Michael DeTemple has long been known as an accomplished builder of high-end, bolt-neck Fender-style guitars. He developed his love of the breed during a distinguished playing career amid the West Coast scene of the ’60s and ’70s—including an extended period in Rick Danko’s band and stints with Dave Mason, Booker T Jones, Albert Hammond, the Flying Burrito Brothers, Paul Butterfield, Eric Clapton, and others—and segued into luthiery in the ’90s as a means of finding some relative stability while starting a family. Gradually perfecting his craft, with reference to his own collection of vintage instruments, DeTemple’s current style coalesced in the mid ’90s, although he’ll tell you that each guitar continues to get just a little bit better. On the strength of the Spirit Series ’52 Model, it’s hard to say where he could go from here, but I do admire the sentiment as Mike and his skilled team continue to craft every instrument by hand.
Our review sample is nearly identical to a guitar that DeTemple recently built for Vince Gill, and it’s an instrument to make any real fan of the vintage Tele-style template just about break down and weep. Specs and appointments are classic blackguard, as the name implies, although DeTemple renders his creation in the spirit of the instrument’s tone, look, and feel, rather than through rote mimicry of vintage ingredients. The foundation is classic: a lightweight, one-piece swamp-ash body and a quarter-sawn, superbly flamey northeastern maple neck. In fact, this thing is utterly threedimensional, dizzying even, with a deeply liquid figuring that tricks the eye into sensing motion across its roiling surface. Body and neck are compression mated for a tight joint and optimum resonance. Beyond that, a host of re-engineered components takes up the tone chase: saddles, string ferrules, and neck plate are all made from titanium, and the nut, switch tip, and string trees are carved from fossilized mastodon ivory. The pickups are DeTemple’s own SweetSpot T-Series with alnico II magnets and readings of 7.9kΩ in the bridge and 5.9kΩ in the neck; all wired through a reversed T-style control plate (the standard switch-forward plate is also available).
On paper, the neck on this one appears to be a whopper—a full .980" deep from the first fret all the way to the 12th (as spec’d by the client)—and with the .011-.048 pure nickel strings, I was expecting a wrestling match. But the rounded DeTemple Reverse Taper Soft V profile felt sublime in my hand, and playability was surprisingly easy and tireless. Full credit is due to a superb build and a faultless setup. Unplugged, the guitar rang loud and clear, and the low-E string sent abundant energy through the body right into my sternum. Plugged into a Magnatone Single V head and 2x12 cab and a Matchless Lightning 1x12 combo, the Spirit Series ’52 Model quickly established itself as one of the most formidable T-types I’ve ever played, old or new. The bridge pickup issued a meaty twang that never even hinted at shrill, with a roundness and depth reminiscent of PAF-like body but with exemplary single-coil cutting power and outstanding sustain. It was beautifully rewarding through Bakersfield picking to cranked-up rock leads with a Z Vex Box of Rock pedal engaged, re-establishing the supreme versatility of this template when done right. The neck pickup had the clarity and vocal timbre of a great Strat neck position, with plummy depths and plenty of rich sweetness, and the in-between selection was beguilingly round and funky. Ultimately, I was forced to admit that this DeTemple as a whole exuded more sonic depth and resonance than my own beloved refinished ’57 Telecaster… and to bestow it an Editors’ Pick Award for the achievement.
SPIRIT SERIES ’52 MODEL
PRICE $7,995 street Specifications
NUT WIDTH 11/16" fossilized mastodon
NECK Maple, full ’52 Reverse Taper Soft V profile
FRETBOARD Maple, 25 1/2" scale, 9.5" radius
FRETS 21 medium-jumbo
TUNERS Special design open-back
BODY Solid one-piece featherweight swamp ash
BRIDGE Steel ashtray top plate with DeTemple top compensated titanium saddles and titanium ferrules
PICKUPS DeTemple SweetSpot T-Style
CONTROLS Volume, Tone, 3-way switch
FACTORY STRINGS Ernie Ball Pure Nickel Classic Rockers, .011-.048
WEIGHT 6.5 lbs
KUDOS Impeccable build quality. Premium T-style tone.
CONCERNS Pricey, but the finer things in life often are.