In Memoriam: Rick Turner

Rick Turner

Photo Credit: Rick Turner Guitars

A legendary luthier has left us as Rick Turner, whose work with Alebmic revolutionized the bass world, has passed away. He was 78 years old. The news was shared by his children Ethan and June.

“With a heavy heart we must say that our father Rick Turner (Warwick Lancelot Armstrong Turner III) has left the building. Rick passed away peacefully last night (4/17/22) of complications from congestive heart failure and stroke,” they wrote on the Rick Turner Guitars Facebook page. “Please respect our privacy during this time of mourning.”

Turner grew up in Marblehead, Massachusetts and attended Boston University in 1962, but dropped out to play music and work on guitar repair. A gig with Ian & Sylvia introduced him to bassist Felix Pappalardi. The soon-to-be Cream producer’s playing introduced Turner to how expressive a bass guitar could be.

He moved to California in 1968 and decided to become a full time luthier focusing on electric instruments. His first bass was built for Youngblood leader Jesse Colin Young.

“I made it in ’69,” he told Jim Roberts in American Basses. “It was a set-neck, double-cutaway bass with a solid-mahogany body, like a Long Horn but with shorter horns, and a laminated mahogany and walnut neck.” Since pickups were not commercially available, Turner built his own.

He eventually teamed up with Ron Wickersham and Bob Matthews in the formation of Alembic. It was there that Turner crafted and designed what would become the first boutique electric basses for artists like Jack Casady, Stanley Clarke, Phil Lesh, and more.

“Turner worked on practically everything Alembic touched, including designing speaker cabinets to eliminate standing waves in the Dead’s Wall of Sound PA system— which had McIntosh power amps pushing 125,000 watts through 450 drivers,” his website states. “Once Turner, Wickersham, and the other folks at Alembic had tackled the acoustic and electronic considerations of large PA systems, they focused on the instruments— primarily Lesh’s basses and Garcia’s guitars. Soon things started to snowball: A carving job Turner did for an early Alembic bass made for Jack Casady helped put Alembic on the map as an instrument maker, as did their work for Stanley Clarke.” It was during this time he was involved with the creation of the first graphite neck.

Hear Turner talk about Alembic #001 at the 34:20 mark in this interview:

Disputes over the direction of the company led to Turner’s departure from the company in 1978. He launched Turner Guitars the same year, which lasted until 1981. In 1988, he was hired by Gibson’s research and development department. That proved to be too corporate for his taste, so he returned to focusing on his own instruments. Turner’s current bass lineup included the Model 1 Bass, the Electroline, and the Renaissance thinline semi-hollow body.

Our thoughts are with the family and friends of Rick Turner.

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  1. Daniel Bryant

    Owned 4 of his instruments. He was a good man and always had time to chat. He will be missed by many.