The guitars were earmarked for performers with Incubus, Train, Faith Hill's band and other groups.
But the instruments crafted by renowned guitar maker Paul Reed Smith Guitars of Stevensville - a company best known as the builder of Carlos Santana's instruments - went missing. Now a former employee of PRS and his friend are facing trial in Annapolis, charged in a scheme to steal the custom guitars and sell them.
Jeffrey Harry Lanahan, 44, who left his job in artist relations at PRS 8 1/2 months before his Annapolis home was searched last year, and his friend, Michael Jay Kelly, 42, of Arnold, are scheduled for trial in Anne Arundel Circuit Court starting tomorrow. The two are accused of stealing about a dozen guitars. Lanahan's lawyer declined to comment, and Lanahan did not respond to telephone messages. Kelly's lawyer said his client was innocent.
Lanahan, who worked for PRS for a decade, was in charge of coordinating the delivery of the guitars to musicians, according to court papers. The allegations against him say he was among a small group of people with access to a locked area that held guitars for use by certain performing artists.
"All generally were for the artists to use on tour or to use on video shoots or photo shoots," said Anne Arundel County Assistant State's Attorney Michael Dunty.
One of the guitars, for example, had been used by Lifehouse and was earmarked for Three Doors Down to use for an underwater video, Dunty said. Kevin Cadogan, formerly of Third Eye Blind, said he always got the guitars he sought from PRS. He said he knew nothing about the criminal case. Like other performers named as prosecution witnesses, he will not be testifying.
The alleged thefts were a violation of trust in a company where employees work closely together and take pride in producing high quality instruments, Dunty said.
According to his Web site, Paul Smith has been designing and building guitars for about three decades. Smith said he did not want to speak about the case before the trial. His attorney, Ronald W. Taylor, also declined to comment.
PRS guitars are known for beautiful woods, inlaid designs and a consistently fine tone, said Paul Riario, technical editor of Guitar World magazine.
"They are pretty much a Lamborghini of guitars," he said.
Though PRS has developed a growing following since Smith founded it 21 years ago, the guitars rocketed into prominence six years ago. Guitar legend Santana, who had been one of the earliest artists to switch to Smith's guitars, won eight Grammy awards in 2000.
The value of the guitars in the criminal case is not known, but Dunty said the boutique guitars kept for artists typically are unique and more expensive.
Chuck Levin's Washington Music Center in Wheaton, where PRS founder Smith once worked, prides itself on being the largest PRS dealer in the country, selling one or two PRS guitars a day, said Brian Meader, who focuses on PRS sales there.
"The overall attention to detail and built quality is pretty much second to none," Meader said.
Prices for the store's PRS guitars run from $2,500 to $4,000. Meader said he was shocked by the charges against Lanahan.
In charging documents and other court papers, Maryland State Police Sgt. Mark McGuire outlined an arrangement that accuses Lanahan of stealing the guitars and funneling them to Kelly. The documents said Kelly handed them off to a third person to sell. Some were sold through eBay.
Kelly's lawyer, Jeffrey S. Marcalus, said charges against his client are unfounded.
"He bought the guitars and then turned around and sold them," Marcalus said. He declined to say where Kelly obtained them.
"He was unaware that any of these guitars were stolen when he purchased them," Marcalus said.
Kelly is in a similar position to Michael Daniel Green - the third person mentioned in the documents - he said, noting that Green, a prosecution witness, is not charged.
Green told McGuire that he sold "around 20" guitars for Kelly in recent years, but stopped "when Kelly gave him 10 PRS guitars to sell" in the fall of 2004, the document alleges. "Green recognized that as too many guitars and felt them to be stolen," it continues, noting that it occurred about the time Lanahan left PRS.
McGuire's search of Kelly's home in Arnold last May turned up four PRS artist guitars in their cases, the charging documents allege. A search of Lanahan's home uncovered two more, police said.