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Rick pictured with one of the new Buddy Holly J-45 bodies he's working on for the Buddy Holly Guitar Foundation
You restored Buddy Holly's original guitar, yes?
Yes. Gary Busey bought the guitar from the proceeds of the movie [The Buddy Holly Story]. He bought the guitar for $270,000, and he brought it to me. I was working at Westwood Music in L.A. It was cracked from waist to waist right through to the end block, and Buddy had made a leather cover for it with his songs on it. So I said, Gary, I'm going to have to take the cover off to do this repair job. And he said, "No, no, no, man, you can't take the cover off. Buddy sewed that on there." And I said, "Okay..." So I did all the repair work through the sound hole. I restored it, I refretted it, and Gary gave me the original frets, so I had Buddy Holly's frets. So in December of last year [Buddy Holly enthusiast] Peter Bradley gets in touch with me and says, "I understand you have Buddy Holly's frets, I am a big Buddy Holly fan and would you be willing to sell me the frets?" And I was thinking, "Well jeez, they're just sitting here in a drawer so I might as well." So I sold him the frets and then he ordered three guitars from me. And then I'm at the NAMM show and he gets in touch and he says, "Will you be willing to make 18 replicas of Buddy's guitar and put one of the frets in each of the guitars?"
And I said, "Yeah, that's a really nice project." 'Cause, you know, we had being doing more and more acoustics, and it's sort of what I came out of anyway, and I'd been wanting to make more acoustic guitars. And one thing led to another and at one point he asked if I could get one to Graham Nash and I said sure, I had been doing stuff for Graham [Nash] for years. And then I realized Peter didn't have a real clear plan on selling the guitars, he was just kind of looking to distribute them. So I said to him, instead of giving these guitars away, why don't you loan them—set up a nonprofit foundation that will loan these guitars out for a given period of time with a proviso that the musicians who have the guitars use them in some way to raise money for a worthy musical cause like music education. And, he went for it. I found a leather worker in Austin to do these covers and then several of us went down to Dallas and we met with Maria Lena Holly, Buddy's widow, who practically drunk us under the table. [Laughs] She is just a hoot! She is really fun. So we have her full approval on this. We can use Buddy's name and the whole thing.
It sounds like a very interesting project.
It's been an amazingly fun project. And John Thomas, who is the expert on this era of Gibson—the Banner Era Gibsons—I asked him to get involved and it turns out he's an attorney. So he helped set up the nonprofit foundation and the first two musicians I invited to partake were Graham Nash and Jackson Brown, and they're both on the board of directors now. They will both get guitars. The idea is they can re-up in two years. And within those two years, you've got to do something for the Buddy Holly Guitar Foundation. And the foundation will give out money to whatever the board chooses to do. There's a regular board of directors and a list of worthy recipients.
Rick goes on to show me all the components that make up these J-45 Buddy Holly replicas. He is clearly excited about the project. He talks a bit about how he's at a stage of his life where it's time to give back. And while he is proud to be a member of this foundation, he quickly diverts attention from himself back to the instruments. He shows me one of the leather coverings made for these instruments. It looks exactly like the oft--photographed original that Buddy himself made.
That must cut the heck out of the sound.
Well you know the amazing thing is, you would think it would but it doesn't cut as much as you would imagine. What it does is make all of the sound come out of the sound hole and it almost makes it sound like it's running though a compressor. It does this acoustic compression thing to the tone.
Will these guitars have any electronics?
We are going to put pickups in all of the guitars so they will be stage worthy.
What kind of pickups?
They will have D-Tar Dual Source Wavelengths.
A custom leather cover that will be used on one of the 18 J-45 replicas that Turner is building using Buddy Holly's original fretwire.
Well, Another interesting thing is that the 1943 J-45s had maple and walnut necks painted so brown you would think it was mahogany. And it was only one year that they did that. John [Thomas] thinks that the necks may have been leftover from Recording King Ray Whitleys. Recording King was another spin-off brand of Gibson's. Ray Whitley was a country star and they had these necks in the natural color. So anyway, I went back to the original specs on the necks, so I'm doing it like Gibson would have done, like as a production run, same for all the backs, all the sides.
Are you just making the 18?
No, I'm making more. 18 will have the leather covers and will have the frets. And then we will continue to make this style of guitar, and we will probably do some naturals with a natural neck. And I'd like to do some where we stain the mahogany body like we do the Model Ones and do the black binding and tie it together with my other acoustic stuff and do the back with overlays like I do with a lot of my other stuff.
So out of all the guitars that you've made over the years, which one symbolizes the Rick Turner sound? The Model One? The RS 6? Or have you not yet made it?
They're all my babies. I like them all.