Review: Rick Turner Guitars Electroline Bass

As one of the original visionaries at Alembic, Rick Turner has been at the forefront of musical-instrument technology for over 40 years, with a strong focus on the electric bass.
By ED Friedland ,

AS ONE OF THE ORIGINAL VISIONARIES AT Alembic, Rick Turner has been at the forefront of musical-instrument technology for over 40 years, with a strong focus on the electric bass. Turner’s many contributions in electronics and woodcraft have set new standards for tone, performance, and artistry. While he has lent his expertise to several companies over the years, he has long maintained his own brand: Rick Turner Guitars, which produces a small number of unique instruments each year. In March ’15, I reviewed the imported Michael Kelly version of Turner’s semi-hollow Renaissance Bass, which is powered by his own piezo pickup design. The Electroline bass came about as a way to use that technology in a familiar solidbody form, with the option to blend in magnetic pickups. Due to complex elements of the pickup design, the Electrolines were a challenge to produce, but recent advances in 3D printing allowed Turner to get the small, critical parts made in hard ABS plastic at a reasonable cost. As of 2015, the Electroline bass is back in production, offering bass players what could be the most successful blending of piezo and magnetic pickups available.

SOMETHING OLD, SOMETHING NEW

The Electroline follows the pattern of a classic bolt-on instrument, with time-tested materials like swamp ash, alder, mahogany, or basswood as body-wood choices. The maple neck is reassuringly rigid, with a rounded, J-style profile that elicited an immediate “hell yeah!” from my inner child. The neck heel creates an offset pattern for the four countersunk neck bolts, but access to the highest notes is flawless thanks to a well-designed neck pocket.

While the physical plant is impressive, the electronics package is what distinguishes the Electroline from ordinary basses. Turner designed his piezo to capture both vertical string vibrations (the typical “pressure mode” picked up by a piezo) and lateral motions (“shear mode”), recognizing that most plucking and picking techniques create lateral motion. Turner explains: “If you get the geometry and preamp interface right, you can get incredibly flat frequency response, as well as amazing phase response—there’s no time smear, giving you really fast low end.” True to his claim, the piezo response is quick and accurate, with a fully represented fundamental that hits like a Louisville Slugger—you could rock some metal with this piezo.

The Electroline can be configured piezo-only, but the solidbody construction invites the use of magnetic pickups. The neck pickup is smack in the middle of P position, while the bridge pickup sits about w” south of ’70s J position, making it super-crisp when blended. The magnetic pickups’ personality lies somewhere between traditional and hifi—Fender-like, with a slightly smoother response. There is no doubt this instrument could stand on its own as a superbly built, modern “J-brid” without the piezo.

Even the best pickup systems can sound like dreck with a poorly designed blend preamp, but the Electroline boasts a DTAR (Duncan Turner Acoustic Research) Eclipse blending preamp with a 10MΩ input for the piezo, and 1MΩ input for the magnetic channel. The 1MΩ input is similar to running a typical magnetic pickup into an amp, without first going through volume and tone controls on the bass. The higher resistance of the 10MΩ input helps the piezo retain low frequencies and achieve a more linear response. The control layout provides a blend pot between the neck and bridge magnetic pickups, a blend for the magnetic and piezo pickups, a concentric tone control for each, and a master volume. Turner adds, “The tone controls are passive treble-bleed [lowpass] filters, but they’re in the active circuit, avoiding an odd interaction with a long cable, or the pickups themselves.”

3 IN 1

The Electroline is effectively three basses in one. Approached as a typical magnetically powered electric bass, it’s a damn fine one. The integrity of each note is consistent throughout the carbon-reinforced neck, yet it retains the dynamic response of a fine piece of maple. As a strictly piezo-driven instrument, the Electroline blends perfectly with acoustic instruments—the tone is pure and natural, with neutral midrange and sweetly rolledoff highs. The dreaded “piezo quack” is nowhere to be found, but the accuracy and immediacy the piezo provides will benefit greatly from skillful handling. If your chops are slop, you’ll know it, and so will everyone else.

It is the blend between the piezo and magnetic pickups that puts the Electroline in a category all its own. With the active blend of the Eclipse preamp, it takes very little rotation in either direction to hear the pickup systems’ influence in the blend. While the two tone controls work well for adjusting high-frequency rolloff, the piezo/mag blend pot also functions as a tone shaper. The piezo system offers much more low- and high-frequency response than the mag pickups, but the humbuckers deliver strong upper bass and midrange focus. I rolled off the highs on the piezo, and set the mag tone wide open, then dialed in a small amount of piezo as a source of bottom, and the Electroline delivered a punchy electric tone that seemed to emanate from the Earth’s core. While slap/pop technique often sounds harsh through piezos, the previous tone strategy also lets the mags provide the high end, with a hammer-like impact from the piezo. Running the piezo tone wide open may provide more detail than you want with a set of roundwound strings, but the tone control has a smooth taper that gives you a lot to work with between the extremes. With the piezo in the lead with a slight treble rolloff, I brought in some darkened magnetic tone to fill in the middle, and wound up with a distinctly acoustic sound that had serious backbone.

sound that had serious backbone. The relative rarity of the Electroline has made it a somewhat mythical creature for many years, but considering how successfully it blends two well-designed pickup options, I suspect we’ll be seeing a lot more of them.

SPECIFICATIONS

Rick Turner

Electroline Bass Street $3,800 Pros High-quality build, truly useful piezo pickup, boutique magnetic pickups, great blend Cons None Bottom Line A great acoustic–electric hybrid with championship bloodlines.

SPECS

Construction Bolt-on Body Swamp ash (as reviewed) Neck Maple, dual carbon-fiber stabilizer rods Fingerboard Rosewood Frets 21 Nut Bone Scale length 34" Neck width at nut 1.5" Pickups Two Turner ceramic magnetic, Turner piezo Hardware Piezo-modified Hipshot A-style bridge, Gotoh-style tuners Weight 10.5 lbs

Made in USA
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