The Paul Reed Smith bass was introduced at the January ’96 NAMM show.
Set-neck and bolt-on (CE model) models were offered, with mahogany bodies and one-piece mahogany necks. On Bass and Curly Bass models, a maple-capped body was included, and the Curly models had transparent finishes. Figured-top bass bodies typically had a 1/4″ maple cap. Options included a 10 top at an additional $100 retail, and bird fingerboard inlays at an additional $200. The standard Bass model wore an opaque finish, and a few were made with maple fingerboards. The necks had 22 frets, except for the fretless models, which were, in fact, void of any frets whatsoever.
The electronics setup was very Alembic-esque in that the PRS bass husk housed single-coil pickups with a vari-tone and hum-canceling dummy coil.
The PRS electronics consisted of three single-coil pickups, a dummy coil on the rear of the body, a master volume, a five-position vari-tone knob, bass pot (labeled “deep”) and a treble knob (aptly dubbed “clear”). These basses were pretty dark and bottomy, but were also versatile in that you could select the combined tones of all the pickups or touch on the sounds generated from the pickups in the different positions on the body.
Production of these basses reportedly lasted from ’86 through ’89, and about 2,000 units were sold. Famous users included Allen Woody, from the Allman Brothers Band, and of course Robbie Shakespear, of just about anything quality being done in reggae at that time. Some of the complaints were about the tight string spacing on the five-string models up to mid ’89. Another major complaint was the pickup placement close to the neck. Slappers don’t like the feel of plastic under their thumbs! I say if there is a will there is a way, and if you are good enough, you can make due on a turd with decent action height, but why put yourself through the heartbreak of discomfort if you can take a vacation on a bass of your choice.
PRS basses are gaining popularity amongst collectors of small-production pieces, but who knows what the future will bring for their appreciation in the future collectible market? These basses are comfortable to wear, nice to play, and have a cool tone coloration palette, so it’s not like the wall hangers that look cool but never have a place on the stage or even in the hands of an amateur musician/collector. Go to a local guitar show or check one of these puppies out at a dealer/purveyor of all that is warm and fuzzy in the new, used, and vintage bass market. It may just float your boat and prompt good feelings in your pins.
This article originally appeared in VG‘s Jun. ’98 issue.