Harmong Central Review #1 Submitted by Michael Pyle - DeTemple 56 Guitar
I had been looking for the right Strat for some time. Over the years, I had owned and played my share of them. For the last 10 years of so I had been playing mostly Tele’s. I wanted that Strat tone on my sonic palette. I did some serious shopping at the stores in my area and cruised the Internet. As you may know, the pick of the litter vintage stuff is out of control, price wise, and even the top end new stuff just doesn’t get it. The Internet has really opened up this world of custom craftsmanship and that’s the route I decided to take. If I were getting another guitar, it was going to have all the elements I wanted, and be made for me! I did some research and narrowed it down to a small handful of custom builders that I would speak to and consider to make this instrument. All the folks I talked to obviously knew what they were doing and had the credentials. I chose DeTemple Guitars primarily because I could feel how much this guy cared for his craft. From the get go, I felt this was going to be a shared experience and that he would enjoy making this guitar as much as I was going to love getting it. Enough said. Let me get to the guitar.
The model I chose was the DeTemple ’56 “Spirit Series.” The guitarist has a lot of choices when ordering from DeTemple. Just about every aspect of the guitar, from wood choices and fret size to pick-up configuration was discussed with me. Here were my choices.
The body is one piece, lightweight swamp ash. Michael almost called these guitars “Wooden Feathers” because of their lightness. The standard for “lightweight ash” is 2.7 lbs. per board foot. Michael uses ash that is 2.3 lbs. per board foot as the maximum. The completed guitar truly is a wooden feather! If some of this information seems like something a customer would not be privy to, it’s because I recently spent an hour talking with him about this stuff and held off reviewing this guitar until I had played it about 8 months!
I asked that my guitar have some character in the grain, not a pristine, uniform piece, but one with perhaps some dark grain in it. Michael found the perfect piece for my guitar. My guitar body is “White Blonde” (think, Mary Kaye) and the grain can just be seen through the finish. Beautiful! The contours are very dramatic and comfortable. The pick guard on mine is single layer white. Like everything else, these are hand cut for your guitar.
The jack is a stereo jack. The guitar is not wired for stereo but this jack holds the lead more stable. Nice touch.
I opted for titanium saddles on my bridge, they are beautifully made and really make a difference in the tone. DeTemple Guitars has its own brand and I would strongly recommend these to anyone who plays a Strat.
I was going to go with Fralin P/Us but went with DeTemple’s own “SweetSpot” pickups instead.
The nut and string tree are fossilized Mastodon Ivory! Really. My guitar is part Woolly Mammoth! How cool is that!
The neck is one piece, Quarter sawn flame maple. More on this when I get to the sound.
The neck is amber shaded, with a Bocote skunk stripe.
Tuners are Kluson. I chose a 9.5 radius. This radius gives a good balance for bending and chording.
The dot-markers are black mother of pearl. This is pretty cool. When you look at the guitar head-on, like the audience, the markers are somewhat shimmering and a shiny gray. From the player's position, looking down at the neck, the markers are jet black! The neck on mine is 1-11/16” wide at the nut. The taper is a Soft-V reverse taper. In first position the V is more pronounced and it softens as you go up the neck for lead work.
The total body weight of this guitar is 7 lbs and 2 oz! The body weight before applied finish is 1,540 grams!
The case is a gorgeous, brown faux -alligator with a deep red plush interior. Classy!
