Back in the 1980s, Hot Rize guitarist Charles Sawtelle gave luthier Preston Thompson permission to access and measure his vast collection of rare prewar guitars, and thus began a collaboration that would bring Thompson great renown and respect in the acoustic guitar world. From his shop in Oregon, Thompson built an international following and gathered a team of artisans who continue to build fine acoustic instruments to his specs even after his passing in 2019. And with luminaries like Molly Tuttle and Billy Strings having their own signature models, Thompson guitars are now seen in the hands of a new generation of pickers.
I recently had the opportunity to audition a PKT D-EIS, based on a dreadnought Thompson built in 1983 while still in the depths of building instruments inspired by the Sawtelle collection. It’s almost ironic that a guitar can be a replica of a replica, but that’s how genius works—greatness stands on the shoulders of giants who stood on the shoulders of giants. The PKT D-EIS delivers in spades on those two all-important qualities—tone and playability—all while being pleasing to the eye with its distinct yet subtle design features.
When I first removed the PKT D-EIS from its deluxe hardshell case, the afternoon light illuminated the red abalone of the top trim, headstock logo, and rosette, and I was instantly taken by the guitar’s elegantly simple beauty. These detailed touches add a pleasing visual twist to a traditional dreadnought. Maple binding instead of the traditional ivoroid beautifully frames the adjacent red abalone. The maple motif continues up the neck and headstock and creates a distinct contrast to the dark ebony of the fretboard and headstock veneer—a scheme that reminds me of the restrained elegance of the early 19th-century Biedermeier furniture.
This visual counterpoint continues to the top of the guitar between the Sitka spruce top and the ebony bridge and abalone-studded bridge pins. Turning the guitar over, red abalone is again highlighted in the back strip, framed by two gorgeous pieces of Indian rosewood. Topped off with gold Waverly tuners and their butterbean buttons, the guitar is an absolute looker without being overly flashy.
With a 25.4-inch scale length, 1-3/4-inch nut, and 2-5/16-inch string spacing, the PKT D-EIS feels very familiar and easy to play. The soft V-shape of the Honduran mahogany neck provided ample support for my left hand to comfortably support the fretting fingers. I have often found dreadnought guitars to be stiff and fatiguing to play, but not so with this instrument. In fact, I found it difficult, to say the least, to put down.
Paradise of Tone
From the first moment I played the PKT D-EIS, the guitar revealed itself as an absolute paradise of tone. The notes are well-rounded with a full sustain while simultaneously remaining very focused on the front-end attack. When I played the chromatic scale up the neck, I found the sound to be very consistent and balanced throughout. The volume of the D note on string 2, fret 3 and its other locations, on string 3, fret 7 and string 4, fret 12 were similarly strong both in terms of tone and volume.
From my decades of playing Django Reinhardt–inspired Hot Club music, I tend to use rest strokes (see my Weekly Workout in the March-April 2023 issue), and when I dug in on single notes, the PKT D-EIS responded well and projected each note cleanly and clearly. Using a lighter touch for some more traditional flatpicking provided just as much projection and clarity.
When I fingerpicked my way through the Elizabeth Cotten classic “Freight Train,” the open chords provided reverberant sustain; the guitar produces a pleasing darkness in the midrange, atop which the melody can easily sing. The guitar likewise came alive when I switched to playing chords on Jerry Garcia and David Grisman’s “Dawg’s Waltz.” The bass notes were full and sustained, while the chords cut through in a sustained and balanced way. Adding the melody to the accompaniment, each note cut through.
The PKT D-EIS being a traditional dreadnought, I can’t help but think of Tony Rice’s magical tone on his fabled D-28, and so I launched into his take on “Minor Swing” with the Grisman quartet, playing a more active chord accompaniment. The notes of the chords blended well, and when I switched to swing accompaniment, the low mids were robust and earthy. I added some lead on top and the single notes cut through like a cannon. Next playing through a simple chord-melody arrangement of the Santo & Johnny instrumental “Sleepwalk,” each melody note sang from the top of the voicing. I had to stop and ask myself, “Is there anything this guitar can’t do?”
The Bottom Line
With its powerful voice, easy playability, and distinctive, handsome appearance, the Preston Thompson PKT D-EIS is not just a flatpicker’s dream, it’s also ideal for a studio musician who needs a well-rounded flattop for various styles and contexts. At just under ten grand as reviewed, it will unfortunately be out of reach for many pickers. But for those with the means, the cost of this guitar should not be a deterrent but instead a testament to its greatness. Splurging on a truly great acoustic instrument like this is a wise investment, as you can appreciate it while it appreciates in value as well as tone.
PKT D-EIS SPECS
BODY 14-fret dreadnought; Sitka spruce spruce top; advanced Adirondack spruce X-bracing; East Indian rosewood back and sides; ebony belly bridge with bone saddle; faux tortoise pickguard; maple binding and heel cap; 41-style red abalone top purfling; custom red abalone back strip; gloss nitrocellulose lacquer finish
NECK Honduran mahogany with dovetail joint; 25.4″ scale length; 1-3/4″ bone nut; ebony fretboard; red abalone diamonds-and-squares position markers; gold Waverly tuners; gloss nitrocellulose lacquer finish
OTHER Elixir Nanoweb 80/20 Bronze Medium strings (.013–.056); deluxe hardshell case
MADE IN USA
PRICE $9,950 street