Luthier Focus: Santa Cruz Guitar Company
Santa Cruz Guitar company is made up of a team of luthiers based in Santa Cruz, California, who build phenomenal acoustic guitars. The company was set up by Richard Hoover in 1976, who is known to to have trained some of the most accomplished contemporary luthiers in his workshop.
Santa Cruz Guitar Company create perfectly personal guitars, built to accommodate the needs of their specific players. Richard Hoover himself describes that they build to “a dimension of frequency, rather than a dimension of size”, basing each aspect of the build process on the quality of the sound produced rather than sizes. This maximises the tonality, playability and the resonance of each individual instrument.
As well as their outstanding instruments, they’re known for their artistic edge, attention to detail, family-like team approach, green ethos within their wood sourcing/finishing process and their simply beautiful mission as a company;
“Quality of life, Peace of mind”.
We had the pleasure of getting to speak to the legendary Richard Hoover during the NAMM guitar show in 2019:
In 1966 a young Richard Hoover got the idea that he could improve the tone of his old Harmony guitar by working on it's insides. His first attempt didn't make his guitar sound better, but it did inspire him to build a guitar of his own.
Over the next few years he searched for information about his new passion, but there was a distinct lack of instruction on building acoustic guitars at this time. He took general woodworking lessons from his father, a skilled cabinet maker, where he learnt many useful techniques and gained experience with tools. However, Richard didn’t get much closer to his goal of becoming a luthier. He therefore decided to put his time and energy into becoming a guitar player instead. However, when he moved to Santa Cruz in 1972, his Martin D-28 got stolen, changing everything. Whilst looking for a replacement for this stolen guitar, he fell in love with an Epiphone Texan but didn’t have the money to purchase it. He got sent down the road to Beneficial Finance. When he explained to the loan officer what the money was for, the officer mentioned that he built guitars as a hobby. Immediately, Richard told him that he would be by his house once a week and that he was going to teach Richard what he knew. That was how he met Bruce McGuire, who became his mentor and helped him to start out as a luthier. Bruce helped Richard to finish a guitar he had previously began to build, as well as introducing him to another amateur builder, Jim Patterson.
After Richard had built a few guitars, he set up shop as a repairman and luthier and became well known in Santa Cruz. Alongside builders like Bob Taylor, Jean Larrivee and Michael Gurian, ideas, tools, and techniques were discovered and shared between them.
In 1976 Richard Hoover was approached by investors Bruce Ross and William Davis, who wanted to start their own acoustic guitar company. Richard Hoover, Bruce Ross and William Davis went on to work for SCGC together for two years, when they developed the Model D.
“We had noticed that there was a change in the way people played acoustic guitar. There were flatpickers like Clarence White, Tony Rice and Dan Crary, who were mixing jazz and other styles with fiddle tunes; fingerpickers like Kottke and Fahey doing wild things with open tunings; and singer-songwriters like James Taylor, Stephen Stills and Joni Mitchell, who were doing very sophisticated musical things on flattop guitars, stuff that had never been heard before. We saw there was a need for a guitar that wasn’t just a big booming dreadnought, something that could record well and could be played fingerstyle as well as flatpicked.” - Richard Hoover.
And so the D was born. The model D was created to be the 'one guitar for everybody'. They saw it as an incredibly versatile instrument, however as the company grew realised that this one model approach wouldn't be a good idea.
The concept of the model D was that it would be voiced to have a more balanced tone, with equal bass and treble response. The model D features a flatter radius to the fretboard, a 1 13/16inch nut width and a wide saddle for good intonation. The braces featured an unseen design, where they tapered from the centre of the X out towards the sides.
In 1978 William Davis left the company at the realisation of the lack of financial stability and Richard and Bruce proceeded to buy his share. This same year, together Richard and Bruce designed and created the models H and F. On top of this the pair began to work with musician Tony Rice, collaborating on the Tony Rice model, which further increased the popularity of the company. Over years this led to Hoover and Ross taking on two new employees, Michael Hornick and Jeff Traugott, who were both keen to become guitar makers and Richard was willing to help in the way that Jim Patterson and Bruce McGuire had helped him.
About 10 years later, in 1989, Richard Hoover bought out his partner Bruce Ross, who was ready to move on to other things. He revamped the business and adapted the previous models, changing features such as the headstock shapes and fretboard widths, standardising these features in order to make the designs less complicated.
Now, over 40 years onwards Hoover is still working at SCGC and has seen many highly skilled luthiers go through his workshop, this is one of the factors which Richard is most proud of:
“I think my ultimate legacy will be the builders who came through my shop, learned to build guitars under my direction, and have gone on to carry on the tradition. Our first employee was Michael Hornick, who took the job expressly to learn how to build guitars and then went on to build Shanti guitars. Jeff Traugott did the same thing. He came to us and said that he’d give us 110 percent for five years, and then he’d go out on his own. Bill Hardin is building guitars in Hawaii under the Bear Creek name, and Roy McAllister is now up in Washington.”