This guitar is so alive with tone, it makes anything else I play sound flat. It has a vibrant tone you can feel right through your belly. At low to moderate volumes it has that airiness or ping you associate with this style guitar. When opened up it can growl, howl and scream with the best of them. What I notice is that the neck PU still retains the guitars character without getting too bassy and the bridge P/U does not get the “Ice Pick in the Ear” syndrome. I ordered mine with the blender pot. The lowest tone control was a push pull pot, allowing the bridge and neck PU to be used together. Actually, it introduces the neck P/U into whatever you're using. I didn’t care for this and a few months ago had it put back to a stock arrangement. To my ear, the blended configuration of the outside P/Us sounded so close to the sound of the middle P/U that it wasn't worth the trouble. I thought the blender pot didn’t allow the whammy bar to be screwed in as much as I like. DeTemple has changed that since I got my guitar and uses a Callaham Bridge now with a shorter trem arm that does screw in further and clears the tone pot. I'm sure the blender pot is something some players couldn’t do without. The guitar stays in tune wonderfully. Even with radical use of the whammy. I play this primarily through a black face Princeton Reverb and a Kendrick Black Gold 35.
I’m not big on pedals. A guitar that sounds as sweet as this is effect enough.
Action, Fit, & Finish: 9
The action is set for .005 relief, and the action, 4/64s at the 17th fret. The fretwork is amazing. The neck is very chunky. This reminds me of the first time I drove a BMW motorcycle. The handlebars feel different at first, and the rider position is something you would not expect or understand until you drive 300 miles at a stretch and realize the engineering that went into it. The same is true with this neck. At first I thought it was a bit chunkier than I would prefer, but I quickly realized that this was not only comfortable, but a huge source of the guitars tone! I can't say enough about the neck and fretwork. The flame maple is stunning to see and the taper fits the hand in playing position perfectly. The finish is all hand rubbed nitro-cellulose.
This guitar was crafted to last. The truss rod is actually tuned. If a guitar could go without a truss rod, this might be it. I can't imagine any problems with its durability.
Customer Support: 9
First let me mention that each guitar comes with an owner’s manual. The book shows the evolution of your guitar from 2 pieces of wood to the finished product. The photos are very good quality. And it’s cool to see your guitar being made! The body of my guitar is so distinctive. Whenever I show this manual to someone, you can always see the look they get when they realize that the guitar on the cover is MY guitar!
The manual covers all aspects of construction and maintenance. The book also comes as a disk on a CD. Guess what’s on the cover of the CD. My guitar! Oh yeah. The owner’s name goes into the neck pocket and is discretely written on the back of the headstock. There are 2 copies of the manual, one for the owner and one for Michael’s records.
In a nutshell, I would recommend a DeTemple guitar to anyone who would appreciate a custom made instrument. I waited almost a year to write this. I feel there's an objectivity that comes over time. I like this guitar that much, and I hope I've conveyed that as my opinion.
Play skillfully, with a loud noise!
Overall Rating: N/A
I think this stuff is pretty much covered in my review. Strongly considering ordering a Tele style guitar from Michael.
Gear Page Review #2 - "Small Company Luthiers" section of TheGearPage.net
Ricoh: DeTemple owners... was the wait worth it? Was the guitar as nice as you hoped for and are you completely satisfied?
Just1more: YES! My DeTemple is my favorite guitar out of everything I have owned. Which includes 50s, 60s Strats, and a lot of modern style Strats. Think of it this way, the longer you wait, the more attention your guitar received. I was fortunate to live close to his shop, and was able to see the progress about once a month. DeTemple is fanatical about the finishes, and it shows. BE PATIENT!
Barrie: My wait is coming close to 2 yrs he is making a Strat and a Tele for me at the moment, but I'm sure that the length of time I have waited will be worth it.
Tradarama: I've been through hundreds of guitars and this is the best Strat I've owned period. It's just a cut above all of the others. I loved my Lentz but sold it vs. the DeTemple. Michael is a class guy who wants you happy. I just sent mine to him to put jumbo frets on and he did it for me in a couple of weeks just to make me happy (even though I picked the small vintage frets myself). I'd never hesitate to buy another. I was one of the early purchasers when he just started advertising in VG. I took a chance and it was the best and only custom ordered guitar that ever exceeded my expectations.
