With his rock solid chops, adventurous improvisations, and high energy jams, Grammy winner Billy Strings is one of the most influential bluegrass guitarists to come around in recent years. For much of his turbo-charged career, Billy has been playing Preston Thompson guitars, which led to a limited edition of signature models. Based on Thompson’s standard rosewood dreadnought, the Billy Strings signature model was available with either Indian or Brazilian rosewood back and sides and it features a few subtle custom options. I had a chance to check out number 16 of the 33 guitars in the edition in the Peghead Nation video studio.
The guitar that Thompson sent us to check out is the Brazilian rosewood version. The wood is beautifully and evenly colored and bookmatched, and its slight swirly figure gives it a distinctive appearance. Like most Thompson dreadnoughts, the guitar has an Adirondack spruce top, which not only features very straight and even grain, it’s also finished in the same slightly reddish sunburst that Billy Strings fans will instantly recognize from Billy’s personal guitar. The guitar has herringbone purfling and ivoroid binding, but while most rosewood dreadnoughts have a style-28 rosette, this one has the simpler three-ring version typically used on style 18s. I’ve been impressed with how Thompson modifies traditional inlay patterns in unique ways, and they’ve done the same on the Billy Strings signature model. The fingerboard position markers are essentially the familiar slotted diamonds-and-squares pattern, but instead of being made from mother-of-pearl or abalone, they feature green jade inlay within the mother-of-pearl shapes. Both of these materials are also used on the guitar’s beautiful regency torch peghead inlay. The instrument’s craftsmanship is top-notch all around.
As befits a guitar made for Billy Strings, the instrument has a very “fast” feel. Its relatively narrow neck and string-spacing dimensions allowed for quick pick travel, and Thompson’s “soft V” neck shape is slimmer than what you’d find on vintage dreadnoughts. The guitar had great power when strummed, and single-notes had excellent definition, clarity, and volume—exactly the qualities you wish for in a rosewood dreadnought! The guitar showed its great dynamic range when I capoed at the fourth fret and did some fingerpicking, ably demonstrating why Billy has been able to tour with just one guitar, despite the considerable range of his show’s repertoire.
Overall, the Thompson Billy Strings signature model is a wonderful dreadnought, and Billy’s individualized touches result in an instrument that not only sounds great, but also offer a unique appearance without straying too far from tradition. Major congratulations for a highly successful collaboration are in order, and even though the limited edition is already sold out, guitars with similar specs are of course available!
SPECS: 14-fret dreadnought body. Adirondack spruce top with prewar scalloped, advanced-X Adirondack bracing and sunburst finish. Brazilian rosewood back and sides. Mahogany neck. Ebony fingerboard and bridge. 25.4-inch scale. 1¹¹/₁₆-inch nut width. 2⅛-inch string spacing at the saddle. Nickel Waverly tuning machines. Made in the USA. Pktguitars.com