BY ADAM HUNT
When a builder as well regarded as Michael
De Temple gives you his personal guitar to
review, there’s an expectation of trust: Trust
in his skills as an artisan as he says to you
“This is my very best effort,” and trust in you
as a reviewer that you will straddle the line
between awe and objectivity.
at full tension, thus tensioning the entire
instrument for more resonance and clarity. Following that, the one piece neck is
sprayed with nitrocellulose lacquer and the
fingerboard is polished like glass.
It is clear that Michael De Temple’s Spirit
Series is a culmination of a lifetime as a
player, session musician and a craftsman.
Every detail is picked over in a no-expense-spared effort to deliver the best sounding
“S” style guitar possible. The tap tuned
necks and bodies, proprietary truss rods,
ultra low-weight tuners, fossilized nuts, string
trees and switch tips, proprietary, De Temple-designed pickups, and De Temple Titanium
Trem Assembly all go into making a guitar
that is light, easy to play, and sustains far
better than an S-styled guitar with a tremolo
The fret slots are cut prior to Michael’s labor
intensive compression fit fret installation.
Michael created a special fret saw to facilitate cutting slightly narrower slots on the
bass side of the fretboard than on the treble
side; this allows for a compression fret
installation. By putting a slightly wider tang
into the narrower fret slot, the neck wood is
compressed back and more tension is exerted on the bass side of the neck. This will
ensure a more consistent relief in the neck
and prevent any dead spots in the frets.
I told Michael that it would be extremely
interesting to pull apart his Spirit Series and
replace bits and pieces of it with more “off
the shelf” parts in order to discover at what
point it completely alters the guitar’s tone.
Michael attributes the Spirit’s remarkable
sustain and complex overtones to his special
neck building technique, custom truss rod
design and compression fit fret installation.
Starting with a quartersawn, flamed maple
neck blank, Michael preloads his proprietary truss rod system, shapes the neck and
tightens the truss rod to bring a backbow
into the neck. Then he cuts the fingerboard
radius and simultaneously removes the
back bow, leaving a perfectly flat fingerboard plane with the truss rod tensioned.
When the truss rod is loosened, there is as
much relief in the neck as you could ever
need; when the neck is straightened, it is
The 6. 5 pound ‘ 56 Spirit Series guitar
Michael sent over was made from a single
piece of featherweight swamp ash; a quartersawn, one piece, flamed maple neck with
a bocote skunk stripe; perhaps the most
astonishing faux tortoise shell celluloid pickguard you will ever see; SweetSpot pickups;
fossilized mastodon ivory nut and fossilized
walrus tusk string trees; a titanium trem block
and saddles; and a push/pull knob on the
second tone control, allowing the player to
select from a total of seven different pickup
configurations. As a departure from his usual
building technique, our sample’s neck had a
gun oil finish, rather than nitro. Michael said
this is a no-charge option. I could continue
to wax poetically about the sheer beauty of
the Spirit Series’ wood selection or the hallucinatory quality of the guitar’s pickguard but
unlike Melville, I am not paid by the word.
Like a Ringing Bell
In order to test the Spirit Series’ clean tones,
I plugged the guitar into my go-to clean
amp, a Fender Princeton Reverb. The Spirit
Series’ overtones built up quickly but