Q&A with Terry McInturff, founder of McInturff Guitars
Q: How did you get into the profession of building guitars?
A: I graduated from high school in 1974 and I had no idea what I wanted to do for a living. I did know that I wanted to wait to go into college until I knew what I wanted to do with my life. So, I worked a few jobs, and played guitar. One month I received my Guitar Player magazine in the mail and read an article about John Carruthers, who built guitars for the stars and did repairs. I had been fixing my friend’s guitars at the time, but I never realized that this job description was out there. John was at the Roberto-Venn school of Luthiery, which by the way is still in business, and I wanted to attend. So I saved up some money along with my mom and dad, and enrolled in a 4-5 month course in Phoenix, AZ. Although you can’t really learn in just 5 months how to build guitars, I did make a few guitars during this coursework. January 8, 1978 was my first day on the job in Chapel Hill, NC as a repairman … and I have been building since!
Q: Who has influenced you in terms of your guitars and sounds?
A: Oh, the usual list of suspects: Pete (Townshend), Jeff (Beck), Jimi (Hendrix). Like my contemporaries, these were my “sports heroes”. In terms of design, Pete was probably the biggest influence, because his guitar needs to stay in tune under such combat conditions on stage with him. I set out to design a neck that would be up for a job like that, and I came up with my neck design in 1992, constantly refining it until I finalized the design in 2006. Of the approximately 3,7000 guitars that I’ve made, I haven’t had a single neck warrantee issue. The heavy lifting was done with the research and development here. And I defined a discreet set of steps that my team of builders has followed in the same order, resulting in consistency of quality.
Q: How did you arrive at creating your own brand?
A; During the 1980’s a few bands I were in had major label interest and I spent a lot of time in the studio. Although we had a few records out, I realized that we weren’t going to get that first hit. I had been building guitars that whole time, and in 1988 I decided that I’d been working on my own long enough and I set out to start fresh in a different town. I sent out some resumes and I took a job with someone in Pennsylvania with Ken Smith, probably one of the most intelligent people I’ve met in this business. Around the time that Ken bought the business out, I was recruited by Hamer Guitars and I became the custom builder for Hamer, building one-offs for their endorsers. I then became the company designer and head of artist relations. Next, I moved back from Chicago to North Carolina and at that point, I knew how to do every job in the building process and while it was never my intention to start my own brand, I saw a market opportunity.
I built some prototypes and brought in an investor, and expanded in 1996 and opened my shop. The Terry C. McInturff brand was here.
Q: What is some of your guitar building philosophy?
A: I view the guitar as a tool; the music is the most important thing. If we have the right tool, we are able to get our music out the world in a way they can enjoy it. I don’t consider the guitar to be the creative object in this mix. I try to design my guitars primarily as tools. If a player wants to windmill like Pete Townshend, their guitar needs to stay in tune for that. Further, I’m not building a guitar, I am building a sound. When working one-on-one with a client, I can’t begin to choose the materials for their guitar until I hear what my client is looking to achieve tonally. We start talking about sound right away, and I drive the conservation to “what is the sound we are trying to achieve?” I ask them to send me four songs that represent the sounds that we discussed, the sounds that they want to achieve. I listen to it and we discuss various aspects of the sound as applied to our project. I continue to listen to their music until I can hear the sound of our guitar in my musical imagination, at will … once I’ve got that, I can jump in. I can test the wood and choose the right materials for the sound. My third overwriting philosophy as an electric guitar builder is that I’m building acoustic guitars. The acoustic response of an electric guitar … the way the whole chassis vibrates as a string is struck, and as the chassis is stealing some of this sound … the acoustic response is still in play in terms of what the amp can capture. Pickups cannot invent overtone series; the entire set of overtone series that is available to be amplified. The acoustic response of an electric guitar is of the utmost importance to me.
I suppose the other huge amount of time I put in at the start occurred when I realized that I could do spectrum analysis readouts of frequency responses. I started to track the results on the chambers of my guitars; if there is a hollow part of my guitar, it has a known response frequency. The reason that its desirable to have the semi-hollow area tuned to the correct note and frequency is you get a semi-hollow guitar that sounds like a semi-hollow with no dead spots.
Q: Any other insight about your 38 years at it?
A: It’s been a wild ride. I’ve made some of the typical entrepreneur ‘mistakes’ but I’ve learned as I go. I’ve consistently brought in folks to help in the areas that I’ve needed help.
I’m very lucky to be in the line of work where I’ve learned; every day is a learning opportunity. For example, can you ever really know everything about what goes into a Telecaster?
Q: What’s next?
A: I’m in the process of getting my new Spellcaster guitar out into the world. I am always stoked about introducing new products. Part of the process of testing the prototypes involves players beta-testing them for me, as well as me testing them live in combat. I’ve gotten a strong, positive initial reaction to this guitar, and I have a great feeling about this one. This really needs to be launched and handled correctly and I am excited that Gear Collector came along, which I can leverage for my new product launches like this one.
Q: What are you doing when you’re not building and running the shop?
A: Dating girls, writing songs, currently finishing out my recording studio so I can start cutting my record, beginning rehearsals with a band … I’m a single dad of a 14-year old son and the caretaker of my 80 year old mom. I stay very busy, I go out and see bands. I’m an avid reader, an amateur astronomer, and I like to experiment in the shop.