Hoover is very proud of his current staff and admires how dedicated they are to the craft of lutherie. “Veteran builders like Adam Rose and Dan Roberts and the rest of the guys are making guitars that are as good as or better than anything SCGC has ever done. I think this might be the best SCGC team yet,” he says. “I know that some of my current crew will leave and start building their own guitars based on their own ideas, which is a sign that I’ve been doing my job.” However he hopes they don't leave too soon, as there's a fair few Santa Cruz guitars that need to be built...
It is certainly worth mentioning the sustainable ethos of SCGC as they ensure their woods are sourced via methods of reclamation, sustainable yielding and responsible harvesting. For example downed trees, sunken logs, old tenements and building beams are just a few of the materials which are reclaimed and then used to make SCGC guitars. These also happen to be the most resonant and best-sounding woods possible to be sourced by responsible means. Once wood is removed from a living tree, there are resins within which begin to crystallise. This process improves the tonal quality over time, therefore giving the guitar a legitimate vintage sound from the start, despite being made into brand new guitars!
There is a great number of models available from the Santa Cruz Guitar company, ranging from Baritone to Small bodied and everything in-between. We've therefore gone into detail on a few of each of the sizes, most of which we have been lucky enough to have seen come through the TNAG showroom.
Multi-instrumentalist and world music virtuoso Bob Brozman was certainly qualified to design a guitar capable of showcasing a myriad of styles. A collaboration between this esteemed world musician and Richard Hoover resulted in a spectacular baritone guitar that can lend a piano-like presence to slide and open tuning playing styles. The very long (27 inch) scale, 12-fret Mahogany neck allows the guitar to accommodate heavier strings at the lower tensions of open tunings. The highest quality Mahogany back and sides and a rare European Spruce top provide extreme tonal clarity. This unique guitar combines design elements and tone woods for unrivaled volume, tone and sustain. If your set list includes Blues, Hawaiian Slack-Key or open tuning fingerstyles, this guitar is the ticket.
Bob Brozman’s personal instrument is captured in the Professional Model. In addition to the appointments of the standard DBB – a Herringbone combination purfling and Ivoroid top binding with a Herringbone and Ivoroid rosette – the DBB Pro is built with gorgeous reclaimed Koa wood for the back, sides and peghead overlay. This increasingly rare tone wood is acquired from old, naturally downed trees. SCGC is privy to a proprietary seasoning procedure that captures the colourful golden chocolate richness of this Hawaiian national treasure. Mr. Brozman warned us that, “The tone of this guitar can make a grown man cry.”
Tony Rice Model
The Tony Rice Signature Model represents over 30 years of collaboration between the world’s foremost flatpicking icon and SCGC’s founding luthier, Richard Hoover. Today’s model incorporates decades of refinement in response to players’ demands and the sophisticated evolution of the master’s technique. Never intended to be a copy of Mr. Rice’s iconic 1935 Martin D-28, the TR Model is voiced to showcase his stellar lead work with influences from Clarence White to John Coltrane. This guitar delivers exactly what the contemporary flatpicking artist needs: substantial treble and midrange for rapid single-line lead, clean note separation for definition and the traditional bass boom without the woofy bottom end of some of the venerable Pre-war dreadnoughts. Master grade Indian Rosewood and old Sitka Spruce give this instrument a professional presence at an attainable price.
Continuing on from this the Tony Rice Professional model was developed, which features some specifications which were used on Tony Rice's personal guitar. This included Old Growth Brazillian Rosewood back and sides, a shorter (25.25 inch) scale length and Tony's slimmer neck profile.
In 1934, the powerful 14-fret herringbone dreadnought was unleashed. This has become one of the most revered and sought after designs of the steel string acoustic guitar. No one has reproduced the essence of the iconic original, until now. The secret to the often superior tone of vintage instruments lies in aged woods (crystallised resins) and the relaxation of tensions built-in during manufacture. This is exactly what we account for in our 1934 D Model. Brazilian Rosewood cut in the 1930’s, master grade/old growth Adirondack Spruce tops/bracing and real hot hide glue are among our secret weapons. Hot hide glue is a time tested, natural adhesive that sets glass-like and resonant for a quicker, cleaner response. This isn’t ‘like the old stuff.’ It is the old stuff. These rarified materials give us the foundation for a true and genuine vintage sound.
