A small shop on Main Avenue is producing some of the most highly regarded guitars in the world. Touring artists, including many Sisters Folk Festival alumni, have laid the vintage tone and meticulous craftsmanship of Preston Thompson Guitars in front of audiences around the world.
On December 5, folks in Sisters will get to see and hear these masterpieces of the luthier's art in action in an intimate concert at The Belfry, featuring award-winning bluegrass flatpicker Chris Luquette of Frank Solivan and Dirty Kitchen along with Nick Dumas of the band Special Consensus. The show starts at 6:30 p.m. There is a suggested donation of $15 to $20 at the door.
The concert will be very much like the intimate shop concerts Preston Thomspon Guitars occasionally hosts with its featured artists. The players will be down on the floor with the audience rather than up on the stage.
"We're just going to do a U-shape of chairs - no PA system," said Christine Funk of Preston Thomspon Guitars. "Just like we would do in the shop, but with a little more room."
The Sisters-based company employs nine people full-time and will make roughly 140 guitars in 2018, Funk told The Nugget.
"We recently added our 20th dealer in the U.S., and our reputation is being recognized in the boutique marketplace and in the bluegrass circles," she said.
All that has been accomplished in the face of a major, life-threatening health crisis for founder Preston Thompson, who has been hospitalized in Portland since June 29. Funk said that Thompson has faced serious complications from a major surgery.
"He's turned a corner and he's recovering - just slowly," she said.
A GoFundMe donation account has been set up to help his family cope with massive medical and living expenses. That account can be accessed at https://www.gofundme.com/preston-thompson-family.
Fortunately for the business, Thompson had long-since built a crew of skilled craftsmen who are fully capable of carrying on the legacy of Preston Thompson Guitars at their expected level of quality.
Thompson launched an intensive study of 1930s Martin guitars in the 1970s and '80s, learning to build guitars that captured the unique, complex sound of those golden-era guitars.
The vagaries of career took him away from guitar-building. He sold off his equipment and worked for Sunriver Resort from 1987 to 2001, part of that time as marketing director. Then he worked for Black Butte Ranch for four or five years.
"After that, I decided to get back into it," he told The Nugget in 2013.
The Internet played a key role in the revival of his guitar-building career. People were finding his 1970s and '80s guitars, and were on the Web searching for their maker.
"Those guitars were out there working for me," Thompson said.
For several years, Thompson made guitars out of his home shop in Bend. Dave Blakeslee, who collected instruments, and Sisters businessman Dan Stewart decided to go in with him to create a full-scale business, and Preston Thompson Guitars opened in Sisters in 2013.
Stewart is on hand every day helping to keep the business chugging along, Funk said.
"He was always a big believer in what Preston had and wanted more people to be able to experience those guitars," Funk said.
The crew Preston built over the past five years has carried on through Thompson's illness, using the secrets of sound that Thompson had rediscovered.
"He passed all that knowledge on to guys that were already skilled," Funk said. "He just trusted them."
The luthiers have now created the first in a Masterpiece Series of guitars, an exquisitely inlayed guitar built from "shipwreck" Brazilian rosewood - tonewood discovered from a 1920s shipwreck of the coast of Brazil. They took "Shipwreck" to Portland to show to the founder in the hospital.
"He was really proud of everyone," Funk said. "It was really a collaboration with his leadership."