Nestled on the second floor of the PRS factory, within steps of Paul Reed Smith’s office, lives a room called “The Vault.” The Vault houses our most exotic, highly-figured Private Stock woods from around the world. At PRS, Private Stock represents the pinnacle of our craftsmanship and materials, and every Private Stock instrument we build starts with the wood in The Vault.
Today, Paul Miles, Director of Private Stock, oversees both the wood in The Vault and the Private Stock team of luthiers. We asked Paul a few questions to help frame The Vault’s history and purpose. Here’s what he had to say.
Q&A: Paul Miles // Director of Private Stock
PRS: How did it all begin? Why did Paul Reed Smith start stashing these pieces away and what makes these woods so special?
PM: Paul (Reed Smith) has a long history of setting aside special pieces of wood as they come in. Whether he knew what purpose a piece of wood would serve or not, Paul would pull it aside if something caught his eye. In 2008, when we started moving into our expanded factory, the industry and general economy were also falling on some tough times. We needed to get creative to keep the order books full and to save all the jobs here. With Private Stock, we wanted to create a unique and interesting way to appeal to people, and we knew we had a lot of great material. By creating The Vault, we were able to give people a way to connect better with the instruments they were ordering.
The woods in The Vault are special because they are rare. Everything we have in The Vault is the best of the best, and we are constantly getting our hands on things that our suppliers tell us “may not be around again.”
Good relationships drive the wood purchasing, and the guys who buy our woods at PRS have great long-time relationships with people in the field. The people in the field also love that we make a quality instrument and that the woods they provided us are being turned into instruments played by rockstars and fellow enthusiasts.
PRS: How many different species of woods are represented in The Vault?
PM: At least 20 different species of woods at any given time - milled for a variety of uses: tops, backs, necks, fretboards, and headstock veneers.
PRS: Do the woods change over? What is new or special in The Vault right now?
PM: Yes, the woods change as supplies shift, but there are some constants. We always stock east & west coast maple and South American and African mahogany. Those woods are the staples of a lot of what we do. Occasionally some things are hard to find, particularly the more exotic stuff, like cocobolo.
As we move through material, our wood team is out there sourcing it so it doesn’t run out. Our wood buying team loves finding pieces that we haven’t used before but would make great instrument-making wood. Lately, buckeye burl and roasted maple are good examples of “new” things we are working with.
^ A recently built Private Stock guitar with a Buckeye Burl top.
PRS: Where does the wood come from? Any interesting stories about the source of some of the lumber?
PM: All over the world, really anywhere that we can find something cool. Generally South & North America, Africa, and some countries in between. We have some Eastern European maple as well, those pieces of maple are reminiscent of old violins from that region. Our Wood Buyers have great relationships around the world, and we take great pride in understanding the supply chain and buying environmentally friendly wood.
There are some good stories about the source of some lumber, the “Graveyard Limited” we did recently is a good example. The wood for that limited run came from a graveyard on top of a mountain in the East Coast US. The headstones in the graveyard are dated to 1884 and the trees milled from that area are at least that old, 125+ years.
PRS: What makes The Vault unique to our industry?
PM: I’m not sure anybody does it like us. When you come to The Vault to spec out your guitar, it’s a great place to relax, hang out, and bring ideas together.
^ A piece of Burled Maple awaits its musical future in The Vault.
PRS: Explain the ordering process for those who aren’t familiar.
PM: Once customers have contacted and selected their Private Stock dealer, they have the opportunity to come with their dealer to The Vault and hand select the exact woods for their guitar. We spend a lot of time with the customers to make sure they get the guitar of their dreams; it’s like a wooden candy store.
^ This rack holds customer's recent Private Stock orders, all marked with their individual Private Stock number.
PRS: What are some difficult woods to use for guitar making?
PM: There are two extremes, Cocobolo because it’s so oily, dense, and takes so long to dry - up to a year to dry body slabs in some cases. Some people even call it Crackobolo because it’s so prone to cracking.
The other extreme would be buckeye burl because it’s so brittle and fragile. It’s difficult to run through machinery and therefore takes more hand work.
PRS: How big is the Private Stock team and how many guitars are they building per month?
PM: The Private Stock team consists of 18 of us, and on average we build around 60 guitars per month.
PRS: Right now, if you could spec out your own personal Private Stock, what would you choose?
PM: I’m currently building my 25 year employee guitar right now, a short scale Hollowbody bass. It has a ziricote top, swamp ash back, ziricote neck, and custom inlay with mother of pearl brass knuckles.
To learn more about ordering your own Private Stock, click here.