Not every venerable 1930s herringbone dreadnought was exceptional, as they were products of a small, though nonetheless factory, assembly. By applying our singular tuning and voicing talents and taking our time to ensure a relaxed assembly, we consistently access the secrets to the ‘Old Bone’ sound. The original lacquer formula, nitro-cellulose, is composed of the same stuff as trees; we are protecting and enhancing the sound of the instrument with a fine coating of wood! It is the only choice to complement this heirloom quality guitar.
The availability of these models are very limited and therefore they are hard to acquire, we are very honoured to have seen one of these guitars come through The North American Guitar Showroom.
What’s up with thirteen frets? The historical precedent for this classic shape was the Gibson ‘Nick Lucas Special’ from the 1920’s and ’30’s, the one Bob Dylan holds in early photos. The “H” designation is an acknowledgment to the guardian of the lore of all things vintage and stringed, Maestro Paul Hostetter, who commissioned SCGC to build the prototype in 1978. In spite of the question of whether the historic 13 frets to the body had any basis in acoustic science, our reason for using it does.
SCGC’s concept for the H-13 is to achieve power beyond what would be expected in a small-bodied guitar. Two fundamental lutherie tricks make this possible: a longer string length (more downward pressure at the saddle) and more air space via a deeper body (increased volume and bass response). To place the bridge in the optimal position for power and maintain the longer string length, the neck needs to join the body at the 13th fret. Cool, huh? This is a gorgeous classic with power and presence expected from a much larger instrument. Perfect for aggressive fingerstyle blues and vocal accompaniment, the H-13 feels really sweet to hold.
The OOO is the 12-fret predecessor of the OM. If access past the 12th fret is of no concern, the OOO adds some distinct advantages tonally and cosmetically. The extension of the body to the 12th fret adds additional airspace, which translates into increased sound volume and a more predominate bass in the EQ. The slotted peghead is a standard feature that adds classic styling. The peghead’s reduced mass accentuates the guitar’s open, airy ambiance, making it a fingerstyle favorite. You’ve seen the SCGC OOO on stage with Jeff Tweedy and Dave Matthews as a solid performing songwriter’s tool. It has also been heard on numerous recordings as a mainstay of pro session players. You will find an immediate purpose for the OOO and wonder why you didn’t have it in your arsenal all along.
In the 1920’s, the Orchestra Model was originally intended to be a large guitar capable of being heard over other orchestral instruments, hence the OM name. Although it fit the bill, its relatively large body was soon eclipsed by the mighty dreadnought. Fortunately, the OM had secured its place in history as a powerful and versatile voice for public performance. Santa Cruz was among the first modern builders to reintroduce this now smaller bodied favourite at the beginning of the Eighties. Our practice of combining the most desirable attributes of old and new, rather than copying, made for a very successful introduction of the Santa Cruz Guitar Company to a whole new audience. With some irony, this acclaim encouraged the venerable originator of the OM to reintroduce the model to their line. Eric Clapton’s historic performance on the debut of MTV Unplugged set us on a course for another 25 years of success with this now perennial favourite.
The OM is delightfully versatile. Our OM players range from blazing flat picker James Nash to John Mayer and Elvis Costello. The Santa Cruz Guitar Company OM provides clean, loud mid-range and trebles that are complimented by a slightly predominant bass. Deeply appreciated for fingerstyle and contemporary flat picking work, the OM is our number one request.
The 1934 OM model came about when fans of our venerable 1934D Model began requesting the same build in a smaller, OM body. The highest quality, old-growth tone woods, combined with SCGC’s relaxed assembly, produce an unrivaled vintage tone from its first notes, and it only gets better with age. Master grade Brazilian Rosewood and Adirondack from the 1930s, Adirondack bracing with hot hide glue, vintage tinted bindings and top… every detail of this guitar was specifically chosen to produce an old world, vintage sound in a pristine, new instrument.
he Pre-War Orchestra Model honours its pre-WWII predecessors with an advanced X and scalloped top bracing. This time-tested design ensures large bass response and overall volume. Acoustic Guitar Magazine has placed it as one of the most important instruments of the last 20 years. The OM/PW is presented with understated appointments to emphasise master grade materials, tone and workmanship. It is perfect for the aficionado that loves the advantages of a professional boutique instrument without the cost of rare wood and ornamentation. The OM’s versatility and ergonomics lend great appeal for traditional picking styles and impressive rhythm work. Expect the predominant bass and throaty presence of the surviving pre-war antiques.
SCGC’s OM Grand is a bigger, lusher, louder sister to their extremely popular OM model. In comparison, the OM Grand embodies the same elegance, only in increased quantity of volume, projection and bass. More isn’t necessarily better, though in the context of a band’s competing acoustic instruments the ‘more’ of the OM Grand assures the guitar’s rightful dominance in the ensemble.