Tonefreak: DeTemple guitars are very nice indeed! I just couldn't wait 2 years for a guitar I would like to play now. What does Lentz and DeTemple offer that Suhr, Tyler, Anderson or Grosh do not? I'm certain John Suhr can build you a guitar to your exact specs much faster. Or is it the consensus that Lentz and DeTemple build better guitars than the alternatives? I am NOT saying that DeTemple guitars are not worth the money or the wait! What I am asking is what does he offer that a shop like Suhr's could not create? What is the justification for such a long wait?
Owensmustang: Tonefreak, for me, the reason I started looking at Lentz was what he and others were talking about. fit, finish, feel, tone and other than the hardware, the guitar is handmade inc the pick ups. No frills, fancy tops, nothing other than one would expect for a killer classic fender. Now that I have 3 of these wonderful guitars, I can't think of a reason to sell them. now, if Lentz's keep going through the roof. A DeTemple will be something I will look at. I have talked to Michael on his creations before. I would love to play one of his guitars. (I have his titanium block and saddles on
another guitar) all of the other copy makers used something other than what Scott did on his stuff. either slight style changes, or hardware,
or for me, the pick ups. I think Scott hit on something that people were looking for. I'm sure all of the others make fantastic guitars,
Lentz just had everything I was looking for. Hey, i got slightly off topic sorry, could not help it ;-) Scott talked to me about matching neck and body woods, a lot. Michael doubled that, if not more. I have talked to a few others, one even told me this was nonsense. I didn't know what to think about that till I got my 1st Lentz. Now I'm a believer! anyway, DeTemples seem to have quite a following. I would have no problem ordering one. Forgot to mention. you might consider Scott's new stuff. An interesting twist on what he was doing. BTW, his P90's sound killer.
Leucadian: A friend of mine, Jeff Snider, traded one of his amps to DeTemple for one of his Strats. I played it and it DOES have a cool mojo about it... extremely resonant and light... impressive guitar. I would wait... but I've got two Grosh's that I impulsively bought... no waiting!
Rad: Hey DeTemple owners! Do you have any pictures of your guitars? I ordered mine about 1 year ago, and I am still waiting. But I am hoping to visit Michael in his shop this summer to talk about my guitars.
Dillion: Up in the thread, someone implied that the wait for a Lentz was on the same order as the wait for a DeTemple. That certainly was not my experience. My first Lentz was completed in three months. The second took five months. Just my experience....
Tacorivers: I'd like to know if there really is any difference between these and a Suhr classic, and if the difference is worth the price and wait. I'm of the opinion that there is a ceiling on how "good" a Strat style guitar can be. Vintage Strats aside, a well made Strat like a Suhr seems as good as it gets. Especially one that is made to your specifications. There's nothing real magical about a Strat provided that one starts with quality wood. The Suhr is a mighty fine instrument, but it does not have a nitro-cellulose lacquer finish. This is a significant part of the vintage tone equation.
KLB: The wait and cost of a DeTemple is discouraging. I'm sure it is a stellar guitar, though. Check out D'Pergo and Morgaine, too.
Tonefreak: D'Pergo... yes! DeTemple and Lentz are fine instruments and I can understand that these guitars have a certain "mojo". For me, life is too short. 1-2 years is a long time to wait, and I personally would rather be playing than waiting. Just my opinion.
Philster: Well, I got 2 years and counting on my DeTemple Strat and Tele. A little frustrating to wait for a guitar but I guess no point in moaning about it. Heck, I waited 28 months for a Callaham, which turned out to be a great guitar.
Jon Silberman: 2 years wait time on a guitar? I didn't wait that long for both of my kids combined.
Tacorivers: "The Suhr is a mighty fine instrument, but it does not have a nitro-cellulose lacquer finish. This is a significant part of the vintage tone equation." That is one difference! I'm not so sure that nitro finishes are that important, as I've heard arguments on both sides of the equation. Usually the person finishing in nitro argues for it, and the person arguing against it finishes in poly.
