PRS Private Stock John McLaughlin: A Guitar Fit for a Master Musician

Published on 06 September 2023

What guitar is truly suitable for a pioneering, super-influential musician? Is it enough to recreate something that the artist has been known to play in the past? Or is it more appropriate to somehow distil that player’s adventurous spirit and exacting ability into a new instrument that reflects their identity whilst simultaneously paving a path into the future?

If you are Paul Reed Smith, and you’re designing a guitar for the genuinely legendary John McLaughlin, then the latter path is really the only way to go. We’ve just taken delivery of this breathtaking instrument - one of only 200 being made in 2023 - and we’re gasping to tell you about it!


John McLaughlin

But first, a little about the great man himself. A jaw-dropping player who fused the worlds of rock, jazz and more exotic musical climates, John McLaughlin is one of the originators and true masters of jazz fusion. With his band the Mahavishnu Orchestra, he opened doors in music that are still being expanded upon and investigated to this day. His mesmerising technique impresses only second to his connection and the soul of his music, a real spirit that he audibly chases within his music.

After all, not just anyone can play an active part on five albums with Miles Davis. If Davis put together the seeds of Jazz Fusion on Bitches Brew and Live-Evil, then bands like the Mahavishnu Orchestra (who also featured other Miles Davis alumni) built whole gardens of new music from those seeds. McLaughlin, for his part, looked to the East for inspiration, playing notes and scales that were a literal world away from the Blues Invasion of the late 60s.

There’s a lot more to McLaughlin’s storied career than this - including an awesome stint as one third of The Guitar Trio alongside Paco de Lucia and Al Di Meola - but we’ll save those tales for another time, since today we are mainly here to marvel at this incredible new PRS…


PRS Private Stock 

The guitar you’re now looking at is a product of the PRS Private Stock program. This is where each guitar - whether built to order or a limited edition instrument like this John McLaughlin model - is treated like a one-of-a-kind piece. This means it is hand-crafted with the greatest level of attention to detail, the highest build quality available and the best possible materials and workmanship. It’s like a custom shop for a brand that’s already like a custom shop, if you get us!

The Private Stock program has access to the very best examples of wood, hand-selected for weight and tone as well as stunning beauty. There are visual appointments that are only made available on Private Stock instruments. Ultimately, there is a level of guitar making here that is unavailable anywhere else on the planet. World class guitars for world class players? This is where they get made, and today’s is one of the finest we’ve seen.


PRS Private Stock John McLaughlin

This guitar has actually been something of a passion project for Paul Reed Smith: “Being John’s guitar maker is an honor I fought decades for, and to now be able to give him a signature model is a special moment for me and hopefully the industry. These guitars were designed to both feel like magic when you pick them up but also disappear in your hands so you can just focus on playing. John is capable of playing at extraordinary speed and with this instrument, you hear every note. Finding that balance as a guitar maker and coaxing every bit of sound out of the guitar was the key.”

So, what of the guitar itself? Well, those familiar with PRS guitars will certainly recognise their favourite hallmarks present here, albeit turned up to eleven. We’re talking mahogany for the body and a maple top, but it’s African mahogany and the maple top is a stupendously figured slice of Private Stock grade maple. The colour - a brilliantly named shade of translucent grey called Charcoal Phoenix - makes the most of that quite amazing figuring. It’s like a bird’s eye view of a desert vista in black and white! Stunning is hardly appropriate.


The one piece neck is made from a timber called Hormigo, known in the industry as the wood used in making tines for marimbas! This is topped with an African Blackwood fingerboard, a rarity indeed and a beautiful choice, particularly as a frame for the intricate crushed pearl celtic knot inlays. Stunning work, and tastefully designed to complement rather than dominate the guitar’s aesthetic. A Private Stock Eagle adorns the headstock in customary fashion, alerting those in the know to this instrument’s pedigree.


Pickups and Switching

There is a lot of mystery surrounding the subject of PRS’ TCI pickups. Articles have been written, comparisons made, and theories offered as to what actually goes into the process. Has Paul Reed Smith developed new tech through a sister company he owns in order to develop new ways of measuring frequencies?

The answer is still somewhat shrouded in mystery, but the clue seems to be in the title. TCI - Tuned Capacitance Inductance, refers to the ‘tuning’ of the frequencies emitted by the pickup in terms of volume in order to craft a particular ‘resonant curve’ - in our words, something like an EQ sweep, more or less - to deliver whichever particular set of tonal characteristics are wanted by PRS. We understand that each pickup is ‘tuned’ to whichever particular types of timber are used in the guitar’s body.

The PRS Private Stock John McLaughlin has two of these pickups, and there’s a further innovation: a set of mini toggle switches. Instead of the expected coil taps, these are actually high-pass filters, which knock out the low end of the signal but preserve the rest of the sound. Rather than changing the entire sound, this is more akin to adding some ‘production’ and sculpting the tone that’s already there. This feature is great for finding space in a busy mix, be that live or in the studio.

Needless to say, the guitar itself is wonderful sounding, with detail and clarity in tandem with excellent sustain and sweetness. Touch response and dynamic range are exemplary, making this guitar feel particularly ‘alive’ to the player. Just what a guitarist like John McLaughlin needs for his insanely emotive playing, not to mention a great platform for the levels of speed and articulation for which he’s renowned.


John McLaughlin Guitar Details

Finally, there are the finishing touches that elevate this instrument in the eyes of fans and collectors. The guitar is hand signed by both John and Paul on the back of the headstock, and the backplate also bears McLaughlin’s signature in gold pen.

The guitar is finished in high gloss nitrocellulose, save for the back of the neck which is left bare for speed. A certificate of authenticity is included inside the case, which is itself a woven paisley-patterned work of art. All in all, this is a spectacular package fit for one of the world’s greatest practitioners of the electric guitar.


Birds of Fire

There may be intricate celtic knots on the fingerboard instead of birds, but that beautiful blue eagle inlay on the headstock says it all: this is PRS Private Stock through and through, and it’s one of the best examples we’ve ever seen. As noted, there are currently only 200 of these guitars being made in 2023, so guitarists who want their own ‘Birds of Fire’ should seek this out faster than John McLaughlin’s playing!

“Playing music is a way of being. Playing an instrument requires you to move out of the normal level of consciousness. If you’re thinking, you’re not playing. If you’re playing, you’re not thinking. If you have problems with your instrument, you’re not going to move out of the thinking zone and into your own world. This is why I love my guitar. For me, it’s perfect.” – John McLaughlin

View the PRS Private Stock John McLaughlin

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About the author


Features Editor, Warehouse

I'm a musician and artist originally from the South West coast of Scotland. I studied Visual Arts and Film Studies at...

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