Rick Turner Compass Rose

Since his early days at Alembic, Rick Turner has been designing guitars and basses that blend cutting-edge technology with superlative old-world craftsmanship. As such, it’s no surprise that the Compass Rose—his newest jumbo acoustic model—incorporates a lot of fine tone woods. But it also includes graphite structural components to help increase projection, and, more importantly, support the cantilevered fretboard/tilting-neck design that makes the Compass Rose essentially immune to problems caused by climatic conditions and string pressure (see sidebar for details).
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Aside from tricking your eyes into thinking that the neck and fretboard extension are floating from the body, the Compass Rose looks like a nice custom guitar with an abundance of rich koa grain appearing through the high-gloss polyester finish. The arrow-shaped headstock is laminated on both sides with koa, and is also decorated with tortoise binding and rope purfling on the front and three-ply wood binding on the back. The neck also has a three-ply center stripe and a koa heel cap. The body features global tortoise binding, as well as rope purfling around the top and the soundhole.

A peek inside the Compass Rose reveals a lightly braced top that is thin enough to appear translucent when viewed from the underside through the oval sound port. The top is graduated from a maximum thickness of about 1/8" under the bridge to 3/32" near the edges, which, according to Turner, provides more snap and enhances the dynamic range. A longer-than-standard rosewood bridge is also used on the Compass Rose to increase coupling with the top.

“On an acoustic guitar, the bridge is the most important brace on the top. It is the primary tone bar,” says Turner.

Other internal details include a 1"-wide strip of Indian rosewood that doubles the thickness of the sides where they meet the top. Turner explains that this helps to reflect vibrations into the top that would otherwise disappear into the sides. A strip of graphite applied over the center seam reinforcement helps to stiffen the back and improve projection. The most obvious use of graphite, of course, is in the four triangulated support rods that keep the Rose’s glossy “C” shaped neck in place.

The wide-ish 12"-radius fretboard is a comfortable platform for your fingers, and the 24-fret fretboard exudes some Selmer/ Macaferri flair by extending well into the soundhole. The absence of a cutaway, however, makes it difficult to reach much past the 17th fret (a cutaway version of the Compass Rose is available). The mildly tall action of our test guitar kept any fret buzz at bay, and if you prefer the strings a littler lower, you can simply tighten the hex bolt in the heel a few turns to increase the neck angle.

Sound literally pours from the Compass Rose, and whether you’re playing with your fingers or using a pick (or both) there seems to be no limit to the dynamic headroom this guitar’s compression-resistant formula provides. The Compass Rose can pump out impressive volume and stand up to fierce attack, but, even when playing softly, the clarity and openness are outstanding. Part of this is due to the absence of dead spots, as well as to how solidly in-tune this guitar sounds in all positions. It all helps the Compass Rose elicit robust and complex tones with excellent note detail. The sound port on the upper bout acts like a low-frequency woofer to make what you hear sound deeper and fuller, and it robs nothing from the Rose’s abundant projection. From an audience perspective, what you hear is a blossoming sound with lots of low-end mass and a rich presentation of punchy mids and clear bright highs. You might think the sustain would suffer due to the minimal neck/body contact area, but the Compass Rose just rings on in a pianistic manner—a quality that makes it very inviting for solo fingerstyle players.

The Compass Rose is a great looking and an impressive performing instrument that breaks with tradition to provide exceptional stability and ease of maintenance. By purposely not trying to conceal its high-tech neck joint (as other makers of guitars with adjustable necks have done in order to maintain a traditional look), Turner has made it incredibly easy for players to quickly make any necessary tweaks with just a small wrench. This is an obviously cool thing for guitarists who have to deal with the problems travel can inflict on acoustic guitars. On one hand, the Compass Rose is a case study in how the venerable flat-top can be improved through technology and some clever engineering. That it is also a superbsounding instrument is icing on the cake.