Before Turner could really get the new project underway, however, a dispute with his Alembic partners caused him to leave the company in 1978. He took his plans for the Model 1 with him, and promptly got to work. “When I strung the first Model 1 up and plugged it in, it sounded exactly like the sound that was in my head when I was designing it,” he laughs. “It was absolute confirmation to me that I knew what I was doing.”
In the fall of 1979, Turner was ready to show the guitar to Buckingham. “They were in rehearsal in Hollywood for the Tusk tour,” he remembers. “My friend Ray Lindsey, who was Lindsey's guitar tech at the time, met me at this huge rehearsal space which was at one time a soundstage with a gigantic swimming pool for Esther Williams movies. I got there on the early side, and Ray put the guitar up on the stage and plugged it in. Eventually Lindsay came in, saw the guitar, picked it up… and he didn't put it down for three hours. At one point he yelled back to Ray, ‘Hey, Ray, leave the Les Paul, the Strat and the Ovation at home—this is all I need!’”
Buckingham used the Model 1 throughout the marathon Tusk world tour, and the guitar’s versatile sound and unusual look brought new attention to Turner’s work. But in 1981, Turner walked away from the guitar business.
“I ran outta money,” he laughs, “but the early 80s was a weird time in the music industry anyway. I moved into carpentry and cabinet-making for about seven years—and I have to say, it was ultimately good for my guitar making. I got into the whole thing of bidding jobs and drawing up the plans and the cut sheets, and all that kind of stuff. And it was very valuable experience, just the production aspect of it. Because you can’t stand around staring at your navel when you’re a cabinet maker; you’ve got to get it done.”
Still, Turner occasionally consulted in the guitar world, designing pickups for Bernie Rico and Gary Kahler, among others, and a visit to the January 1988 NAMM Show wound up leading to a five-year contract with Gibson as an independent designer, which in turn led to a stint as President of the Gibson Labs West Coast Research & Development Division.
“It was a very frustrating experience,” Turner recalls, “I had this great electronics engineer, Cliff Elian, and we came up with several things that were really promising—including a pickup that would essentially double the frequency of what the string was doing—but which all got shot down without any explanation. After a couple of years of the corporate life, I’d had it, and I went and took over the repair department at Westwood Music in LA.”
While Turner was working at Westwood Music, a customer recognized him and made a fateful request. “A Japanese guy came in and said, ‘Would you be willing to make any more Model 1s?’ I said, ‘Well, I've got parts and tooling in a storage locker in Petaluma. Let me see what I got.’ I pulled out the parts and, sure enough, I was able to put a couple of guitars together. And then he came back and wanted four more; I was like, ‘Ah, maybe I'm back in the guitar business!’ I wound up renting space in this old funky furniture factory in Topanga Canyon, and basically started building Model 1s again.”