Q: In many used or vintage guitar ads, I see the term “pre-factory” PRS guitars. Exactly what does that mean?
*Beautifull 1992 Prs Custom 24 in Royal Blue*
A: The concept of the “pre-factory” PRS guitar is most times simply a way to give the impression that before their move to the Stevensville, Maryland facility in 1995, PRS employees somehow built instruments differently, or better than after the move. The subtext being that these instruments are more desirable.
For the most part, the same people were building guitars the same way when they were at the Virginia Avenue complex, from about 1985-1995. Many high-end instruments have come out of the Stevensville facility, which has considerably more space and more sophisticated tooling available. These include the Rosewood Ltd, both the Artist III and IV editions, the Archtop and Hollowbody, and most recently, the critically acclaimed Singlecut models (and this does not even take into consideration the many astounding Private Stock instruments that have been built there).
However, With the move to Stevensville, they started using CNC routers instead of the duplicarvers. Both devices achieve the same aim, but some people think using CNC somehow makes a guitar not handmade or that it takes the "soul" out of the instrument.
One big misconception, that the “small heel” PRS models were changed to “large heel” instruments after the move, is simply false. The switch to longer heels was made to give the joint between the body and neck more substance. The Artist I of 1991 was the first PRS instrument to have the larger heel.
Whilst their may not be True Diffrences between the Virginia Avenue complex (1985-1995) and the Stevensville complex (1995+) The "mojo" factor carries a lot of weight with guitarists, and the early guitars Seem to have it.
To sum up, the only true “pre-factory” PRS examples are those built by hand before the first Custom model was introduced in 1985.The original PRS factory was set up around Aug/Sep 1985 and there's around 400 guitars from 1985. The cut off point for 1986 guitar is around serial number 1700 but it's not definitive as I own and have seen guitars from 1986 with higher serial numbers.