PRS guitars are made in Stevensville, Maryland in the USA as well as in the World Musical Instrument Company in South Korea.
The affordable models are built in Korea, and the more expensive models are made in the US.
However, the differences go further than just the price tag. Does the country of origin really matter?
Yes, but also no.
A Brief History of Paul Reed Smith (PRS) Guitars
Paul Reed Smith is an american luthier who founded the PRS Guitars (acronym for his name) company in 1985. PRS guitars have become increasingly popular over the years for their quality, looks, and growing roster of amazing artists representing the brand.
PRS offers different models, including their own unique take on the classic double cut/stratocaster style, and their unique version of the classic single cut shape. They make guitars with a multitude of specs, like neck construction, wood types, and many stunning finishes. They even make their own PRs pickups that are on par with popular choices of brands such as DiMarzio, Seymour Duncan and Bare Knuckle Pickups.
PRS offers these models within two categories, the SE (Student Edition) and the USA Core (made in the US).
The PRS SE Models – Affordable but amazing
The SE models are the more affordable guitars that PRS offers. Most SE models are below $1000 and are all made in the World Musical Instrument Company factory in South Korea. This particular factory is also used by brands such as Chapman, Schecter and Line6 for the manufacturing of their products.
The SE models were intended for beginning guitarists wanting to skip the budget (Squier, Epiphone etc.) range of guitars and get a great instrument for not a lot of cash. Over the years the love for the SE series has grown thanks to the outstanding quality to price ratio these instruments hold.
The SE series are very similar to the US models in terms of quality, sound and playability. The big difference between the Korea made and the US models is the amount of variety in the models, and the more extensive options on things like fancy finishes, 24 frets, bolt-on construction and pickups.
The most affordable SE guitars are the SE Standard guitars, which come in two shapes, the single- and the double-cut. They also come in three finish options: red, blue, and sunburst.
The SE line has become quite extensive over the years, and there’s amazing options out there, even for those who want the fancy US experience without the costs.
The more expensive SE lines, such as the Custom 24 (24 frets) and some of the signature models (Mark Holcomb, Carlos Santana etc.) are practically indistinguishable from the USA made guitars. So much so that some SE guitars even creep into the US price range, at prices that go from $2000 to even $2500.
This is only proof that the Korea made guitars are practically just as good as the US models. Not everyone will agree on this, but it’s a fact that most factories, whether they’re in China, Korea, or even the US use the same technology and highly skilled personnel for the manufacturing of the instruments. Country of origin has somewhat lost it’s objective value, but the idea of a US made guitar still tickles a certain itch that many guitarists feel.
The USA Core models – The Premium line
The US made models come in many different lines, such as the CE lines and even the Private Stock models. These guitars are the most fancy and highest quality instruments PRS makes.
Within the USA Core there’s also the Custom 24 and Custom 22 models that are also in the SE line, but with more options like aforementioned.
The highest quality, exclusive, and expensive PRS line is the Private Stock series. The Private Stock is basically a line of Custom Shop guitars. These guitars can be custom ordered from PRS, or bought from other retailers. These guitars run upwards of 15.000$, and are thus not everyone’s first choice when buying custom guitars.
There’s no doubt that the US models are amazing, as are the SE models. The main difference lies in the amount of finish and construction options between the two, and the added charm of a US made guitar.
Conclusion – Does Country of Origin Matter?
For these guitars? Kinda.
The Korean models are great, and come in many different price ranges with varying specs, so there’s something for everyone. The main difference is in the amount of variety from model to model.
The American-made models have more extensive lists of specs and options, and thus justify the higher price tag for many.
But do you NEED a US model to have an amazing guitar?