Even if there is a discernable difference, it is worth the extra $2K? I still go back to my point that the vintage Strat is a relatively simple instrument. At some point, spending more money on a Strat will yield seriously diminishing returns. Hell, the only reason I can justify my Suhr is that it has certain things that you do not find on a low-dollar Fender (compound radius, jumbo frets, Buzz Feiten, better pickups).
I'm admittedly not a collector of guitars. If I was, the extra money to get a dead on '50s Strat may be worth it.
Just1more: Tacorivers, I don't know how you could compare the Suhr with the DeTemple if you haven't played a DeTemple. I have owned both, to me there is a difference. Suhr makes an excellent guitar. I would never say this guitar is better than that one, blah, blah, blah. Sure, the law of diminishing returns comes into play. The difference to me was in the personal detail that went into the DeTemple. It may not be what people are looking for in a Strat style guitar. Just because it's a "bolt on" guitar, doesn’t mean the same amount of craftsmanship can't be put in, like a LP, 335, etc. I look at luthiers like artists. Each has their own personal touch. DeTemple puts out 2-3 guitars a month, Suhr puts out a lot more. There different. Obviously with a two year wait, enough people think they are worth it.
Philster: I have seen D'pergo's web site and it looks nice. Do you have any direct or indirect experience with these guitars? I am curious.
Suhr: If I thought nitro sounded better I would use it. Trust me! Nitro is WAY easier to use than what I use. My permits do allow me to use nitro in the quantity I need if I desired. The UV paint I use is on $30,000 acoustics like Olson. If Olson thought lacquer sounded better he would still be using it.
The problem with nitro today is that it is a different formulation than it used to be and at best will take more years than most of you will live to fully sink in and dry out. Haven’t you ever noticed your Lacquer necks get sticky? Especially when it is hot? Case imprints in your fine lacquer finish if it gets warm?
Believe me I have done many tests both here and at Fender, I don’t use Lacquer because it takes too long to sound good. What I use is designed to sound good today.
I had a nice conversation with one of the builders who swears by lacquer. I asked "Why don’t you use some of the more modern paints? Do you really think they don’t sound as good?" He said " I've already boxed myself in by telling everyone the nitro sounds better, I cant very well go back on my word now!"
Don't forget that Fender used a Fullerplast catalized undercoat (Not Nitro) and the Custom Car colors many of which were not nitro but Acrylic. The Lacquer I have seen on many guitars is applied thicker than what we do. It isn’t the type of finish that matters but how thick it is and the hardness, too hard is no good and too soft is no good either. Lacquer these days is gummy so I choose not to use it.
Mutley: There are other builders besides John Suhr who use alternative finishes. Terry McInturff uses what he calls nitrothane. I think the most important aspects of the finish are how thin it is and how hard it gets. My DeTemple has a pink streak from a red shirt I wore during a gig a month after I received the guitar. It was a hot night and I was sweating like a steer and the color came off of my polyester shirt into the nitro. Now it is like having a super custom paint job. Mike DeTemple made a Strat for me with "my" neck. At the time neither Suhr or Grosh would make a neck that big. Don actually said he wouldn't make a neck that big because it would look freakish. I ordered my DeTemple in January of '03 and received it in March of '04. The wait killed me, but I think less and less of that now and more and more about how wonderful my DeTemple '56 is. I wouldn't do it again, but I'm happy I did. I get the tone of a great Strat in a beautiful lightweight package. I've gigged with it since receiving it and have never had a problem I couldn't fix easily. The waiting period is because Mike picks out the wood with weight, tone and color in mind and the neck wood usually is highly figured stuff. My fencepost neck is flamed front and back the length of the neck. Wood like he uses isn't always hanging around waiting for someone to come buy it. My Strat weighs 7lbs. 6oz. with a huge neck on it. It is balanced and sounds loud unplugged and has all the Strat you want when plugged. I'm blowing Mike's horn here because he made my neck for me when others wouldn't. Definitely worth the wait.
