Pete Turner Marrakech Madagascar Review
Blending the old-fashioned and the modern with considerable style, Pete Turner’s instruments offer a very different sonic flavour to a vintage ampliphonic guitar. Review by Huw Price
Description: All solid wood resonator guitar with pickup. Made in the UK
Price: £2300 inc. Hiscox hard case
Contact: Pete Turner Guitars – 07976 305675 – www.peteturnerguitars.com
As a left-handed player, mounting frustration led Pete Turner to start building his own guitars. Before long he applied his mechanical engineering background to resonators, and since then Turner’s impeccably modernistic recreations of these archaically-amplified guitars have found their way to players like Mark Knopfler and Luke Potashnick and Paul Sayer from The Temperance Movement.
This guitar’s neck is formed from three strips of quartersawn Honduras mahogany capped with a stunning slab fingerboard of the deepest brown ebony. A single abalone snowflake gleams like a jewel at the 12th fret, and the flawlessly-dressed frets shine like polished silver. The sapele binding is nicely figured, contrasting with the vivid grain patterns of the all-solid chocolate brown Madagascar rosewood body.
The open-backed Gotoh tuners with their tortoiseshell buttons look and feel wonderful, but the star of the show has to be the perfect V-profile neck. It seems so right for this guitar and, like the body, it has a wax finish that looks new but feels old. The all-important cone and spider are sourced from the respected US maker Beard, but Turner makes his cone covers, surrounds, bridge covers, string anchors and even the single coil pickups himself.
Some types of guitar are so synonymous with specific genres that it’s all too easy to approach them with preconceived ideas.
The Turner is a case in point. When we tuned to open D, slipped on the slide and attempted to play some blues it didn’t exactly disappoint, as given the wooden body and spider bridge we weren’t expecting steel guitar levels of bluesy brashness, but we had expected a bit more bark. After thinking about it for a while the penny dropped, and when we took a step back we realised that the Turner is really a far more subtle and pretty-sounding guitar.
Our review example was set up for easy playing with nickel-wound strings. In combination with a scale length of 24.75″, it seemed as if the resonator wasn’t being driven hard enough. To test the theory, we went back to regular tuning then further up to open E, and the Turner’s true voice emerged. The wooden body contributes to the sound by sweetening the metallic presence of the cone with complex midrange harmonics and a warm thump to underpin the snap of the bass notes. With the nickel jazz strings the Turner sounds on the mellow side of bright, and the wiry woodiness is so evocative that it almost transports you back through the decades and across the water.
The bridge cover is a big plus-point. We have played resonator guitars with covers that sit very high; Turner’s sits about 1/16″ above the wound strings, so it’s easy to palm-mute without having your picking hand forced up too close towards the neck. If you prefer, it can even be removed completely.
Resonator cones gradually warm up, and they’re highly directional. Play something with the Turner facing forward then play it again with the body tilted upwards, and it almost sounds like a different guitar. Our advice is find a nice corner to play into.
Before changing to acoustic strings, we gave the pickup a workout. The pickup does a fine job of capturing the Turner’s tone. It’s quite sensitive, with plenty of treble; controls are nonexistent, so you’ll have to rely on your amp for tonal colour. Through a clean amp the tone is fairly hi-fi, but with a sound that’s much preferable to a piezo system. With a dose of reverb and tremolo it has Cooder-like qualities, but we liked it best through a cranked-up low-power valve amp with the treble rolled back for a huge, honking early urban blues sound.
Roundcore Newtone Michael Messer signature strings gave the Turner extra kick. With the cone driven harder, the wound strings began delivering more of a Jerry Douglas tone and the fatter unwound strings no longer felt underpowered. The tone was louder, brighter and bassier, but the feel was now more in keeping with a traditional resonator. Clean slide playing was now a possibility, but the easy-going noodling nature was less evident.
We couldn’t say that we preferred the acoustic strings to the electric set. The Marrakech sounded almost as good through the amp and while the acoustic strings emphasised the woodiness, the electric strings emphasised the metallic qualities. Swapping over merely proved that the Turner is a very versatile and wide-ranging instrument that can adapt to various approaches and styles.
A metal-bodied resonator of similar quality may have a more eerie tone with a natural reverb that allows ghostly harmonics to linger on, but the Marrakech doesn’t back you into a bluesy corner. It’s like a regular acoustic that just happens to have a resonator cone, and your usual repertoire will sound fresh and new – and that’s always inspiring.
The best guitars don’t always grab you from the get-go, but by the time the Marrakech had to go back we had most certainly bonded. Aesthetically the elaborate cone cover seems a bit at odds with the art deco restraint of the slotted soundholes and the plain peghead, but other options are in the pipeline, and the sound, workmanship and design get our unequivocal thumbs-up.
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