As a keen guitarist being one of the designers and project leaders on the PRS Total-Cure UV Guitar Finishing cabinet was a dream gig, especially when I found out that I was going to the factory for the install.
PRS approached us back in 2008 to inquire about a UV Curing system. We had already manufactured one for Gadow Guitars and had a good base design to start with. After working closely with Matt Eriza and Joe Knaggs, we came up with some tweaks and improvements to suit their exact needs.
We’ve added a touch screen which gave them the ability to customize the operation of the system to fit their needs. PRS was able to create and save custom profiles or menus to cure whatever shape or length guitar they wanted to put in the cabinet. The system precisely tracks the movement of the UV lamp as it passes in front of guitar allowing for a quick and uniform curing of the finish. We simplified the hanging method which increased the throughput from spray booth to Ultraviolet Cabinet to rack. Also a larger viewing window was added so if you want you can watch the guitar as the gel and topcoat curing takes place. If you want to see this yourself, check out the Youtube videos at our SPDIUV or CureUV channels.
Now nearly 3 years later I got Matt on the phone to find out how the change to UV technology has impacted the manufacturing process for one of the music industries leaders in high end guitars…………………
.Why did you decide to go UV?
The obvious reason was to get things done faster but also the UV finish is harder than conventional finishes.
.How did you pick SPDI?
We approached a couple of other UV manufacturers and they didn’t have any solutions for curing 3 dimensional shapes. SPDI already had a system doing this and it fell in at the right price point.
.Was the conversion difficult from conventional nitro or polyester urethane coatings to UV finishing? Handling of chemicals, spraying and sanding techniques?
Basically no. Handling the chemicals is much easier as we don’t have to deal with VOC’s anymore, and there were no real changes to the spraying or sanding techniques we use.
. Is there any real difference in quality of finish, look, hardness and tone?
The tone is actually improved with UV coatings as they’re harder. Standard urethanes can make a guitar sound like it’s encased in rubber. I tried spraying tuning forks with the conventional and UV finishes and found the UV coated forks held their tone much better than the others. As for the look, the UV coatings are very clear. The polyesters can contain small amounts of cobalt which can lead to a slight blue or brown tinge to finished guitars.
. Have any of the ‘purists’ noticed the change?
A few people have been talking about the change to UV but it has been positive feedback. The UV finished guitars don’t have to ‘age’ to have the tone settle like the conventional finishes do. So your guitar sounds better right of the rack than before.
. You’ve been working on acoustics, how is the UV finish working out?
We’re currently not UV curing the acoustic line, but it is something we are looking into starting in the near future.
. How much time are you saving on average?
We’ve taken what was a 7-8 day process and reduced it to around 2. The guitars don’t need to hang around for 2-3 days waiting to dry between steps. We can go straight from filler to base to top coat in one day if we want.
. Can you still get all the colors and tints that you get with conventional?
We’re working on color tints, at the moment we are still using conventional top-coats, but will be moving some of our lines over to UV top-coat soon.
. Have you had any issues with the heat from the lamps?
No, in fact our warm rooms get hotter than the inside of the UV Guitar Curing cabinet. Any residual heat from the process actually helps with the cure and doesn’t damage the wood, I would add though if you’re curing anything with any plastic on it to tape off the area first.
. How has the support from SPDI been? Replacement parts and maintenance?
The support from SPDI has been great, we’ve had no problems with getting replacement lamps and reflectors, and the units are well made we run both of hours for at least 8 hrs a day and have had no issues with either one.
. Do you cure whole guitars of bodies and necks separate?
Both, we have our machines set up with many different menus and recipes. For guitars that are getting rosewood necks we run just the bodies through the guitar cabinets. We have menus for full guitars and we have recently started using a UV satin finish on our bolt on necks so we have programs solely for them.
. How much of PRS stock is now UV cured?
Everything PRS currently makes apart from acoustics has one or more pieces UV cured whether it’s filler, polyurethane or both.
. Finally when am I getting my custom guitar? Failing that a t-shirt!
Ha ha, I don’t even have a custom ; I’ll see what I can do about the shirt!