Suhr: Well I'm sure you have a wonderful guitar and he does great work. However... who told you we would not do a custom neck size? We always have offered that. We won't however do flame necks, this has to do with reliability, in fact we will be discontinuing birdseye very soon as well.
Mutley: John, it was you. I am not knocking anyone or any brand here. Just stating that Mike agreed to do my neck. I own one of your Teles and love it. I do not use it for entire sets (my band usually does long sets to keep people up drinking and dancing) because my hand cramps. In late 2002 we had contacted you about doing an ash Strat with a big (really big) maple neck and you didn't want to do the neck and seemed to want to build an Alder guitar for me. Not a big deal to me now, although I do believe in the law of diminishing returns and would have liked to have saved a buck at the time. My neck depth is 1.125" at the first fret (not including wire) and 1.25" at the 12th with a uniform 12" radius and a slight "V" on the first 5-6 frets transitioning to a nice big "C". I guess I wanted a Suhr a little too early on. LOL. It is nice to know that I have options open to me when I order my alder Strat. It was a frustrating time for me. I went through a lot of guitars and loved some of them, but couldn't get comfortable with them. Seems the older I got the crampier my hand got. Even had a Lentz which was another great Strat, but the 1-5/8" nut made me sound even sloppier than usual. Again, I'm just stating that Mike D. was happy to make my neck for me, those dimensions with a 1-11/16" nut. It's a big piece of Maple, but it hasn't moved in the 14-15 months I've owned it. I'm very happy with the road that got me to it.
Suhr: That’s cool, I didn’t know you went THAT big! That is larger than any Fender or Gibson ever made. In 2002 the largest we could do is 1" But now our neck pocket is 1.125" So it would be OK.
I don’t recommend Ash body with Rosewood boards because I think they sound bright and have had complaints but I have no problem with Maple necks or Maple/Pau Ferro.
Mutley: That is what you told me at that time and I was good with that. After all, it is your company and I understand that stopping production for a one off isn't necessarily good business. That is cool that you could approximate that now. I love your guitars... every one that I've ever played. Got my Tele at Synergy in So. FL. It kills. The SS frets make a huge difference. I tried to get Mike to do them, but he balked at that. When I re-fret, I guess. It's funny, everyone who has grabbed my Strat has just said s--t, but after they play it a bit, most find it quite comfortable. Pink Strat is known on this forum and he has small hands for a guitar player, but he loves my DeTemple neck (he loves my Suhr Tele, too). Like I said earlier, I couldn't wait two years... not even a year. I'm too old. I'd be afraid I'd kick the bucket or get hit by a bus before I got a chance to play the guitar.
Shades: That's very close to the same size neck that I made for Decay-o-Caster on his Fatline (baconfat-o-caster) and it often gets the same reaction. It's freakin' huge but still comfortable.
Mutley: Fatline baconfat-o-caster! I love it. It must get that good greasy guitar tone we all love.
Decay-o-Caster: Well yeah, since you mention it.... ;-)
Doesn't really sound like anything else, just a damn big sounding guitar!
SundayPunch: Now that's a refreshing bit of perspective ;-)
CliffC: These are variations of Fender Strats and Teles and there are plenty of amazing originals to found and bought in a day. If you want the boutique version and are willing to wait a year or two than that's each persons prerogative. I just bought a Gretsch Duo Jet because Saul Koll cannot start building a Duo Glide for me for 6 months. The Duo Jet is great and it's one that Saul actually urged me to buy. I may keep it or I may decide to sell it once the Koll arrives.
My point is, what are we talking or arguing about here. If someone wants a DeTemple or Lentz or Suhr or whatever, it's their right to decide what to buy, how much to spend and how long their willing to wait. Personally I think there are some great builders out there and I also believe that there are a great deal of High Flamed Maple junk dealers out there as well, but to each his own.
