Rick Turner, the influential luthier who helped shape the sound of ‘60s and ‘70s rock, has passed away at the age of 78.
The news was confirmed by Jason Kostal, owner of Kostal Guitars, in a statement posted to Instagram. In his message, Kostal confirmed Turner had died on April 17 due to “congestive heart failure and stroke”.
He wrote, “The guitar community lost a truly remarkable man yesterday. Rick Turner (Warwick Lancelot Armstrong Turner III) passed away peacefully last night of complications from congestive heart failure and stroke.
“Rick has been an icon within the lutherie community since the 1960s and has been an incredible friend, mentor and sounding board to so many over the years,” Kostal continued. “I truly believe he has forgotten more about guitar making than I will ever know, and he was always so willing to share his insight and advice.
“He loved to make people laugh and was great at helping people realize their mistakes were not as catastrophic as we usually believe. He and I spent a few summers together cutting wood, and a few weeks together teaching mandolin and ukulele building classes years ago, and I still reflect on those days often.
“Most of all he was always there for a late night phone call when I needed help. He will be deeply missed and his legacy will continue on for generations to come.“
Kostal went on to highlight some of Turner’s key contributions to the world of music, citing his work on Grateful Dead’s Wall of Sound in the ‘70s and creation of Lindsey Buckingham’s Turner Model 1 electric guitar, as well as his co-founding of Alembic instruments, as his most notable works.
As per Premier Guitar (opens in new tab), Turner had early experience of music-making, having moved to New York in 1966 to play in a number of different groups, including psychedelic outfit Autosalvage by the end of the decade.
It was his luthiery activities, though, that cemented his legacy in the music world. Throughout his playing years, Turner established and continued to operate a side hustle of doing guitar repairs, having apprenticed for a group of luthiers during his Boston days back in 1963.
In the late ‘60s, Turner began working with Grateful Dead, inlaying one of Phil Lesh’s bass guitars and creating a crop of custom pickup for the band. With fellow luthier Ron Wickersham, Turner founded Alembic Instruments, and went on to help create the band’s Wall of Sound PA system in the early '70s.
The monstrous sound system – the largest sound system at the time – towered three stories high, and was noted for its engineering breakthroughs that promised to project an acceptable quality of sound for up to 400 meters.
Turner would later be introduced to Fleetwood Mac’s Lindsey Buckingham through the Alembic-playing John McVie, and would often serve as Buckingham’s guitar tech during the band’s Rumours sessions.
In 1978, Turner began work on the Model 1 – an instrument that has become synonymous with Buckingham and his trademark fingerpicking style of playing. After appraising the initial plans, Buckingham registered his interest to buy the first one off the line, and a year later had one in his possession.
The innovative guitar – seen slung over Buckingham’s shoulder on tours all round the world – was noted for its forward-thinking design, which incorporated a single rotating humbucking pickup that provided a range of tonal offerings.
Later in his career, Turner had a four-year stint as the president of Gibson’s West Coach Research and Development branch starting in 1988, then turned his attention to the acoustic guitar realm to develop piezo pickups.
He co-founded Highlander Musical Audio to pursue his piezo passion, and would continue to operate his other guitar brands – Renaissance Guitars, Compass Rose Guitars and Rick Turner Guitars – at the same time.