By Adam Perlmutter

Played unplugged, Michael Kelly’s new steel-string Rick Turner S6 and its nylon-string counterpart, the N6, feel less like proper acoustic guitars than sleek semihollow electrics. Their bodies produce woody but attenuated tones familiar to anyone who’s ever picked up a Gibson ES-335, and their slim necks encourage pyrotechnics. Plugged into a Fender Acoustasonic amplifier, though, the guitars produce uncannily natural acoustic sounds, thanks to the proprietary Turner-designed electronics. Even more incongruous: Each guitar sells for well under a grand.

Promising Partnership

The S6 and the N6 are the result of a collaboration between Michael Kelly, maker of boutique-style fretted instruments, and esteemed luthier Rick Turner, known for building instruments for Lindsey Buckingham and Ry Cooder, among others. These Korean-made Kelly guitars are essentially budget versions of Turner’s Renaissance line of guitars and basses. Each guitar has a thin, laminated body—about 1.75 inches deep—with an internal block of solid mahogany. Borrowing from the modular concepts of Leo Fender, the necks are affixed with four bolts, allowing for easy removal and repair or replacement, not to mention lower manufacturing costs. While the S6 has a wooden bridge and separate saddle, it does away with bridge pins in favor of the string-through-body system (as on Fender’s Telecaster). On the N6, though, the strings are tied at the bridge in the traditional manner. Both guitars are outfitted with the US-made Seymour Duncan/Rick Turner D-TAR system, including an undersaddle pickup that works in concert with an internally mounted miniature condenser microphone and an 18-volt preamp.

The S6 and N6 make an attractive duo, with their gracefully asymmetric okoume (an African hardwood similar to redwood) bodies. Both are appointed with good taste. The S6 sports a gorgeous deep-cherry sunburst finish on its okoume top, along with abalone purfling that is echoed on the headstock cap. The N6’s cedar top has a natural finish that highlights its warm reddish coloring and fine grain pattern, contrasted nicely by black binding. Both guitars sport rosewood control knobs—a cool organic flourish usually reserved for the most expensive instruments.

In terms of build quality, it’s easy to understand why these Kelly creations have received Turner’s blessing. Both display excellent all-around craftsmanship, with nuts and saddles that are cleanly notched and necks that sit snuggly in their pockets. The fretwork is perfect, without a hint of sharpness at the fretboards’ edges. On the bodies, the gloss finishes are smoothly buffed and without imperfections, save for a hint of binding bleed on the N6’s cutaway.

Nylon-string N6 (left) and steel-string S6

Nylon-string N6 (left) and steel-string S6

Gig-Ready

The S6 (five pounds, six ounces) and the N6 (five pounds, 12 ounces) are relatively lightweight. Both sit nicely on the lap and are comfortable to play in standing position as well. The guitars share a similar neck profile, a shallow C, and have 22 frets as opposed to the traditional 20, extending their range by a major second. Both guitars have a scale length of 25.5 inches, although the steel-string version has a 111/16-inch nut and 12-inch radius, while the nylon-string model has a wider nut and radius, 113/16 and 16 inches. With satin finishes, both necks feel sleek and fast, and generally discourage fret-hand fatigue. There are no dead spots on either neck; all of the notes ring clearly, without any buzzing, and in perfect intonation.

In terms of sound, the S6 (plugged into a Fender Acoustasonic amp) is well balanced from bass to treble and responds equally to delicate fingerpicking and forceful strumming, in both standard and alternate tunings. In addition, the central mahogany block works effectively in rejecting feedback at higher volumes. With the tone rolled back, the guitar can even deliver a convincing archtop-like sound.

Though not quite as impressive, the N6’s clear and even sound would work well in a supportive role, for everything from bossa nova comping to R&B-style chord work. While the nylon-string model also displays fine tonal balance, its overall voice is comparatively subdued and lacking in complexity. The guitar doesn’t fare as well for solo classical literature, although, to be fair, it clearly wasn’t designed with this application in mind.

In the end, Michael Kelly’s Rick Turner S6 and N6 models make smart choices for the acoustic-electric player on a fixed budget: nicely built guitars, with boutique design sensibilities, that cost a fraction of their US-made counterparts but perform very well in all aspects. What’s more, their hearty construction and smart electronics ensure that they’re gig-ready straight out of the box.  

 

 

Nylon-string N6 (left) and steel-string S6

Nylon-string N6 (left) and steel-string S6

At a Glance
Michael Kelly Rick Turner N6

BODY

  • Cedar top
  • Okoume back and sides
  • Mahogany center block
  • Rosewood bridge
  • High-gloss natural finish

NECK

  • Bolt-on mahogany neck with satin finish
  • Rosewood fingerboard with 22 frets
  • 25.5-inch scale length
  • 113/16-inch bone nut
  • Chrome die-cast tuners

EXTRAS

  • D’Addario EJ46 Pro-Arté nylon, hard tension strings (.0285-.044)

PRICE

  • $1,015 list; $699 street
  • Made in Korea

 

At a Glance
Michael Kelly Rick Turner S6

BODY

  • Okoume top, back, and sides
  • Mahogany center block
  • Rosewood bridge
  • High-gloss sunburst finish

NECK

  • Bolt-on mahogany neck with satin finish
  • Rosewood fingerboard with 22 frets
  • 25.5-inch scale length
  • 111/16-inch bone nut
  • Chrome die-cast tuners

EXTRAS

  • D’Addario EJ16 phosphor bronze strings (.012-.053)

PRICE

  • $1,015 list; $699 street
  • Made in Korea

michaelkellyguitars.com

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