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was born in 1953 and grew up in suburban Long Island, New York. I began playing guitar at age 12. Even at that age, I always wanted to know why things worked and functioned as they did., so more often then not... my guitars, amps, and other toys would be taken apart (much to my motherís dismay)... just to see how it worked! Armed with this constant curiosity, I would modify and repair many guitars during my youth.
That eventually led to my working with Paul on the metal portions of his
guitars and the creation of my own design and manufacturing
I continue to play guitar, and get to "roadtest" my new designs on my own personal guitars and those of other leading local musicians. I currently perform in a local blues band Voodoo Blues, along with fellow forum member Doug Gray. We are a twin lead guitar format band and cover a variety of blues tunes from Eric Clapton, Allman Bros, Coco Montoya, SRV, Buddy Guy on back to the original masters such as BB King, Howlin Wolf, Muddy Waters, Elmore James and Robert Johnson... as well as original material.
Interview With John Mann
|Forum: You had a heavy hand in the early days of PRS as regards the
metal parts that were used. Can you tell us about that?
John: I met Paul in 1978. I was given an old beat up Gibson SG, as a gift, which I tried unsuccessfully several times to restore. I found out about Paul through a cousin of mine who was familiar with Paul's work. So I met with Paul, he restored the SG, and we became friends. Once Paul learned that I did design and machining work at Westinghouse, that was the beginning of our guitar work related relationship. Paul knew what was wrong with various aspects of the (then) current guitar designs. But he was having problems getting local machine shops to build parts to his specs. Part of this was a communication barrier between a young guitar builder who didn't know engineering terms and machine shops who didn't understand guitar building terms. Being involved in both of these worlds, I bridged that gap. When Paul presented me with a set of problems, I could "translate" the guitar problem into an engineering problem, and then develop a solution. An example of this is the development of the push in arm that was later made famous on PRS Guitars . Paul was always getting in Strats with broken arms for repair. He in turn would give them to me to drill out. If you have ever tried to do this... it is not an easy or fun thing to do! So after some discussion, I suggested we make a split plastic bushing and a push-in arm. If the tolerances were kept fairly precise, one would be able to have a trem arm stay where you wanted it, rather then wiggle around! From an engineering standpoint, this was a fairly simple problem, with a simple solution. To the best of my knowledge, we were the first to do this. This goes in the long list of "Things I should have patented..." So basically, this was happening on a regular basis. Paul, Orkey (aka John Ingram), Eric Pritchard and I would collaborate on various projects to resolve all the problems and flaws in guitar design that Paul determined was of relevance. Once a solution was determined, I was responsible to turning it into a functional part. Also, both myself and Eric did all of Paul's shop tooling and fixturing. Everything from drilling and routing jigs to custom machines such as the "duplicarver", which was a routing duplicator used to produce carved top bodies from a master template. Eric was the main contributor in the design and building of the duplicarver, which Paul used in his factory for quite a while. So, my involvement with PRS began in 1978 and continues to this day.
Forum: Tell us about your company and what it does.
John: MannMade USA designs, manufactures and sells guitar and bass bridges, hardware and components for OEM's (original equipment manufacturers) such as PRS, to distributors, dealers, small builders, repair shops and to the general retail public such as the forum members. My mission is to produce state of the art parts that improve upon original designs, yet retain the original concept. The quality must be second to none. All my parts are typically designed to retrofit existing hardware with no modification to the existing instrument. We also do generic items such as pickguards, jack plates, knobs, etc. Additionally, we design and produce custom tooling for some of our clients which they use to build guitars more efficiently.
Forum: You have a very early PRS. Please tell us about that guitar and compare it to the modern PRS'.
John: My main PRS is a '79 that Paul built personally for me. It was based on his original "Dragon" which he was playing when I first met him. These guitars were basically Les Paul Specials, that Paul had improved upon. My guitar is very special, both to me and historically for PRS. It is the first guitar Paul ever made with a one piece curly maple top... the first sunburst he ever did on one of his guitars... has P-90's that he re-wound and has rosewood covers... has only one bird at the twelfth fret... one volume control and two mini switches (for pickup selection). It has his original design locking tuners, which were Schallers we modified with a cap head screw drilled and tapped perpendicular to the string, which when tightened locked the string. One of the cool things about this design was not only did it work, but the cap head screw had a slot milled in it so that you could lock/unlock it with a dime! (Maybe Floyd Rose should have picked up on this concept?). It has the original style vibrato bridge that Paul and I designed together. The string scale is 24-3/4", which was standard on PRS' at the time. It has a "boat" neck very reminiscent of old Les Pauls with a rosewood board . I removed both the original bridge and tuners in '85 and installed a one piece cast bridge and production locking tuners. I have the originals stored way for safe keeping. No modifications have ever been made to this guitar. It still has the original Petillo frets on it also! Comparing this guitar to today's production models is like comparing apples to oranges. So much has changed over the years. The only PRS production guitar close to this is a Santana model, which has the same body and headstock shape, but sports humbuckers. Other then that... that would be the closest to my guitar. Obviously the electronics are totally different. The finishing on PRS guitars of today is far superior to my guitar, which was done entirely by hand in a small shop atmosphere. My guitar was sprayed in a Corvette body shop! PRS guitars today have the smoothest finish I have ever seen, while my guitar has minute peaks and valleys one would expect to see in a completely handmade instrument. But IMHO this gives it it's character! I also have a natural mahogany "Strat" body guitar that Paul had built prior to our meeting each other. Strat body with a PRS old style headstock! P-90 pickups, no pickguard. I also have an early version bolt-on maple carved top.
