In June 2016, kind of on a lark, I attended Fretboard Journal’s Fretboard Summit. Partly because I was curious, but mostly because it was about 20 minutes from my house in Encinitas, California and — to my knowledge — there’s never been an acoustic instrument “trade show” in San Diego.
I spent a Saturday there enjoying myself. Bob Taylor and I were in a breakout session together that was about the German-built Plek machine, and I got to tell him in person how much I enjoyed my R. Taylor guitars. I also got to rub elbows with a lot of great players and builders, listen and learn a lot, and generally have fun.
Near the end of the afternoon I was wondering if it was time to head home and saw a session entitled “Sweating the Details” hosted by a guy named Preston Thompson. I thought to myself, “I’m a detail-oriented guy, so this should be interesting.” But I really had no idea what it was about or who Preston was.
Once inside, I heard Preston talk about the small, yet important details in trying to recreate the pre-war Martin sound, and what it took to get that right. I thought it fascinating, even though it was a bit intangible. Then, at the end of the talk, he said, “we have two of our guitars up here, and you’re welcome to come up and play them.” To this point, I didn’t even know Preston made guitars. So, some of what he’d been talking about now started to make more sense.
The guy sitting in front of me went up and played the Thompson D-MA, and it was as if the entire room went silent. I thought to myself, “THIS is the best sounding guitar I’ve ever heard in my life!” I went up and fiddled around with the it for a bit, but it was too noisy in the room so I asked if I could walk down the hall with it and play in a quieter environment. I found out that specific guitar was owned by Gareth Jenkins. I said I’d leave my driver’s license with him if I could play the guitar for thirty minutes. He was kind enough to oblige.
I went down the hall and ran through five or six of my compositions, all in different tuning. It sounded so good. This was the sound I’d been looking for. At one point, guitarist Bob Minner walked past me on his way to the restroom and said, “Sounds great man!”
I went back to Gareth and asked if I could buy the guitar from him. He politely said no but encouraged me to look online. I ended up buying one from Sylvan Music. As it turned out, the guitar needed a neck re-set. I sent it back to Thompson Guitars and they took care of it. When I got it back, I ran into another problem (or, so I thought) and they agreed to have me to send it back again! This time, Preston wanted to talk with me on the phone with one of his repair people on the line. We spoke for about 15 minutes and he patiently explained how his guitars were built, and how they were different from what I was used to playing (Taylors). During that conversation I learned a lot about Preston’s personality: he was honest, dedicated, and patient.
When the guitar returned, I had a much better understanding of how to fine tune it to achieve my goals, and today it is my number one guitar. In some ways, it’s a modern replica of a pre-war Martin D-18. But it’s so much more. It’s a guitar that’s really has changed my musical universe with its nuance. I will always be grateful to Preston (and his talented team) for sweating the details.
Preston Thompson passed away on April 11, 2019 after a lengthy illness. Our hearts go out to his family, employees and everyone he touched through the world of guitars.