010 strings. I almost wonder why I ever played .009s! Does Paul think that the heavier gauge string sounds better? I think it very well could.
So give me a history lesson, someone "in the know."