|Photo by Max Mobley|
Guitars begin as chunks of wood waiting to be transformed into vehicles of artistic expression by caring and talented hands. Each one is uniquely crafted, some even hand-made, comprised of many components that are fused to form one instrument. Every instrument collects the mood and spirit of not only the hands and life of the maker, but the experiences of the musician who will one day hold it in their arms like a cherished lover and make her sing with her own stringed-voice.
Rick Turner, a mischievous, sparkly-blue-eyed guitar maker, music maker, well-known electronics genius and inventor is just one of those well-crafted humans. He has taken all aspects of his life, every piece of the puzzle of his existence, and he has created a world filled with so many of his life’s own songs.
Music has been a part of Rick Turner’s life since he was a wee lad growing up in various New England states where he was part of a household that cherished music. “I don’t remember music NOT being a part of my life. In the late 1940s and early 50’s, my parents had a nice collection of 78’s and they listened to the radio, usually classical stations. Then when 45’s and 33 1/3 records came out, my dad started buying a lot of guitar records; jazz, classical, and flamenco.”
In 1962, while at Boston University, Rick met musicians Lowell Levinger, aka Banana, (who later became part of The Youngbloods) and Michael Kane. The men formed a folk trio called Banana & The Bunch and they began performing music in the Cambridge folk scene. With his guitar chops now honed to a fine-tuned level, Rick began to gig regularly in 1965 with the folk duo Ian and Sylvia, who, as a band also utilized the talents of future "Cream" producer & "Mountain" bassist Felix Pappalardi. Rick toured the Unites States and recorded on two of their albums, “Live at Newport” & “Play One More.”
|Autosalvage's only release, 1968|
Rick is top right
“Playing with Ian and Sylvia defined my acoustic guitar player phase,” reminisces Rick, “Autosalvage was my introduction into electric music and getting more hands-on both as an electric luthier and also understanding recording studios.”
Opus 2: The Song of The Luthier and Electronics Genius:
Since his early childhood experiments in electronic engineering, Rick has built an impressive resume. He has worked for Gibson Labs doing product research and development, he has done tech support and done sound mixing for the popular 60’s band The Youngbloods, which led to another gig as a sound engineer for The Grateful Dead, where he eventually became one of the creators of their famed and infamous “Wall Of Sound.”
magnetic pickups, which would, later in his life, help him create the company D-Tar (Duncan-Tuner Acoustic Research).
“1967 when I was playing electric guitar in New York in Autosalvage, I started to put a pedal board together with effects. I eventually cobbled together a guitar with “stereo” wiring; two pickups on one channel and the third on the other plus I built in some of the smaller effects, a Vox treble booster (trouble booster!) and an early fuzz tone. So when I moved to the West Coast and decided to start building electric instruments, it was only natural that I’d make the pickups for them.”
“One of the interesting things about when I became a part of the Grateful Dead scene was that I was considered a musician who just happened to take a turn into the more technical side of the operation; they related to me as a fellow musician. I think that led to a comfort level that extended and continues to extend to most of the musicians I work with and for.”
“We did know it was going to redefine the possibilities of quality live sound; we had no doubts. It was all built on very solid engineering principals,” remembers Rick, “We knew the limitations of the technology of that particular era, and we made choices to work around them. Frankly, nothing surprised us about it; it worked as designed. The only thing that didn’t work quite as we wanted was eliminating the monitor system. The guys in the band were spread too far apart not to depend on monitors, so adding them back in was the one concession.”
“I’m a woodworker, I’m deeply involved in the production of a wide range of instruments,” says Rick of his current career. His use of wood varies from instrument to instrument and he often mixes types of wood to create unique sounds. “The media (of wood) is interesting because I first look at it and study the engineering qualities (which to me include acoustic properties) and then the aesthetic issues. I’m not a “soul of the tree” type though I do try for the best use of each piece of wood. And yes, each instrument has it’s own voice. I control the overall aspects of it, but there are subtleties that change with each instrument”
“For me there’s a process by which I store ideas in my head; they can come from anywhere, be it from reading about carbon fiber bicycles in 1976 which led directly to carbon fiber bass necks and my first patent; or seeing the cathedrals of St. Denis and Notre Dame in Paris and understanding the utility of the flying buttresses supporting the roofs which led to applying that concept inside acoustic guitars. When enough ideas stack up they rearrange themselves in my head and then I have all the elements I need for a new design.”
And of his future, Rick has only these small dreams.
Opus 3: Finale
On one hand, Rick’s life has seen many fun adventures and he has made his success look easy. On the other, he has paid his dues and has worked hard to become who he is. Perhaps his greatest asset is his sheer enthusiasm for expressing creativity through the fairly technical trade he has made a career out of.
Kudos as always to the fabo-awesome Dan Rauck, who whips my words into shape as only a good editor can. ox