Instruments & Gear: Fine Lutherie

2002 Rick Turner Jumbo Acoustic

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Built by one of the pioneers of contemporary lutherie, this rare flattop combines unusual vintage elements with high-tech construction.

by Teja Gerken
July 07, 2015

Rick Turner is one of the pioneers of contemporary American guitar making. He began his career in music as a player (touring as guitarist for folk duo Ian and Sylvia and exploring psychedelic rock with Autosalvage), and had started to repair and build instruments in Boston and New York before moving to California in 1968. Falling in with the Grateful Dead, he began modifying instruments, worked on the Dead’s “wall of sound,” and eventually became one of the founders of Alembic, whose electric guitars and basses were among the first to look beyond traditional Fender and Gibson designs.

By 1978, Turner had left Alembic to build instruments under his own name. His Model 1 electric guitar found a big fan in Fleetwood Mac’s Lindsey Buckingham, who is still closely associated with the instrument. In the early 1990s, Turner created his line of Renaissance instruments: thin-body guitars and basses designed to offer acoustic tone with electric-style playability at high stage volumes.

Turner may be best known as a premier innovator of electric instruments, but he is no less creative when applying his skills to acoustic instruments. While Turner’s electrics and acoustic-electrics have, for the most part, been built in a small-production environment, his flattop acoustics are far more exclusive, with less than a couple of dozen built in total.

Built in 2002, the guitar in this video is similar to a Turner acoustic built for guitarist Henry Kaiser, who used it to record an album in Antarctica. Built with a jumbo body, the guitar has Honduran rosewood back and sides and an Engelmann spruce top. The distinctive elegant bridge design is the same as those used on Turner’s Renaissance instruments, and the guitar’s pointy slotted headstock is also used on other Turner guitars. The instrument’s most distinctive feature is its neck joint, which is inspired by Howe-Orme guitars of the late 19th century. Connected to the body at three small points, the joint allows the entire neck to “float” on the body and be adjusted on every axis. Internally, the guitar has carbon-fiber-topped braces and carbon-fiber neck reinforcements.

In this video, Peghead Nation co-founder and producer Teja Gerken discusses and demonstrates the guitar, which has a powerful fingerstyle voice, great balance, and wonderful tonal complexity.

Thanks to Mighty Fine Guitars in Lafayette, California, for providing the instrument.

Category: Instruments & Gear

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