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Talking Guitar: Turnstone Guitars

We recently caught up with Rosie Heydenrych aka Turnstone guitars to find out a bit more about her and the incredible instruments she makes. Rosie is one of the newest luthiers to be added to our acoustic roster and we are delighted to be working with such a talented craftswoman. 

Ben Montague: Hi Rosie, Welcome to The North American Guitar! Please tell our readers a little bit about yourself and your journey as a luthier.

BM: What is the Turnstone Guitars sound?

I think first and foremost what I seek more than anything is tonal and string balance. I want my trebles to sparkle with clarity, have clear and defined mids and for it all to be underpinned by a sustaining and present bass. No easy task! The chosen timber species used throughout the guitar will impart their own particular character which of course will be unique, but I think good balance can be achieved with just about any combination.

In an intrinsic way I also want people to pick up a guitar that I’ve made and when played, know it’s a Turnstone by its overall feel and tonal character. I admire makers where this is the case – for me Stefan Sobell and Ralph Bown in particular are some of the best examples of this. You just know when you’re playing one of their guitars.

When I first started playing guitar, I used it mainly as a song writing and singing tool, so I think that has a big impact on the tonal palette I want to hear and most likely has an influence on the ‘sound’ I want to develop as a luthier. The nuances and complexities of the voice I think can correlate to the nuances of guitar tone.

I also try obtaining as much feedback as I can from players to understand what they seek tonally in an instrument. I have learnt that how we all interpret ‘sound’ is entirely subjective and individual. Beyond subjectivity and particular playing styles though, I seek a sound that is intricate, complex and makes you want to play more!

BM: What are your thoughts on the ‘active back’ approach to sounding guitars. And how do you go about voicing your instruments? 

I am definitely of the ‘active back’ school of thought. I think passive backs sound great and certainly have their place, but I want my guitar back to get involved and move as much as I can control.

I want the player to feel the back vibrating against their chest as they’re picking or strumming. I also think that the overall character of the tone achieved with an active back is more interesting to me. I believe the chosen back and sides material, and even the bracing species, can contribute a huge amount to the overall tone of the guitar.

When it comes to voicing, I tailor the finer details of brace weighting, scalloping and shaping on both the back and the soundboard to the particulars of the woods used and the model size. It is extremely important to get the right weighting and stiffness to each brace, but in my mind the initial phase of structural layout, individual bracing shape decisions and how they all interplay with one another as a cohesive unit is where you lay the true foundation of the tone you are seeking in any particular guitar.

BM: Can you describe your bracing structure a little? 

Sure! There is quite a bit too it, but I can keep it to a ‘pre eye-glaze’ amount of detail, I think.

First and foremost, I want stability. There is an awful lot of tension placed on that little acoustic guitar top and I need to make sure I am setting it up for a life of responsiveness but also stability. Nobody wants a guitar that’s unstable, unreliable and/or falls apart on them. Feeding back to what I mentioned in the last question, brace placement and thinking carefully about this is very important to me and ties in closely to my chosen bracing structures in every model I’ve designed.

Once I have overall stability pinned down, then I can have a bit of fun with the tonal aspects of the brace shaping. You may have seen from photos and peering inside my guitars that I tend to use a number of different timber species and sculpt them to particular shapes to add additional ‘colouration’ to the tone. I think particular brace shapes and chosen species contribute a huge amount to the tone you can craft as a luthier. By doing this I aim to bring more complexity to my tone.

BM: What are your favourite materials to work with?

I am very fickle when it comes to identifying favourites so I don’t think I can give you a definitive answer here. In an actual ‘workability’ sense, the timbers that generally behave themselves escalate toward the ‘favourite’ category pretty quickly. You have to learn more about the characteristics and work a little harder on the cheeky ones, but that’s not always a bad thing (Wenge springs to mind here!).

From a tonal perspective, there are particular woods which are real assets for certain playing styles, and I love figuring this all out. I do have timbers in mind that would build a guitar I would personally enjoy playing, but that doesn’t really matter because my job as a luthier is to work with each individual player to choose the right materials, body size and customisations that are best suited to them and their playing style. That is the beauty and complexity of this craft – the musical art of the instrument is delivered through them!

I do love using our local English grown timbers though. While I still thoroughly enjoy building with exquisite traditional timbers, sourcing and using English timber is incredibly exciting. There are so many different English timbers available and I love working out how they can be used to build a beautiful guitar, both tonally and aesthetically.

