Australian sensation Orianthi is a guitar goddess 

To laymen, the name Paul Reed Smith might not signify much.

But to serious guitarists like Australian sensation Orianthi, it means the world. At 11, she begged her parents for her first PRS when she saw Carlos Santana playing one in concert; by 18, Santana had not only jammed with her onstage in her native Adelaide, he informed Smith of his adoring young fan.

The luthier put the kid to work, demonstrating his deluxe axes at music conventions around the world.

“Now I have my own Orianthi model PRS coming out next month!” the perfectionist says. “It’s bright red and sparkly, it has a custom 24 neck, and an ‘O’ on the 12th fret.”

Orianthi’s fiery PRS fretwork — on display in San Francisco when she opens for Adam Lambert this weekend — got her noticed by Geffen Records, which released her recent “Believe” debut, then its retooled followup “Believe (II),” featuring the new single “Shut Up & Kiss Me.”

It also landed her gigs with Allison Iraheta, Mary J. Blige, Carrie Underwood and even the late Michael Jackson, who hired her for his “This Is It” concerts.

On her album’s “Highly Strung,” she teamed up with her longtime hero Steve Vai. “He taught me to step outside of the box with my guitar playing and not be so predictable,” she says. “So I try to use my whammy bar a lot when I solo and really experiment.”

It’s all indirectly thanks to the unwavering support of Reed, who manufactures “the Rolls Royces of guitars,” in Orianthi’s estimation.

“But because they’re so expensive, I really wanted to work with Paul on something that was affordable. So everything on my Orianthi model feels and sounds incredible, but it comes in at around $700.”

Now at 25, the single-monikered Orianthi (surname: Panagaris) resides in the music-biz mecca of Hollywood, where she found several co-writers to help perfect her punky Suzi Quatro-ish pop.

But growing up Down Under, she says, “being a female guitar player certainly wasn’t the norm, so I’d get picked on and called a freak or a weirdo. But I kept at it, because I love it so much.”

Oddly, the one White Whale of a guitar Orianthi is after is not a PRS. “I’m looking for a vintage Telecaster, just to have,” she says. “And I’ll probably just hang it on the wall …”



Opening for Adam Lambert

Where: The Warfield, 982 Market St., San Francisco

When: 8 p.m. Friday and Sunday

Tickets: $35 to $43

Contact: (800) 745-3000,

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A daily newspaper covering San Francisco, San Mateo County and serving Alameda, Marin and Santa Clara counties.
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