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In Memoriam: Rick Turner

In Memoriam: Rick Turner

July 30, 1943 – April 17, 2022

by GAL Staff, David Bolla, and Steve Klein

Originally published in American Lutherie #147, 2022

 

Rick Turner epitomized the imagination, courage, and determination of a lot of people in the Lutherie Boom generation, people who dove into guitar making before there was detailed resource material, before there were sources of parts and specialized tools, before there was a supportive community of generous and knowledgeable makers. He joined the GAL early on and spoke at our 1980 Convention in San Francisco, then again, twenty-four years later, at our 2004 Convention in Tacoma. He wrote a long-running column for American Lutherie called “Electronic Answer Man” in the 1990s. See this issue’s Web Extras for photos and links.

— GAL Staff

Photo by Jonathon Peterson.

My first Guild of American Luthiers Convention was in Tacoma, Washington, in 2004. I stood outside the auction preview room, speaking with a small group of young luthiers around my age. I hadn’t been to Roberto-Venn yet. In fact, I got the call I had been accepted to the guitar-building school while at the convention. I was just there to learn as much as possible as I considered a future career path.

As we stood there, a man wearing a Mickey Mouse T-shirt under a sport coat approached. He kindly took time to speak with us for a while about guitars, sharing his opinions on some of the topics we were discussing. He was much older than anyone else in the group, but it wasn’t noticeable by his demeanor. Only his graying hair and weathered face informed us of his age. He hung out for nearly twenty minutes, laughing and smiling with the rest of us.

The following day, I attended the final lecture of the week. It was highly anticipated, as Rick Turner, one of the great legends of the trade, would be speaking about his vision of the future of the industry and innovations on the horizon. I was in awe as the man who had casually joined our conversation the day before took the stage, commanding the audience as a giant of the craft, larger than life.

I only met him that one time, but it was a formative encounter. It was humbling to have someone who had such influence on an industry stop to speak with kids who were just entering it. I’m saddened to hear of his passing, but I am happy I had the chance to speak with a man, if only for twenty minutes, who had such an immense impact on music and instruments.

— David Bolla

I first met Rick Turner fifty years ago at a Prune Music guitar show in Mill Valley. From then on, his door was always open.

I will miss his open information sharing. For instance, I first heard about cyanoacrylate glues from him, long before Krazy Glue was even a product.

I’ll miss the synchronistic hook-ups that just seemed to happen around him. In the late ’80s he introduced me to Gibson’s new CEO, and that led me to reconnecting with Ned Steinberger and the creation of the headless project which continues today. In Rick’s shops over the years, I’ve met musicians and craftsmen; many I now call friends.

I will also miss his forever-forward thinking. Just how do we accomplish the task at hand? He made the sub-bass string pickup for the first electric harp guitar that I built for Michael Hedges.

Rick was a pragmatic, unapologetic self-promoter, but he held the door open for so many of us to pass through, with a smile and with encouragement.

The passing of my old friend helped me remember just what his friendship, his ideas, and the sharing of his research has given me. He was the glue.

— Steve Klein

Young Rick Turner, 1966. Photo courtesy of Rick Turner.
Lecturing at the 1980 GAL Convention in San Francisco. Photo by Dale Korsmo.
At the Healdsburg Guitar Festival, 2000. Photo by Jonathon Peterson.
Lecturing at the 2004 GAL Convention in Tacoma. Photo by Jonathon Peterson.
Rick Turner (left) at GAL HQ after the 2004 GAL Convention in Tacoma. Also in this photo: Tini Burghardt, Richard Glick, Todd Rose, Geza Burghardt, Cyndy Burton. Photo by Hap Newsom.

Rick Turner was an active GAL author.
Follow this link to see a complete listing of his articles.
https://www.search.luth.org/tag/turner%c2%b8-rick/

An interview from 2007 on the NAMM website.
https://www.namm.org/library/oral-history/rick-turner

Story on Rick Turner Guitars website.
https://www.rickturnerguitars.com/stories-father-boutique-guitars

Beau Hannam Remembers Rick Turner

Published online by Guild of American Luthiers, 2022

 

I only met Rick Turner once, in Oct 2021, and I found him delightful. He greeted me with a hug. That surprised me; it’s not common for a guy his age on meeting someone for the first time. I admire flora drawings, and a few months prior I had commented on his post where he proudly showed his ex-wife’s book of trees with amazing illustrations by her (Eye Spy a Tree: Welcome to the Arboretum by Amber R. Turner). I guess he remembered that comment, as while we were talking in his office about guitar history and what we love in lutherie, he reached down and gave me a copy of the book.

Unaware of his history with Alembic, the Grateful Dead or his Model 1 guitar, I first came to know Rick through his posts on various forums and Facebook and his often-forceful advice, particularly on the advocacy of the use of hot hide glue and epoxy. Indeed, his “glue list” remains an unequaled educational resource on which glues to use and where to use them.

It is strange when a giant dies as it forces us to realize the importance of knowledge gained over a decades long career and that some of it is now lost. Looking back, I realize some of my fundamental building principles have been influenced by his teaching: His back-slanted saddle (about 7 degrees), carbon fiber in various areas, and his use of epoxy in building, especially for large surface glue-ups like fingerboards are all based on rock-solid common sense.

He was forceful at times for the same reason any person who has been a luthier for decades is when they give advice to someone starting out in the industry who hasn’t yet the capacity for listening or learning. It is truly frustrating and something teachers have dealt with since the first sea creature crawled onto the land, looked back, and suggested to the second sea creature that they follow. But sometimes people, be they our children, friends, or strangers we try to give advice to, can only grow through pushing through a problem then seeing, acknowledging, and understanding the warned-about folly for themselves. Seeing, acknowledging, and understanding are the steps the mind needs to take and some people need to live them all fully. It is probably best to work through each step on your own, but being giving an Easter egg of advice which allows you to jump to the understanding part is a gift often not accepted, and rarely seen as the gold that it is. We are surrounded by fools gold on the internet. But Rick’s advice was always 24k.

Since the advent of social media, I have seen a pattern. Lutherie and Life’s nuggets of wisdom are most often found not in systematically structured philosophical essays; they are found in what seems at first glance insignificant posts, in tiny ad hoc responses to a some other question, and in the beauty of a short, well reasoned and decisive answer to a seemingly unrelated topic. Search for the small things, in the big things. And vice-versa.
Sayonara Rick. Don’t get epoxy on those heavenly clouds.

Photo courtesy of Beau Hannam