Bridging (no pun intended) the gap between engineering and music

MannMade USA

What makes a guitar magical? Why do certain guitars feel 'right'? Why do some instruments seem to sound better than others of the same type? Why are some guitars totally bulletproof for a lifetime of playing, while others seem to refuse to stay in tune no matter how many setups you try? As it turns out, it’s not magic; it is science that makes a guitar wonderful. Many (if not all) musicians spend tons of time and money in the pursuit of finding that magical instrument. And in the case of Paul Smith, he has dedicated his life's work to this very quest.

You can’t have an amazing guitar without some equally exceptional engineering and building. Paul Reed Smith has devoted his life to decoding what makes certain guitars magical while finding a way to reproduce this recipe each time, on every instrument. Rather than simply just following norms and conventions, Paul set out to find out why some guitars had “it” - and why so many others did not; and in his quest he created some of the very finest guitars the world has ever seen.

Paul Reed Smith and John Mann

Paul possesses a unique and intense obsession for the smallest of details, and it was this philosophy of design that allowed the instruments he built to enter new territory in terms of tone, reliability, diversity in use, and even aesthetics. If you’re reading this now, you likely know the name Paul Reed Smith, as his 35 years of revolutionary guitar making has made PRS the Mercedes-Benz of the music world. Yet there is another name you should know- a name that was a huge part in the history, strength and reliability of these guitars we all know and love today: John Mann.

John Mann worked as a Machinist at Westinghouse Electric and was also an avid guitar player in his own right. John’s passion for Paul Reed Smith Guitars in particular, goes back to (literally) the very beginning of the PRS story itself! Paul and John have been working closely together since 1978, when they first met at Paul's one-man West Street workshop in Annapolis, MD. At that time, Paul was designing and building his first guitar for Carlos Santana. They soon began collaborating on many pieces of the puzzle that Paul was piecing together that would become the ultimate magical guitar.

PRS Santana - Pre-Production 1979 - Cherry Sunburst

Like so many stories in music, the history of how John met Paul is truly fascinating. In John’s own words:

PRS Santana - Pre-Production 1979 - Cherry Sunburst

As Paul Smith began learning more about the shortcomings of existing guitar designs, one large flaw he noticed was that the existing bridges of the time (and much of the hardware overall) were not adequate enough to meet his demanding specifications. But taking his requests to any shop seemed to fall on deaf ears. Machine shops had a hard time understanding how to take 'musical/guitar' ideas & demands, and translate it into a physical product that behaved as a musician wanted. So, he turned to his close friend, skilled machinist, and most importantly- guitar player John Mann to find a way to make something far superior to the status quo- something worthy of the name PRS, something that only a guitar player could understand.

Often times, in the design and manufacture of any product, there can be a severe disconnect between artists and engineers in translating an idea and concept into something that is both real as well as reliable. This very disconnect was prevalent in many guitar designs of the mid/late 20th century across a variety of brands. While some very early builders/designers got it right “the first time” (circa the late 1950s), there were many years that were considered “well below average” in terms of sound, quality, and overall build due to the nature of not enough engineers working in the right businesses to build the right parts to make truly magical instruments that musicians could rely on.

MannMade USA

Paul knew that if he needed parts that were superior to everything that had been done before, he would need to make his own. But his skills as a guitar builder were more in the world of woodworking. For these crucial metal components, he needed an engineer, and not just any skilled machinist, he needed someone who understood the needs of an artist as well. John Mann was the ‘Mann for the job’ as it were - possessing a unique blend of skills that let him interpret Paul’s artistic and musical wishes and demands, and in turn, produce his own engineering artwork in the form of the very best custom guitar hardware you could find anywhere.

It wasn’t long after this, that these cutting-edge pieces of hardware were installed on every instrument. In fact, Carlos Santana was the very first artist to use a Mann Made bridge on his original Paul Reed Smith Guitar back in 1979! 

Paul and John ultimately designed the patented PRS Vibrato bridge system that is now known as the standard for PRS guitars the world over! Paul bartered with John for some of the early design and manufacturing work with one of the very first PRS Santana models that he built by hand himself, the very guitar you will see right here in this video:

Fast forward to recent times, and John now runs a store and shop known appropriately as John Mann’s Guitar Vault (which “has the largest selection of PRS Guitars under one roof in New England!”)

This PRS Signature Dealer, carries a wide selection of over 100 guitars including Private Stocks, Wood Library, and Limited Edition Core models (Maryland made), as well as a selection of Bolt-On, S2 and SE models. The Vault also carries PRS Amplifiers, and of course it only seems right they they would have the largest selection of PRS Parts and Accessories.

MannMade USA

John Mann is still hard at work building and innovating, and offers a vast selection of user-upgradeable hardware for just about every PRS, as well as other guitar brands! In fact, even modern 21st century djent machines like the Holcomb SE, can be retrofitted with these easy to install parts!

If you’d like to hear a modern example of this amazing hardware in action, check out this shootout between a stock SE bridge and the MannMade drop-in brass replacement:

So, if you’re ever in the mood for a road trip, or find yourself in New Hampshire, make a point to go visit this amazing guitar shop that has some honest roots with some of the finest instruments on Earth.

John Mann's Guitar Vault

By the way, if you’ve ever wondered about proper technique to use when restringing a Core PRS with locking tuners (Phase II and III) - you’ll definitely want to see John Mann himself teaching you his ways!

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