Paul Reed Smith reveals the first guitar to feature the brand’s bird inlays – and it was made for Peter Frampton

In an age where many electric guitars sport similar specifications – from body shapes to headstock designs, and pickups to general aesthetics – there is one design innovation that will only ever be found on the fretboard of a PRS guitar: the bird inlay.

And, while most folk familiar with six-string lore will no doubt be accustomed to the unique fretboard adornments, guitarists may not be as knowledgeable about the first-ever six-string to sport them – or the fact it was made for Peter Frampton.

It’s this historic axe – and the innovative inlays it arrived with – that forms the focus of PRS’s latest From The Archives episode, which sees Smith trace the origins of the debut Frampton-owned birds guitar.

Dated April 1976, the double-cut was first built after Smith studied Frampton’s own personal guitar collection, and was modeled on what the young guitar builder believed to be the Humble Pie player’s ideal instrument.

“I got permission from him to play all his guitars,” Smith recalled. “And so when I got to play them I had an idea of what he liked, and I made it for him and took it to him, without finish on it, when he was playing at an American university. 

“And he played it and he really liked it,” he continued. “I had to take it back home to finish it, and when it was done I took it to Newark to show it to him.”

Notable appointments on the guitar, aside from the Bird inlays, include a message that reads, “Hand-made for Peter Frampton by Paul Reed Smith,” and a bird motif on the neck heel – a fixture that Smith says was “a bad idea”.

Perhaps the most eye-catching, though, is the big bird headstock inlay, which was crafted from two separate piano keys that had been glued together.

On why he favored a bird over his own name, the guitar guru continued, “I thought the name Smith was a terrible name for a guitar, so I put the bird in the headstock instead. It turned out Smith means ‘maker of things’ – goldsmith, silversmith, you know.”

But why birds? As Smith explains, “My mother was a birdwatcher, and I never thought about it. I had this guitar to make and I needed inlays for it. It was never even a thought, I just went down and did it. From thought to inlay was so fast.”

Of course, the bird inlay that Smith pioneered with this build stuck around. In fact, many of the designs first introduced on the Frampton guitar are still used on PRS models to this day.

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Matt Owen

Matt is a Staff Writer, writing for Guitar World, Guitarist and Total Guitar. He has a Masters in the guitar, a degree in history, and has spent the last 16 years playing everything from blues and jazz to indie and pop. When he’s not combining his passion for writing and music during his day job, Matt records for a number of UK-based bands and songwriters as a session musician.