At the 2012 NAMM Show in Anaheim, SCGC’s longtime friend and dealer, Harry Tuft, asked Richard about building a special guitar to commemorate the 50th Anniversary of his shop, The Denver Folklore Center. In honor of this prestigious accomplishment, and the historical impact Harry’s shop has had on the folk movement in this country, Richard was thrilled to accept. Harry wanted a custom OM guitar with a larger body size for an increase in power in a body shape reminiscent of C.F. Martin’s historic 0000. Harry further customized his guitar to his playability needs and aesthetic values, including inlays commemorating his milestone 50th anniversary.
In preparing the templates for this new body size, Richard saw this enhanced sized OM as a fine addition to the stellar line-up of SCGC standard models, and the concept of the OM Grand was born.The strength of the OM Grand isn’t limited to sheer volume. In the sometimes restrained presence of solo fingerstyle playing, the inherent power of this guitar will generate a forceful bloom, requiring less effort with no loss of nuance.The best available tone woods are selected, voiced and tuned, as they are on all SCGC models. These include Indian Rosewood, responsibly harvested from the highest quality timbers, Sitka Spruce from British Colombia and premium Mahogany from sustainable resources.
In addition to the VA Model, the 1930’s Advanced Jumbo, J-45 and the iconic early 60’s Epiphone Texan also lent their considerable retro cool to the origins of our Vintage Southerner Model. Each one of these guitars was a favourite of several of SCGC’s veteran luthiers and so inspired this regal compliment to the SCGC VJ Model. The must have feature of the SCGC VS is the shorter, 24-3/4 inch scale length. It is so yielding to the touch that fretting and reach are a pleasure. The scale puts the bridge in the optimal position to produce the comforting, growling presence of an old blues recording. The VS will respond with considerably more refined quality than the oldies, while inspiring room to grow throughout your musical career.
The Advanced Jumbo, J-45 and the iconic early 60’s Epiphone Texan were the coolest accessories that an aspiring cowboy singer could shoot for. Each one of these guitars was a favourite of several of SCGC’s veteran luthiers. As it is our style to interpret rather than copy, the Vintage Jumbo Model combines the essence of coolness possessed by its forbearers with built-in improvements from SCGC’s decades of lutherie.
The VJ’s Sitka Spruce top is braced and voiced for volume and the body is built with premium Mahogany for clarity of tone. The balance favours the bass to the degree found in the originals, not to the excess found in many from the golden era of the square-shouldered brand. What this really pretty face has over its predecessors is SCGC’s hallmark complexity of overtones, sustain and power. Look your best. Wear this guitar!
The Vintage Jumbo is the ideal Blues guitar. Inspired by the classic round-shouldered dreadnoughts of the 1940’s, we infused it with the characteristic Santa Cruz volume, balance and complexity to create a guitar that can cover a lot of different styles. The VJ is dripping with the kind of deep, rich bass and sweet trebles that really shine in chord-oriented work. You won’t find this one coming up short when you call on it for more!
The OO is an ergonomic delight. This instrument delivers ease of playability and surprising volume for its size. Certainly not just a smaller version of the OOO, the OO is a specialised tool onto itself. The 12-fret body and 24-3/4 inch string length tunes to pitch at lower string tension, making the action supple while requiring less of a stretch between frets. The size and voicing of the OO give it an exceptionally balanced EQ with a wonderful complex tone and remarkable projection. This serious instrument is surprisingly loud. The OO’s portability makes it an excellent companion for composing and recording, and its sophisticated voice encourages players to explore undiscovered fretboard possibilities. Holding this guitar just feels right.
Santa Cruz is thoroughly represented in television, film and top 40 hits of most genres by first call session aces. The celebrity front man usually sports an instrument on stage that is supplied by the brand with the biggest artist relations budget. But when it comes to their recordings, only the best guitar and player will do. Santa Cruz has provided the top studio professionals with style specific customisations for decades. The FireFly concept: Current technology has allowed artists to lay down tracks from remote locations creating a need for a sophisticated guitar that travels well and still delivers a professional performance.
The Robb Report showcases the simple elegance of this SCGC model as a way to ‘own the extraordinary’ instead of ‘settle for the ordinary.’ Welcomed internationally as both timely and timeless, the 1929-00 has received sparkling reviews from the most prestigious publications in France, Germany, UK and the US. This instrument’s design pays homage to the simple and elegant instruments made for players enduring the Great Depression of 1929. Vintage inspired appointments include scalloped bracing, a period correct script style logo done tastefully in Ivoroid and beautifully executed Ebony pyramid bridge, bridge pins, tuner buttons, head-plate and fretboard. The rosette is an exercise in austere elegance with a rich tortoise ring nestled in a vintage Ivoroid border.