Performer

Billy McLaughlin

Billy McLaughlin

“You may swear Billy McLaughlin is two of the greatest acoustic guitarists you’ve ever heard.”
– Pittsburgh Post Gazette

Billy McLaughlin is one of the great musical comeback stories of all time. For years, he pursued a singular vision: to make the acoustic guitar sound as big as a grand piano but play as fluidly as a violin.

Today, Billy pursues that vision still, but with his guitar neck facing left instead of right. A multiyear battle with a devastating medical disorder called focal dystonia forced the right-handed guitarist to relearn his instrument as a left-hander.

A student of the minimalist compositions of Phil ip Glass and Steve Reich, McLaughlin in the 1980s became a pioneer of a playing style that produced a harp-like sound by tapping notes directly on the fingerboard of the guitar, instead of plucking or strumming the strings. By the late 1990s, when his recordings were topping the Billboard New Age charts, Billy began to have difficulty using his hands. It was the onset of focal dystonia.

Early in the 2000s, Billy began the unlikely journey of teaching himself to play in his signature style, but left-handed. In 2001, as he began the journey of relearning the instrument, he found this saying in a fortune cookie: “Many people fail because they quit too soon.” He taped it to the dashboard of his car.

Billy took the words to heart. Despite warnings from his doctors that he could develop focal dystonia in his remaining good hand, he chose to press on toward the ambitious goal of performing and recording a new project with a string orchestra. In January 2007, he achieved that goal with Into the Light, a concert recording of compositions for acoustic guitar and orchestra — his first release as a left-handed guitarist.