Elevating the “Import Guitar” and the Magic Behind-The-Scenes of PRS SE Manufacturing

Posted Mar 19, 2024

Featured Stories / Behind The Gear

Elevating the “Import Guitar” and the Magic Behind-The-Scenes of PRS SE Manufacturing

Over 20 years ago, PRS SE models were first introduced to the world.

It was the late 1990's when Carlos Santana asked us to bring a 'more affordable' PRS to the public. And, in close collaboration with him, we launched the 'Santana SE' in 2001. The SE Series has since matured into an entire line of guitars, with more than 25 models, each unique and far more than simple beginner guitars.

The success of the SE Series is largely due to incredible amounts of teamwork and a commitment to quality - both at home in the USA and globally with our partner manufacturers.

Earlier this year, members from our SE manufacturing partner P.T. Cort (based in Indonesia) visited our Stevensville, Maryland factory. A few weeks after that, PRS Chief Operating Officer Jack Higginbotham and a small team visited the SE factory in Indonesia. Both of these visits are part of an ongoing effort to continually strengthen and improve our working relationship with P.T. Cort.

In this blog, we hand the keys over to Jack Higginbotham (PRS Chief Operating Officer) to share about the true meaning of our partnership with P.T. Cort and our quest to offer the highest quality import guitars possible.

Elevating the “Import Guitar” and the Magic Behind-The-Scenes of PRS SE Manufacturing

Authored by: Jack Higginbotham // PRS Chief Operating Officer

Not to be overly dramatic, but to a large degree, my purpose in life has been to figure out how to make high quality guitars. Paul Smith has been an amazing teacher…for me and for many inside our company. In the 80’s, that meant learning woodworking, guitar building, and how to select the right woods for the job. In the 90’s that expanded to learning how finishes affect the guitar and how pickups are made as well as how to manage larger groups of people. In the early 2000’s, that expanded yet again with a deep dive into the power of all the components…bridges, tuners, etc.

Jack Higginbotham and Paul Reed Smith

^ 1986 - Jack Higginbotham and Paul Reed Smith review a neck inside the PRS factory.

I left North Carolina State university as a sophomore Mechanical Engineering student in order to play music. While I never went back for that degree, I have gained more engineering knowledge here than I probably would have otherwise.

After many years of building, selling, and figuring out PRS guitars in general, it is very exciting to apply much of this knowledge and experience to help advance the SE Series. This advancement is tangled, but (hopefully) interesting. Here we go.

^ Jack works and trains employees inside of the P.T. Cort SE factory in Indonesia.

The Importance of Partnership

Since the beginning of the SE Series, it has been paramount that quality would be job number one. Our goal was to make the best guitar in each price point, and essentially that meant making the best guitar we knew how to make. We have always worked closely with our manufacturing partners. In the beginning, that was "World Manufacturing," who did a great job for us and helped us to get started. About 10 years ago, we started a discussion with Cor-Tek (Cort) about moving the business to them.

The thing that really helped the decision was a conversation with Jun Park and the team from Cort who clearly saw the same opportunity we did: given time, energy, open minds, and patience, it could be possible to build guitars a different way and be able to provide a professional instrument for moderate costs. This would not happen unless we did things differently, especially around teaching, learning, manufacturing, as well as developing a strong partnership.

The word "partnership" is one of the most abused words in the business world in my opinion. People tend to throw it around… usually when they need something. What we were seeking is a real partnership; going down the rabbit holes with another company who shares a vision and passion to achieve a goal.

P.T. Cort (Indonesia) and Cort Dalian (China) have been those partners. There are thousands of examples that can’t be contained in this blog, but a great example has just happened.

In late January, Isaac Kwon and Jacob Koo from P.T. Cort came to PRS in Maryland. Isaac is the Head of R&D for P.T. Cort and this was his third visit to PRS USA. Jacob Koo is the Production Manager for the PRS SE Factory at P.T. Cort and this was his first visit to our shop. A complete factory tour and sharing a lot of the “why’s” of our manufacturing were at the top of our priority list. We also would discuss upcoming new designs and guitars and look at advancing the manufacturing process in Indonesia.

P.T. Cort PRS Visit

^ Isaac (Head of R&D for P.T. Cort) is reviewing the USA neck process with Dan Davis, PRS Neck Team Manager.

Rob Carhart, our Director of New Products Engineering, and I spent most of our time with Isaac looking at tooling, processes, and designs.

Jacob toured our shop but focused more with Doug Shive (SE Operations Manager here at our Maryland shop), John Walker (SE Series Project Manager), and Tom Walls (Lead SE Inspector in Maryland) along with our inspection team.

^ Above, John Walker (SE Series Project Manager), Jacob Koo (P.T. Cort Production Manager), and Tom Walls (Lead SE Inspector) unbox SE's in our Maryland factory and talk quality control.

This is a good time to explain the team organizationally. Doug Shive (SE Operations Manager) was part of the SE Series from day one in 1999…visiting factories with Paul, establishing the relationships with 'World Manufacturing' and other vendors, and directing the business overall. He not only heads up our inspection team here in the US, but also runs day-to-day inside of our amplifier business and offers guidance to the factories.

John Walker (SE Series Project Manager) is primarily responsible for helping P.T. Cort and Cort Dalian to advance on-site at the offshore factories. John has spent a lifetime around guitars and has worked with Asian manufacturers and suppliers for years. While his main function is to work each day with the factory on process and quality assurance, he is also in constant contact with the team here at PRS USA.

Tom Walls is our SE Inspection Supervisor and helps to train, advise, and advance the team inside of our building, while also being the eyes for any issues that might rear up. Tom also travels to P.T. Cort - here's a separate blog that details that.

There are many more members of this team; the SE quality inspectors obviously (we have 17 currently) along with many others, from Paul Smith to marketing, sales, and supply chain. It takes a piece of every faction of PRS to work in a coordinated way to pull off our mission.

From Ideation to Application

In February, Rob Carhart (PRS Director of New Products Engineering) and I headed to Indonesia to help put into practice what we reviewed here in the USA. Rob and I spent three and a half days in the factory doing a variety of jobs. At the top of the list was reviewing, tweaking, and developing new processes, especially around neck manufacturing. (As a sidenote, Rob ran neck manufacturing while I was Production Manager at PRS in the 90’s, so he and I have quite a history on this topic!).

^ Rob Carhart (PRS Director of New Products Engineering) working with the P.T. Cort team inside of the SE factory in Indonesia.

We spent our days working again with Jacob and Isaac from P.T. Cort, now looking at ways we can apply some of what we learned in Maryland to P.T. Cort’s everyday life. Some of the projects are nearly instantaneous, some will require a year or more to design and implement. But going back to partnerships, this is what great partners do, they recognize that some things can happen immediately and safely if both parties are talented and trustworthy. Also, they recognize that some advancements will take time and investment, but the mission is worth it. I think a strong partner also wants all parties to get credit for hard work. P.T. Cort and Cort Dalian put their names on the backs of every guitar they make for PRS. This was highly unusual when Paul first requested it, but I’m very appreciative that has always been the case. It means transparency to the consumer and credit and pride for Cort.

Below, Jack explains the names on SE headstocks:

One part of our mission is based on physical, practical actions. One part is how to philosophically work together effectively. At the end of the day, our global mission is to constantly learn to make a better guitar and consistently apply that to our instruments, at every price point.

- Jack Higginbotham // PRS Chief Operating Officer


If you want a closer look at the PRS SE Factory in Indonesia, watch our factory tour below!