Considering he’s been working with guitars since 1978, it’s no surprise that Terry C. McInturff knows how to build a good one.
However, most newcomers to his work are surprised by the quality of his creations and the fact that this eminently skilled luthier is not a household name.
McInturff’s Spellcaster incorporates the manufacturer’s extensive craftsmanship and innovation into an extremely versatile instrument that pays homage to the seminal solidbody electric guitaras he launches the platform into the next dimension.
McInturff grew up in suburban Chicago and became addicted to the rock and roll AM radio guitar of his youth.
Although he was a talented player (and remains a concert guitarist to this day), he was drawn to guitar building, and McInturff furthered his abilities by attending the famous Roberto-Venn violin making school (opens in a new tab) in Phoenix, an institution he discovered in the last pages of Guitarist magazine.
From freelance building and restoration, he then worked at a shop that contracted out Ken Smith basses, then took some time off building in the Hammer (opens in a new tab) Custom Shop before moving to North Carolina and starting his own business as Terry C. McInturff Guitars in 1996.
For many years now, McInturff has maintained an individual shop in which the master himself completes every aspect of the design and construction process, which is how this spell caster came into the world.
In a very real sense, McInturff has taken the Spellcaster so far from the plane of its inspiration that it’s an entirely new thing. Yet elements of the single-cutaway shape, the beautiful swamp ash used in the body construction, and the slant of the bridge pickup allude to its roots.
As for Leo Fender’s original design for the guitar that became the TelecasterMcInturff tells us: “They succeeded almost immediately.
“The original design is, for the most part, as good as this design is going to get. As a builder, I haven’t touched on this sound for 25 years. It was a little frustrating to not have anything new to to bring.
“But one day I realized that I could explore the effect that the classic analog recording channel had on the sound of the Tele on my favorite recordings, and build some of that character right into the chassis.
“That idea took years to come to fruition in the form of my TCM Spellcaster model.”
Beyond the touchpoints that define the Spellcaster as a kind of homage, the guitar demonstrates innovation and originality far beyond the charts.
The body profile is adapted from that found on other TMC models. It shows a sleek modernization of the lines and a racy forward lean that creates a subtly offset waistline, as well as the addition of ribcage and knee contours and a slight arch to the top cut.
Swamp Ash displays an incredibly bold grain under a vintage sunburst that’s spun in TCM’s proprietary blend of three nitrocellulose lacquer formulations to create a thin, golden-era-like finish without catalysts.
The neck is another exclusive TCM design. Carved from solid Honduran mahogany, it is glued with a slight dovetail joint. The profile is gently rounded to help the guitar sit well in the hand, resulting in an extremely ergonomic and playable feel from nut to knuckle.
The fingerboard is bound roasted Purple Heart (aka Royal Blackwood), inlaid with 22 medium jumbo frets over a scale length of 25.125 inches and adorned with sterling silver “ghost ring” inlays.
“I’ve been building with this optional fingerboard lately, and I really like the clean tap sound, stability, and density,” McInturff tells me.
“The density is somewhere between Brazilian rosewood and ebony. The stability, partly due to the roasting, is really very good. Long-lasting performance too! »
Other relevant specs include the 12-inch fingerboard radius and a 1 1 1/16-inch width across the nut.
The latter, which TCM calls the Zebra Nut (patent pending), is original and innovative. It is made from a piece of extremely dense water buffalo bone which is inlaid with slippery black polymer inlays to form individual “saddles”, allowing two-thirds of the string bearing surface to be self-lubricating as it passes over the bone and the polymer in each notch.
The tuners are Gotoh Magnum Lock Minis and the bridge is a Gotoh 510 Series two-point tremolo.
Along with the specs and hardware list, the dress and presentation of the Spellcaster really takes it up several notches in the looks department.
Faux turtle knobs, switch tips and trem arm tip are custom made to TCM’s specifications, then hand sanded and polished by McInturff and, in the case of the knobs, inlaid with a dot sterling silver/black wood indicator to echo those on the fingerboard. The turtle pickguard – cleverly integrated with the master volume control – and the “poker chips” around the two switches are made in-house by McInturff, as is the ebony truss-rod cover.
With multi-ply binding on the top of the body, flamed maple headstock overlay (finished in translucent black and hand-signed), and translucent vintage cherry finish on the back and neck, it offers plenty of scope for customization. grade bling that is never ostentatious or over the top.
However, some of the more adventurous thinking went into electronics. It is the rare builder who places as much importance on the entire signal path and the components that carry and enhance it as on the sculpting and crafting of the instrument they are meant to transmit.
TCM’s holistic approach to guitar building is further revealed in this element of the Spellcaster, embodied in what it calls its Maxi-Q electronics.
It starts with a pair of T-style Lindy Fralin Split-Blade pickups, which add buzz cancellation to the vintage-wound tonal pattern. From there, a three-way selector on the top bout feeds the single volume control and a pair of filter-style EQ controls.
The first (closest to volume) is a low pass filter (LPF), much like a traditional guitar tone control, but with a different voicing.
The second is a midrange control filter (MCF) modeled after the input modules of a Raindirk Series 3 mixer previously used at London’s Olympic Studios in the mid to late 70s.
“I love the midrange EQ on these,” says McInturff. “At 10 you have full mid boost, while at zero you have full mid cut.”
A three-way switch near these lower controls routes the signal through the LPF or MCF, or bypasses both.
To top it off, the beauty of the workmanship is reflected in one of the most neatly and neatly wired control cavities I’ve seen on any guitar.
With the Spellcaster plugged into a 1968 Fender Super Reverb tube amp combo and a Friedman Dirty Shirley Mini head and 2×12 cab, its deceptively simple control setup allows for a nearly endless variety of tones.
For example, with the three-way switch set to the bridge pickup alone, it’s easy to dial in a thick but clear humbucker-like sound on the LPF, a funky, Stratocaster-ish mid tone on the MCF, and maintain a beefy Tele-inspired twang in the bypassed position.
Extrapolate that to the other pickup selections and the full sweep of every EQ knob, and the world is your sonic shape-shifting oyster.
The guitar itself is hugely resonant, with clarity and precision amid the shimmering, overtone-rich character, a testament to the quality of the three-pronged effort – design, construction and wood – that has gone into work.
It really shines when playing directly with the amp define cleanly, or with just a bit of bite and break when you dig hard, which is my favorite anyway.
It is also necessary for overdrive pedals like they were second nature, the overall sonic solidity and hum-proof single coils all work in the Spellcaster’s favor when I stepped on a Wampler Tumnus Deluxe (opens in a new tab) or one Tsakalis Six (opens in a new tab) for a little extra dirt.
Overall, the Spellcaster is a masterfully rendered original design by one of today’s true electric guitar artists, and an impressive performer as a chameleon.
Bravo, Terry C. McInturff, for weaving this magical spell.
Visit McInturff Guitars (opens in a new tab) for more information or email [email protected]