Does the idea of a custom gun riding in a cop’s holster seem an oxymoron? I mean, “custom” and “cop” … does that really work? Absolutely. And I’ll tell you why.

We’re inundated with “adequate” and “make-do” and “plastic” and “disposable” and, well, things that don’t really seem to matter. Our jobs are full of plastic, our homes are full of plastic and at times it seems we’re being overwhelmed by both instant gratification — and instant dissatisfaction. But I found one way out of the cycle, and so can you.

My association with my husband Roy (editor of sister pub American Handgunner) has put me in a position to marvel at custom handguns of all sorts. And, as someone who has always appreciated nice things, I took to them immediately. As art, history and genuine performance, they’re often without peer. But I soon found that without the people who craft the guns, that wonderful assemblage of steel and wood is simply a cold, hard, lifeless thing.

Let me tell you a story.

Terry Tussey and his wife Theresa are dear family friends. And just as importantly, Terry is a superman — but he won’t admit it. Chasing his early 70’s, Terry has spent a lifetime building custom guns, especially 1911’s. Terry’s work has been the basis for factory-produced features on 1911’s, and he’s garnered the admiration, respect and welcome of both industry insiders and his customers in all walks of life. Terry is one of a rare handful of acknowledged savants of all-things 1911. His work has appeared in Handgunner and other magazines, even the L.A. Times. Terry’s also a member of the prestigious American Pistolsmiths guild.

But the Terry Tussey I know is a superman, and not just because he can build a remarkable 1911.

I met Terry in the early 1990’s when I started working Roy’s display tables at some gun shows in Southern California. This gentle-giant of a man with the steel-gray mustache was always soft spoken and always took the time to explain gun-things to “Ms. Suzi,” as he calls me. Mostly due to his influence, I began my love of 1911’s.

Not long ago, I spent some time in his shop learning some 1911 secrets, and came away even more amazed at how, with seeming effortless ease, Terry turns an odd assemblage of bits and pieces on his workbench into works of functional art.

But unknown to me, he and Roy had been secretly conspiring together. Roy told me Terry said, “I just wanted to build Suzi a gun. She didn’t ask for one, and it seemed a good idea.” Roy worked with Terry to let him in on some secrets I would like to see in a personal 1911. I never wondered why Roy seemed to be asking me about 1911’s a lot! That’s how Terry knew what I thought, and combined it with his own ideas.

Was I surprised? What do you think?


Tussey is known for building guns with clean lines — that work flawlessly — and mine is no exception. The custom purple heart grips are by Esmeralda ( with the logo for SUMARO House, our homestead in Missouri,etched on them. The matching card case is by Karla VanHorne of Purdy Gear. Touches like this make a custom gun package highly personal and likely to become family heirlooms.


Insight into why this very special gun is important to me is in order. The personal touchstone it has become is most important to me — Terry did it with his own hands, just for me. Nonetheless, the elegance of its mechanics is important too.

I have a bit of a head start with custom 1911’s, as I’ve been fortunate enough to build two of my own by attending the Cylinder & Slide 1911 build class we host at our house once a year. Struggling to actually build your own gun is the only real way to understand the sort of work talents like Terry seem to create so easily. Trust me … it’s not easy.

First off, this isn’t simply a modified factory gun. Terry built it from scratch, using a Caspian cast frame (interestingly enough, it’s stronger than forged when slammed by the short slide!) and carbon steel slide. After so many years at the trade, Terry has firm ideas about what parts to use, and keep this in mind: virtually all of them have to be hand-fit as the gun goes together.

The core to a gun like this, its soul if you will, is the barrel. The link joining it to the frame creates a unity of action, which allows performance and accuracy. Without a good barrel, you don’t have accuracy, and the Shuman Supermatch barrel is likely at the top of the chart when it comes to custom, match-grade barrels. They are crafted carefully, without compromise, and are the go-to choice when first quality is what you want.

A secret to building a custom gun, any custom gun, is to understand the relationship of the parts, to choose the right ones to match and then know how to fit them correctly. Terry is a master of blending the right parts to create the sum total he’s looking for. In this case, he used parts from Novak, Ed Brown, Caspian, Colt, EGW, C&S Shop, Grider and Smith & Alexander. Picking exactly what he needed from these top-line shops, without compromise on quality or design, always sets Terry’s work apart.

Of course, the real magic is the mating of those parts. That’s where the thought of my dear friend, mentor and icon in the industry took the time to build one just for me, sets this custom gun apart from anything produced in a factory. Touches like a subtle carry bevel on all sharp angles, the melded match bushing, undercut triggerguard and even the front sight Terry handmade for this gun, only endear this even more. It’s made to fit me, to my hand, to my wishes. There are few feelings quite like owning something like this.


Less is indeed more and is a feature Terry Tussey understands like few others. Confidence in a personal firearm you can carry as a backup or off-duty is critical. Maybe a custom gun built to exactly your taste might make sense after all?

The Superman Part

Through the years Terry and Theresa have remained a part of our lives, even after they moved to Carson City, Nev., and we’ve visited as often as we could. Terry was always a bear of a fellow — strong, active and involved. One of his passions was riding mountain bikes, and into his late 60’s he could outride people half his age. Then tragedy struck. While biking one day, he took a spill, ending up wheelchair bound after fracturing his neck like Christopher Reeve, the actor who only played Superman. Unlike Christopher, Terry was and is not dependent on a breathing machine. A long 2 years, mostly in the hospital, showed Terry hadn’t lost his spunk, and the injury barely slowed him down. He showed off his incredible upper body strength to his therapists, and without fanfare, went back to work in his shop. And through every last bit of this, Theresa has been there by his side with unwavering love and support. She’s a force to be reckoned with in her own right.

Terry is still creating magic guns, and I’m extremely fortunate and honored to own such a wonderful gun — and to have Terry and Theresa as dear friends. Everyone should own a custom gun at some point in their life. Think of one as you would a customized car. You’d be out driving the car after carefully finding the exact model and customization you wanted, right? Well, a custom gun is no different. I’m not afraid to carry or use my Tussey Custom — no, sir! It shoots like hell’s-afire.

And every time I’m done shooting I can’t help but smile and think of Terry.