PRS Guitars is one of the most popular American guitar brands. Paul Reed Smith, the founder of the company, has personally worked with dozens of artists to create their signature models.
The most famous PRS artists are Carlos Santana, David Grissom, Dustie Waring, John Mayer, and Mark Holcomb. All of them have received Paul Reed Smith’s full attention as they collaborated together to develop their signature PRS guitars that range in hardware, design, and tone.
The rest of this article will go over the most famous PRS artists, their guitars, and what these artists are best known for.
Paul Reed Smith (PRS) Guitars: Some Background Info
PRS Guitars is a U.S. guitar and amplifier manufacturer founded in 1985 by Paul Reed Smith in Annapolis, Maryland. Ever since their debut of the PRS Custom model at the 1985 NAMM Show, they’ve been one of the most recognizable guitar brands in the world.
As the story goes, the PRS Custom had all-custom hardware and electronics with a mahogany body and neck inspired by high-tech superstrats of the 80s. Paul Reed Smith saw Adrian Belew of King Crimson and fell in love with the sound of his guitar. After redesigning his Ibanez Blazer, he returned to the drawing board to develop humbuckers that can recreate the signature sound.
Their guitars feature intricate inlay designs and exotic woods with unique colors and patterns. PRS is best known for its excellent in-house wound humbuckers, most of which are designed to be split with a push/pull potentiometer, essentially creating a single-coil pickup. This allows a guitarist to quickly switch from a chug-heavy metal tone to a mellow Stratocaster-style sound.
They also have custom tuning pegs, nuts, and 3 different bridge designs — a vibrato, a wrapover, and a pre-intonated stoptail.
Their most popular guitar model is the PRS Custom 24, which I placed in the #1 spot on my list of 10 Best PRS Guitars.
As the name suggests, the PRS Custom 24 has 24 frets with a scale length of 25″ (635mm). It’s a superstrat that varies in configuration and materials, but it typically has 2 PRS (or another brand) humbuckers, and a tremolo bridge, all built for comfortable playability and tonal versatility.
What’s also cool about PRS is that Paul Reed Smith personally has worked with many of the artists I’ll mention here to create their signature guitars.
Check out our full guide on the Best PRS Guitars
List of Famous Artists Who Play PRS Guitars
Carlos Santana is one of the best guitar players in the world, with Rolling Stones putting him in the No. 20 spot in 2015. With almost a dozen Grammies to his name, it’s hard to argue that he isn’t one of the best.
Santana has played various brands throughout his lengthy career, but he’s best known for his custom line of PRS Santana guitars. He first picked up a PRS guitar in 1982 and has been playing them since. His PRS guitars are built in Maryland and feature exotic woods. For example, his PRS Santana MD “The Multidimensional” has a mahogany neck with a Brazilian rosewood fretboard.
PRS has released over a dozen of signature Santana models over the years, and here are just a few of the more popular models:
- PRS Santana I “The Yellow”
- PRS Santana II “Supernatural”
- PRS Santana III
- PRS Santana Shaman SE-Limited Edition
- PRS Santana MD “The Multidimensional”
- PRS Abraxas SE-Limited Edition
Santana is best known for his work in the band of the same name. They play a fusion of rock and Latin American jazz. To achieve the bluesy tone, he’d play his PRS guitars through an Ibanez Tube Screamer or a Big Muff into a Mesa Boogie amp.
His most famous songs are “Black Magic Woman,” “Evil Ways,” and “Put Your Lights On.”
David Grissom is arguably the biggest PRS fan in the world. He’s been using PRS guitars throughout his entire career, his favorite being a modified PRS McCarty. The McCarty was named after Ted McCarty, a famous guitar designer who worked at Gibson and Wurlitzer.
Grissom now has a signature PRS model, the PRS DGT (David Grissom Trem). Of course, it’s heavily based on the McCarty, but it has taller frets for easier playability and bends, and it has custom DGT humbuckers that give the guitar a tone best described as Texas-style. The guitar is super modern, yet it has a vintage sound, making it a pretty unique instrument.
Another thing that stands out about the guitar is the tremolo system. It has a PRS tremolo paired with vintage-style locking tuners that just fit the aesthetic of the DGT so perfectly. And like the McCarty, it has a 25″ (635 mm) scale length with 22 frets.
