One of the most recognizable features on many PRS guitars is the trademark bird inlays on the fretboard, like on this beautiful PRS Custom 24 Piezo 10-Top that recently arrived at Elderly Instruments.
So where did the idea for these birds come from?
According to the PRS Guitars website, PRS founder Paul Reed Smith was inspired by his mother, who was an avid birdwatcher.
When Paul was a young boy, his mother would take he and his siblings birdwatching, and occasionally to the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C. “At the time, the Smithsonian allowed you to take out a record like a book from a library, we would get records of bird songs and listen to them,” Paul recalled. “At night, we would listen to the birds in our rooms with the windows open -- these were nightbird songs, whip-poor-wills. My mom really knew and loved birds and exposed us to them.”
The first guitar to feature the bird inlays was a custom guitar Paul built for Peter Frampton in 1976, nine years before the official launch of PRS Guitars.
Starting from the nut, the birds are:
- Peregrine Falcon (3rd fret)
- Marsh Hawk (5th fret)
- Ruby Throated Hummingbird (7th fret)
- Common Tern (9th fret)
- Cooper’s Hawk (12th fret)
- Kite (15th fret)
- Sparrow Landing (17th fret)
- Storm Petrel (19th fret)
- Hawk Landing (21st fret)
- Screech Owl on a Branch (24th fret -- 24-fret models only)
PRS has produced several variations on the bird inlays, including outlined “hollow birds” and impressionistic “brushstroke birds.” Paul never expected the birds to become so popular, but 40 years later, it’s become one of the best-known features of his guitars. Again, from the PRS website:
“I never thought people would order the bird inlays in any quantity” Paul recalled. “In 1985 we offered birds and moons, and I thought only 25% of orders would be birds. That's not what happened, and I never really understood it until I realized why they caught on: Birds are in everybody’s backyard. There’s something about them that works -- they are animals that fly and have real grace. I’m grateful that the world accepted them.”