Now everybody go play your guitar for 1 hour.
Stringer: I did some repair work way back, so I can appreciate the difficulties of working with some of the synthetic finishes. I've been away from that business for a long time so I can't chime in on current techniques.
I can however, safely say that I have the ultimate in finish repair-ability in a Tele that I put together last year for personal use in the DeTemple tradition (e.g. 1pc quartersawn Maple neck, 1pc Swamp Ash body, etc.). The entire guitar is French polished. I used button lacquer (hardest known) to make the "clear" shellac (it has a darkish tint to it) and added some aniline dye to a different recipe to create the body color. Very tough to work with colored French polish btw. Don't think I'll try that again! Anyway, the overall result is a nice sounding, light weight guitar with a thin finish with a great feel to it. The neck finish is surprisingly durable, the body less so as I didn't use the button lac there for coloring reasons. Admittedly an experiment, but with a good result.
Now this finish is arguably one of the lightest, thinnest finishes possible, and it's a great sounding guitar, but I can't honestly say (at least at this point in time) that it's appreciably better than a comparable guitar with a less traditional, quality finish. In other words, there are too many factors in producing great tone to isolate one and credit it with making all the difference. May be interesting to see how it ages, though.
Ian Anderson: Nothing else looks or feels like a lacquer finish.
Unfortunately it's the most difficult and expensive finishes to do. It doesn't work too well in a production environment these days. I'd love to be able to cut the finishing schedule from a month of good days to a few days period. I'd love to go UV but nitro has the look and feel we are after, and our customers know the difference.
BTW we have none of the aforementioned problems with our lacquer finish. It's done right, and formulated to Scott's specification after 27 years of experience working with it.
Wasn't this a topic on DeTemple guitars? ;-)
Studio8000: I never had sticky or gummy feeling on any of my Lentz necks, and the bodies looks as good as they sound. So I guess Scott is getting something right!
But oh yea, DeTemple... I never tried one, but a buddy of mine has one of his T styles, he said he'd bring it by sometime so we can compare with my Lentz T. should be fun.
Sanhozay: We all should acknowledge the folks building these timeless and awesome sounding guitars with non-nitro finishes.
And I've played my share of new guitars finished in *new* nitro that sounded absolutely wonderful.
And on an uneducated hunch I would bet that if the modern finishes utilized by builders were replaced with nitro that their production would drop from yielding 800 guitars over 365 days to producing around 400 guitars. And instead of a client waiting two months for a guitar they'd be waiting five months.
I think their is an economy of scale issue that can't be overshadowed beyond the "what's a better finish conundrum" simply because nitro introduces a lot more bench time into the equation.
While I greatly prefer the delicate aesthetics of an aged nitro guitar, I think both finishes sound great and there's a thousand perfect examples to argue it either way for both sides
Stringer: I've met Mike, been to his shop (about a year ago), and played both a Tele and Strat. It's a handmade guitar (mostly by him). As a result, yes, his output is less than the more automated or heavily-staffed makers, and yes that is reflected in the price. Some people have a special appreciation for the unique craftsmanship of a handmade instrument and are less sensitive to price.
Also, for a luthier, Mike has an unusually deep background as a player which brings an understanding of and sensitivity to the voice of each guitar which I believe factors into the overall character and value of the instrument. There are subtleties in his instruments that not everyone would notice or appreciate.
But it's not a matter of build time, it's a matter of waiting list. Simple as that. Whether it's worth it or not to you is a subjective thing. Just based on your last post (IMHO), I would guess that a DeTemple just might not be your thing.
Mark: I completely agree with Ian. I don’t believe that lacquer sounds better. I just prefer lacquer for it’s looks and feel. Unlike lacquer, urethane does not age gracefully. It’s too durable. Lacquer has character. I love the way it wears and sinks into the wood. I’ve never had problems with any of the lacquer guitars I’ve owned (including a Lentz) getting gummy.