1988 PRS Standard

CRAVE Guitars says…

Thumbs up: Looks, superb condition, great neck, light weight, early ‘pre‑factory’ model, collectability, wide range of unique tones, playability, OHSC

Thumbs down: The rotary selector switch is not particularly intuitive and the gimmicky ‘sweet switch’ may not suit everyone, no tags or case candy

Decree: These early PRS guitars are superb instruments and this is a great example of the Standard’s modest, unassuming charm. A top class guitar in top class condition

Model Description:

American Luthier Paul Reed Smith, founder of PRS Guitars, started making hand‑built double‑cutaway instruments in 1975. It wasn’t until 1985 that PRS started factory production in Annapolis, Maryland, USA. PRS cleverly found a niche in the market, producing very high quality instruments with features shrewdly pitched between Fender and Gibson’s classic guitar designs. The company started out with basically two models, the PRS Guitar derived from Smith’s pre‑1985 designs that would be renamed the Standard in 1987 (and renamed again as the Standard 24 in 1998) and the flashier Custom. The Standard’s body comprised a single piece of mahogany, rather than the Custom’s mahogany body with a figured maple cap. Both PRS models had one‑piece mahogany necks with 24‑fret Brazilian rosewood fingerboards. The Standard’s neck featured ‘moon’ neck inlays while the Custom often sported the now‑famous ‘bird’ inlays. Hardware included the PRS‑designed vibrato bridge, low friction nut and PRS‑branded locking tuners. Pickups were two PRS split coil uncovered humbuckers while the controls comprised volume, 5‑way rotary pickup selector switch and a proprietary ‘sweet switch’. Demand for the ‘new‑kid‑on‑the‑block’ guitars was high and PRS grew rapidly – by 1990, the company started using CNC machines to assist manufacture. In the same year PRS adopted a more conventional control layout. Demand continued to grow and by 1996 PRS moved production to a new factory in Stevensville, Kent Island, Maryland. From 2003, PRS also started manufacturing the budget SE (Student Edition) range in Korea. While the pre‑PRS handmade guitars are extremely rare and expensive, the 1985‑1990 so‑called ‘pre‑factory’ era models (before the introduction of extensive automation) are of particular significance and are now becoming highly collectable, in a similar way that early Fenders and Gibsons did. While early Customs are seen by many as the definitive PRS, the Standard is every bit its peer. An updated SE Standard model remains part of the current PRS line‑up.

Guitar Description:

Now this is something very special indeed and a real hint of the high end. A cool and rare 1988 PRS Standard in glorious unmarked glossy Vintage Cherry nitrocellulose finish. It is simply beautiful and beautifully simple. While many PRS guitars can be a touch aesthetically overwhelming, I actually like the understated look of the one piece plain wood and moon fingerboard inlays. It may be fate that this one came my way, almost by serendipity, as I wasn’t looking for one. The low 4‑digit serial number dates it to 1988, during the 4th year of PRS production and only the 2nd year that the model bore the ‘Standard’ name. Despite its appearance, there is no normal tone control, only the standard volume and two switches. The 5‑way rotary selector switch provides a wide range of humbucking and pseudo‑single coil tones, essentially giving 10 discrete tonal options when combined with PRS’s unique two‑way ‘sweet switch’. Playability is supreme and just what you would expect from a top‑class largely hand‑built early PRS. The bespoke vibrato is a piece of art; clearly influenced by the Fender Stratocaster’s vibrato but with limited down bend that adds flexibility for those moments when a wee bit of whammy wobble is wanted. This particular guitar is just as sublime to play as it is to look at. She has clearly been well looked after over the years and hasn’t been messed with, being all‑original and in wonderful condition. There really are no visible marks to indicate its age. It also comes in an almost flawless original hard shell case with black fur fabric but no case candy. Early PRS guitars like this will undoubtedly become future vintage classics, even if the Standard (unfairly) remains in the shadow of the flamboyant Custom. I hate to think that these superb guitars might one day end up as wealthy investors’ luxury ornaments, rather than great musical instruments played by musicians. That Mr Smith certainly knew what he was doing when he designed the PRS Standard that bears his gold‑coloured signature on the headstock. Tempted? Resistance is futile!


  • One‑piece all‑mahogany body
  • Vintage Cherry nitrocellulose finish to body and neck
  • One‑piece mahogany set neck
  • Back angled, non‑veneered unbound headstock with straight string pull
  • 3‑a‑side PRS‑branded locking tuners made by Schaller
  • Scale length 25”
  • Unbound Brazilian rosewood fretboard with 24 frets and low friction nut
  • Mother‑of‑pearl and abalone ‘moon’ fingerboard inlays
  • 10” fingerboard radius
  • Original chrome‑plated hardware
  • Original Standard Treble and Standard Bass split coil humbucking pickups
  • Original electrics comprising volume, 5‑way rotary pickup selector switch and 2‑way ‘sweet switch’
  • Original factory PRS vibrato
  • Weight: 6 ½Lbs – 2.9Kg
  • Original PRS hard shell case


  • Mikael Akerfeldt (Opeth)
  • Wes Borland (Limp Bizkit)
  • Brad Delson (Linkin Park)
  • Al Di Meola
  • David Grissom
  • Alex Lifeson (Rush)
  • John McLaughlin (Mahavishnu Orchestra)
  • Dave Navarro (Jane’s Addiction)
  • Ted Nugent
  • Orianthi Panagaris
  • Chris Robertson (Black Stone Cherry)
  • Carlos Santana
  • Neal Schon (Journey)
  • Mark Tremonti (Alter Bridge)
  • Joe Walsh (Eagles)
  • Dweezil Zappa


The ‘sweet switch’ is actually a passive delay line that introduces a 135 nanosecond (135 billionths of a second) delay to the original signal. Legend has it that Smith designed the circuit following a request by Carlos Santana to replicate the treble roll‑off caused by using long guitar leads of the time (often up to 100‑foot). Whether the ‘effect’ succeeds in achieving that aim is debatable but it is unique to early PRSs and undoubtedly makes for a good story. It also sounds really cool in action. The distinctive sound of the ‘sweet switch’ has been described as like that of a ‘cocked wah’ pedal.

In c.1991, PRS voluntarily stopped using Brazilian rosewood (Dalbergia nigra) on its basic models. The scarce tone wood was listed formally as one of the most‑protected endangered species by CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species) in mid‑1992. PRS does continue to use limited stocks of Brazilian rosewood on some of its premium models.

The famous bird neck inlays were offered from 1985, along with the moon inlays. The use of bird designs for his guitars’ neck inlays was inspired by Paul Reed Smith’s upbringing when his mother took the family birdwatching.

Early PRS guitars only have a single 12th fret dot marker on the side of the neck, rather than two as on most guitars.

Detail Gallery:

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