Shop Spotlight: Turnlab in Antwerp, Belgium

Nestled in the center of Antwerp sits Turnlab, Belguim's premier destination for synths and other gear. Turnlab caters to a growing population of musicians who seek out the shop for its near-constant rotation of new and vintage instruments. Working by appointment only, Turnlab offers musicians a personalized, one-on-one experience with members of the staff helping clients to find the exact piece they need.

Turnlab is also selling through Reverb, and we recently had a chance to sit down with founder Maks to learn more about what makes Turnlab unique, how the business was started, and what the future holds for the shop.

How did Turnlab get started?

I’ve always been interested in gear, making music, and recording. Since I needed gear myself, I was buying and selling stuff already. I’ve always been the type of gearhead that wanted to try several things — keep some things and pass on other bits. It slowly evolved into helping friends out with their setups or giving advice on gear, and it all went from there.

It all evolved pretty naturally. Over the years, I created a full-time job myself, and now I have three staff, too.

You specialise in keys and pro audio. How do you find that market in Europe at the moment?

Since a lot of brands are making affordable, high-quality gear, there’s a lower barrier to entry and more talented people are making music all the time. That’s great for us. People start on the affordable synths, and then later on, they look into the classic gear that the affordable stuff is based on. That’s where we come in, but we also offer — and love — the new stuff, too.

You sell, buy, hire, repair, and you’ve just opened a studio space. Do you see yourselves as a shop or something else? Perhaps a community hub for people making music in Belgium?

Turnlab sure isn’t a typical shop, it’s more of a personal experience. We work on appointments and like to give people our full attention when they're here. That way, we can really focus, think along with them, and enjoy a cup of coffee while doing it.

It’s fun for customers to, for example, compare a reissue with the original. Or let’s say someone wants to buy a Moog. They can compare different models, old and new. We don’t feel like a shop so much as somewhere people appreciate that feels like visiting a friend’s studio to try things out.

Belgium has a really lively and diverse music scene, and we have cool guests around all the time — people who know that we’ll go the extra mile. Sometimes, that actually means we go to clients ourselves instead of them coming to us. Sometimes producers are just too busy or they want to try gear out in their own studio.

Additionally, full-time producers or touring musicians don't always have the time to spend hours buying and selling their gear online, so we also do a lot of brokering for those customers.

Turnlab has loads of really nice vintage gear. What is it about vintage gear that you love so much?

I absolutely love new stuff, reissues, plugins, etc. But vintage stuff often sounds so much better than many remakes out there. They come from a time when things were built to last. The electricity you hear, those tiny, welcome imperfections… It’s like you’re working with a living and breathing thing.

We do sell new gear, too, but vintage is what we’re really known for. I’m fortunate to have very good techs that can work on nearly anything and have the perfection and patience to do it. We sell every piece with warranty and get a kick out of making things perfect. It just has to be done right.

For me, it’s always really hard to let go of some bits in the shop, especially rare units you know you won’t have in again soon. I’ve lost count of the number of things that have passed through my hands that I wished I could keep, from outboard that has been in Abbey Road studios to synths featured on famous records or owned by bands I like. But I’m always happy when they land in a good home and get to be worked with.

Your desert island synth?

If I could only take one piece of equipment, it would probably be a Roland Juno 60. It’s really a diverse, lovely looking instrument that sounds amazing for everything you want it to do and is stable enough to take on the road. Serious bang for the buck and a great starting point for exploring vintage synths.

My other favourites include the MS-20. It was the machine that got me in the whole vintage synth world, thanks to Soulwax and a friend who had one. Me and my dad drove 600km to go and buy mine — a trip I will never forget.

Also, my Rhodes 73, bought new by my grandma in the early ‘70s and in the family ever since… Those will never be sold.

For a shop in Belgium, how important is it to be able to reach potential customers all over the world using Reverb?

With everything being ‘online’ these days and being that some of the instruments we’re selling are so rare, it’s, of course, great for both us and our clients that we’re able to find each other. We ship gear outside Belgium on a daily basis, to everyone from musicians in New York City to bedroom producers in New Zealand.

Also, to have the luxury of finding parts all over the world to restore things is a massive bonus, as is getting to meet like-minded souls while doing so. We have contacts all over the world, and I think that might be — next to being passionate perfectionists — one of the strongest points for our clients. We can find the gear or parts we need very quickly.

What’s in the future for Turnlab? Any plans for change or expansion?

I just hired an extra sidekick to help me out with the daily sales. The plan is to keep doing what we’re doing, grow steadily, be even more active online, and to build up our YouTube channel with fun videos about gear and artists. I hope we can start with that soon. It’s all our shared passion here, so we enjoy ourselves trying things out.

We also work very closely with Modor Music, who make very cool synths in our city of Antwerp. The brand launched two years ago, so it’s good fun building that and seeing the baby grow.

Lead photo by Koen Bauters

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