Grissom used the signature DGT on several recordings — “Way Down Deep,” “How It Feels To Fly,” and “Trio (Live) 2020.”
Grissom is best known for his solo work, but he’s also toured with Dixie Chicks and The Allman Brothers. He has also worked with the likes of Bob Dylan, Buddy Guy, Chris Isaak, Ringo Starr, Robben Ford, and Joe Ely.
Dustie Waring is the guitarist of a Grammy-nominated progressive metal band called Between the Buried and Me. Dustie plays both rhythm and lead on his signature PRS DW CE 24 “Floyd.” This is my favorite PRS guitar ever in terms of looks, features, and playability. As the name suggests, it has a Floyd Rose floating bridge tremolo system, which allows for crazy divebombs while staying in perfect pitch.
The DW Tomahawk pickups are also quite unique — a combination of ceramic and alnico magnets allow for a high-gain low-end without distorting. Also, the pickup selector allows you to split the humbuckers into a few different configurations.
The guitar comes in a few different finishes, but the “Waring Burst” is the prettiest one — an aged wine color with black stripes and a satin finish.
As for Waring, he’s best known for his work with the aforementioned band. He joined in 2005 to work on “Alaska” and quickly became an integral part of their sound. Other popular albums include “The Parallax II: Future Sequence,” “Automata I,” and “Automata II.”
John Clayton Mayer is a singer-songwriter who’s had an impressive solo career and discography over the years. Although he’s better known for playing Fender guitars, including a signature model, he’s been working with PRS since 2015.
John’s most famous PRS guitars are the SE Silver Sky and the Private Stock Super Eagle. The Super Eagle was the first signature model released in 2016, and it was limited to just 100 guitars, so it’s super rare and super expensive. It’s a gorgeous semi-hollow with custom 58/15 pickups in the bridge and neck positions and a Narrowfield JM in the middle. There’s also a tremolo system with locking tuners.
His other guitar, the SE Silver Sky, is a newer version of the standard Silver Sky. It’s a Stratocaster-style guitar with the signature PRS bird inlays and headstock shape. This is probably the best-known PRS signature model, which is to be expected from a Statocaster-style guitar.
Mayer’s known for his solo albums but also for collaborations with several famous blues artists like Buddy Guy, Eric Clapton, John Scofield, and even the legendary B.B. King.
Mark Holcomb is another progressive metal guitarist who’s well-known for his signature PRS models.
The two guitars in question are the PRS SE Mark Holcomb and the PRS SE Mark Holcomb SVN. The SVN is essentially the same guitar as the PRS SE Mark Holcomb, but it has seven strings, a longer scale length of 26.5″ (673 mm), and it comes in two completely unique finishes.
The guitars are based on the SE Custom 24, but what makes them different are the Holcomb signature Seymour Duncan Alpha and Omega pickups. They deliver a very hot yet clear output, perfect for a modern distorted tone.
Mark is best known for his work in the progressive metal band Periphery. He joined in 2011, and the first time he used the Alpha and Omega pickups on a recording was in 2013/14 on the “Clear EP.”
Read Also: Where are PRS Guitars Made?
Why Are PRS Guitars So Popular?
PRS guitars are popular thanks to their excellent build quality and out-of-the-box setup. Their guitars made in the U.S. are set up by professional luthiers, so they play well from the box and don’t need any major adjustments.
Why Aren’t PRS Guitars More Popular?
PRS guitars have long been associated with costly custom guitars that are built from the ground up in the U.S. Although they have cheaper models now, many people have stayed away from them due to the high costs.
Is PRS Better Than Fender?
Both PRS and Fender are great guitar brands, so it largely depends on your style, price range, and what kind of music you like. PRS guitars are associated with super strat guitars equipped with humbuckers, perfect for metal, and Fender is more famous for country, rock, and blues.
PRS guitars are built like a tank, sound awesome, and have a ton of tonal versatility as a lot of their guitars are equipped with a 5-way selector switch and split humbuckers. They sit well in any mix, so everyone from Carlos Santana to Mark Holcomb loves them.