Forum: What brought you to the decision to play PRS'?
John: I had always been a Gibson player prior to meeting Paul. After playing the guitar he was building for Carlos Santana, I was amazed!!!! I knew I had to have one of these guitars for my own. But I couldn't afford one at the time. Fortunately for me... Paul was "cash impaired" too! So we bartered... I would do 100 hours of machine work, which included bridges, tooling, fixtures, repairs, etc and he would build me a guitar to my specs. Looking back...it was a great deal!
Forum: How did you go about selecting the guitars you play (what features and qualities were you looking for)?
John: Tone, play-ability, looks, re-sale value, in that order. I own several PRS', Gibsons, Fenders, Zions as well as several custom guitars I have built here in my own shop.
Forum: Could you tell us a bit about what brought you into the music world and how you see that fitting in with the other parts of your life?
John: I started playing guitar when I was 12 years old. My parents bought me a Spanish guitar for Christmas and signed me up for lessons. It wasn't long before I wanted an electric guitar. So the following year I bought a Harmony copy of a ES -335 with money earned from my newspaper route, and I got a Harmony amp for Christmas. That guitar was my test bed for the start of my guitar modification career! I did everything imaginable to that poor guitar, from changing pickups and bridges to re-finishing it, re-fretting it, etc. You can see the pattern developing here.... I played guitar throughout high school and college in local rock bands in the Long Island , NY area. In college I was a music major, until one day it occurred to me that I didn't want to teach music, so I switched my major to engineering. I worked in the defense industry right after college. In fact, when I met Paul
Smith, I was working at a Navy Defense Division of Westinghouse Electric. It was Paul who got me into making guitar parts. Once I started designing and building parts for him, I knew that was what I needed to be doing for a profession. I then opened a small machine shop in my garage to do work for Paul, while I kept my day gig at Westinghouse. In 1984, I moved up to New England. One day, I got the call from Paul. He had raised the funds to open his guitar factory and wanted me to make all his bridges! So I quit my day job and went full time making guitar parts. I have been doing this ever since then. For me... music is my life... my passion ...second only to my family. There is nothing as pure and free as music that comes from the soul. It allows me to express all of my feelings and emotions that are within me. I am able to create something that is uniquely me. I love that about music... it is one of the ultimate forms of expression.
Forum: What are your musical interests and guitarist influences?
John: For many years now, blues has been the idiom I enjoy most. I also enjoy classic rock, classical music, jazz and some country music. My influences include the Beatles, Stones, Cream, Jimi Hendrix, Allman Bros, Eric Clapton, Stevie Ray Vaughan, BB King, Carlos Santana, Buddy Guy, Jeff Beck, T-Bone Walker, Muddy Waters, Otis Rush... Billy Gibbons... the list goes on and on...
Forum: Can you tell us a bit about your band?
John: I play in a blues band called "Voodoo Blues". As the name implies, we play primarily blues. We are currently a 4 pc band, consisting of two lead guitars, bass and drums. Three of us sing. We play primarily for our own enjoyment and we gig out fairly often in the Lakes Region of New Hampshire. We have a demo cd and have future plans to go back into the studio to complete a cd for release.
Forum: Tell us about the equipment you plug into and reasons for choosing same.
John: For guitars, I typically use a PRS, and a Gibson ES-335. I also use a Gibson Custom Shop L4, Fender Strats and Teles, as well as some other custom made guitars. The PRS and the Gibson have the fat tones that I favor. The Fenders are there for those tunes that demand that Fender vibe. But I primarly play either the PRS or the Gibson. Doug Gray, the other guitarist in the band, typically plays Strats, so the mix between the two guitars is good. Doug also has a PRS Santana that he sometimes uses, as well as a Gibson ES- 340 and a Gretsch Tennessean and a handful of Strats and Teles. For amps, I use Fender Super Reverbs. I have a BF '64 and a SF '68. I have been using Supers since high school! I think they without peer when it comes to tone. They sound great with humbuckers or single coil pickups. I also own a PRS HG70 combo amp which stays at home in my studio. Add to that a SF '72 Pro Reverb and a SF '68 Princeton Reverb.
Forum: What do you see in your future as regards music?
John: Hopefully I will continue in the business of designing and manufacturing guitar parts. I may someday broaden my interests to including manufacturing guitars. I would only do this if I could match or exceed Paul's quality level. So don't look for any John Mann guitars real soon!!! I hope to play guitar and make music as long as God allows me to live...which I hope is for still a very long time...