On February 8, 2007, Paul Reed Smith Guitars presented Corvette Racing driver Ron Fellows with a unique and very special gift: a one-off PRS Corvette Standard 22 guitar, painted to match the brand-new, limited-edition Ron Fellows ALMS GT1 Champion Corvette Z06. The two-year relationship between Chevrolet and the renowned guitar-maker reached its pinnacle as PRS President Jack Higginbotham personally presented the red-on-white six-string to Fellows.
The dispensation of celebrity swag usually is not the type of news VETTE finds noteworthy. But this story goes much deeper. It details the improbable union of two dissimilar but like-minded manufacturers, and how a guitar-playing race-car driver from Canada and Corvette-driving luthiers from Maryland found very fertile common ground.
First, let's take a look back at the history of the alliance. The year was 2005 when Chevrolet and PRS first announced a partnership. The guitar-maker would build a Standard 22 Z06 Guitar and offer it in the same palette of colors available on the Z06 Corvette.
Higginbotham announced, "We believe, as does [the Corvette team], in delivering the highest-quality, highest-performance product imaginable. Our passion for Corvettes and guitars leads to a relationship that goes above and beyond corporate sponsorship. Working with GM Racing to achieve this goal has been an extraordinary experience."
In a press release, Chevy officials also commented on the Corvette/PRS relationship. "PRS Guitars is known in the music world as a builder of premier guitars, instruments that are truly functional works of art. We at General Motors believe that, within our industry, Corvette mirrors these attributes, and so it's very fitting that PRS and GM work together. We're proud to display the PRS logo on the championship Corvette C6.R race car, which will allow us to further our partnership and extend the marketing reach of PRS."
Over the next two seasons, Chevrolet and PRS watched the C6.R race team rack up an unprecedented string of victories in the GT1 class. By the time of the 2007 Chicago Auto Show, the relationship between the two corporations had long since proved itself an across-the-board winner.
Recently, we had the opportunity to speak with the multitalented Ron Fellows about cars, guitars, and his ever-growing celebrity status. Ron recalled that he became personally involved with the partnership early on.
"Two years ago, Chevrolet heard PRS was going to make a Z06-themed guitar and market it as a Standard 22 model," he told us. "I did a photo shoot with one of the guitars at Sebring International Raceway before the start of the '05 race season. Being a bit of a quasi guitar player myself-a Neil Young wannabe, a good Canadian-boy thing-I ended up wanting one, and there were a couple of guys in my crew who play [guitar] who work on the Chevrolet Corvette No. 3 car. I was able to snag some guitars-one for myself, one for a sponsor, and one for each of our crew guys that play. So it was a very cool deal to have one of those PRS Corvette Standard 22 guitars."
Ron described in his own words the synergy that exists between the two companies. "I think it's a neat relationship when a guitar-maker like PRS has a president like Jack Higginbotham who is a Corvette owner and enthusiast. You end up with a guy...who is keen to participate in our Chevrolet Corvette race program in terms of marketing a special Z06 guitar, for instance, and in making charitable [heroics] happen with special PRS guitars and Corvettes.
"I think a lot of it is the common bonds between us-Jack and PRS, their interest in Corvettes and driving, and certainly a few of us at Corvette are guitar enthusiasts. And here's the most important thing: craftsmanship. We have craftsmen working and building our Corvettes. The same with PRS. You can see the kind of care they put into the quality of their workmanship."
If you are able to secure a pit pass at any of the ALMS GT1 racing events this 2007 season, you might find yourself applauding more than the Corvettes. Ron informed us that the C6.R crew members often relax by plugging their PRS guitars into a portable amp and jamming away.
"We've got a couple of crew guys, particularly Mike West, who are awesome. Mike, on the off-day between practice and race day on [a recent] Friday, dragged his amp and his PRS Z06 guitar out and played a stirring rendition of 'The Star Spangled Banner,' a la Jimi Hendrix. That drew a huge crowd in pit lane."
But what about after winning the race? Fellows told us that the rigors and pressure of ALMS racing have forced him to find a release valve in his private time. He's found it, figuratively, in his PRS guitar. "Primarily, I find playing the guitar is just very therapeutic.
I mess around and play away and it's good personal time for me. Both my boys play guitar; my thirteen-year-old is very good. He's super keen on the electric. The PRS guitars are a nice fit in our family."