BM: We have two outstanding guitars on their way to our showroom in London. Tell us a little bit more about the TS and the TG models we have in build at the moment?

I’m really excited about both of these instruments! The first model is a TG multi-scale (fan-fret) using stunning flamed Koa on the back and sides teamed with a flawless Alpine Spruce set on the soundboard. My TG model is currently my largest model and can be closely related to a Grand Auditorium with a bit of Dreadnought influence.

I’ve chosen and designed the instrument’s scale lengths to both increase the bass presence and the ability to drop tune (easily going down to a C), but actually considerably shortening the treble scales to bring the sweet warmer tones associated with a shorter scale. Aesthetically I will have a bit of fun with the visual aspect of the fan-fret design too, extending the ‘fan’ into both the headstock and the rosette.

I’ll also be incorporating a full Benjamin inspired scoop cutaway for increased fret access, and to bring it all together I will bind the body in Ebony with a red Padauk trim. My aim is for it to be visually stunning but in an understated way.

The second instrument is a TS model with some gorgeous English Yew back and sides and a master grade German Spruce soundboard. The TS is my smallest model and is purposefully designed around the 12-fret join, putting the bridge in the optimum sweet spot.

Yew is tonally one of my personal favourite timbers. It is strong, light and highly reflective. It imparts such a sweet and clear colouration to the overall tone I think it’s just wonderful. I’m keeping the aesthetics of this guitar clean and delicate and letting the wood speak (and sing!) for itself. This guitar will have a set of fantastic Robson tuners with custom Yew buttons, all handmade in England.

BM: You unveiled some stunning guitars at the Winter NAMM Show this year. How was the NAMM experience for you and what is your approach to guitar shows? 

The NAMM experience was a sensory overload! Four days of dangerously high levels of background noise teamed with 9-hour jet lag leads to quite the life experience!

The scale of the show really needs to be experienced to be believed. Many smaller-scale makers like myself wouldn’t normally have exhibited at an event the size of NAMM before, but the new Boutique Guitar Showcase is a really exciting format which allows us to take a small stand in a perfectly curated, shared space. We exhibit as a group which provides more of a focal point for visitors looking for boutique guitars, and makes it more accessible for craftspeople like myself to exhibit at an event of this scale.

I gave a talk recently to the guitar making students at Newark College and it made me think more about my approach and rationale behind guitar shows. When you first start out, the main thing you have to do is get out there and let people meet you - the guitar maker – face-to-face.

The power of your brand and reputation will come in time, but initially what you need to do is prove to people that you are a reliable and talented maker and that you can build them the guitar of their dreams. Shows are a fantastic way to do that. Not only does this give people the opportunity to actually try your guitars, they can also meet you and asses if you are the right fit for them. Making a guitar for someone is essentially a collaboration, so it really helps to meet face-to-face whenever possible. That’s really been my approach from day one – get out there to put instruments in peoples’ hands and get to know people!

BM: Are you planning on exhibiting at any other shows this year?

This is the first year where the shows are a little less than usual (way to show me up after my answer to the last question, Ben!). I was in the acoustic hall at The Guitar Show in Birmingham in February and I’ll be doing the London Guitar Show later this year in September but other than that, you’ll most likely find me working away in my shop.

But the year after (2020)… you ask?! Happy to oblige! I’ll be at NAMM in Anaheim California in January once again as part of the Boutique Guitar Showcase. I’ll also be back in my regular spot at the Birmingham Guitar Show in February and hopefully the curated Holy Grail Guitar Show in May. I’m also really hoping to be invited back to the Woodstock Luthiers Invitational in October, that was such a fantastic experience. There may be one or two others and I keep my website up-to-date if anyone’s interested in keeping an eye out.

BM: What plans do you have for 2019 and beyond?

I have a full order book for the next couple of years which will certainly keep my building at the forefront of the agenda.

I’ve also got several ideas in my head at the moment but nothing concrete. One that keeps coming to the top of the pile of thoughts is developing some kind of musician ambassador scheme. I appreciate that handmade guitars are often financially out-of-reach for many working musician’s so I’m thinking of a scheme that makes it a bit more affordable. Not sure of the details yet but hopefully it will come to fruition in the next year or two.

Rosie we are just so thrilled to have you on our roster and looking forward immensely to working with you and your beautiful instruments.

Find out more about the two guitars we have spec'd with Rosie, as well as our available build slot, please click here.

For more information about Turnstone Guitars, please get in touch by calling (0) 207 835 5597 or by emailing us here.

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