There’s a palpable magic in the air when you speak to Richard Hoover, founder of the Santa Cruz Guitar Company. A magic that intensifies the moment you smell, hear, or touch one of his guitars. With true West Coast coolness, Hoover speaks to TNAG Connoisseur about founding the world’s greatest custom shop.
Meet Your Maker
Meet Your Maker: Richard Hoover of the Santa Cruz Guitar Company
Speaking from his home in the early morning Santa Cruz sun, Richard Hoover answers on the third ring. “I’m so blessed by all accounts to have landed where I did, you know, the way I landed here,” he reflects. “But you know, it might never have happened because I was convinced that I was either going to be a cowboy in Montana or a Bob Dylan in California,” he laughs.
Luckily for us, neither of those paths are what gives Richard Hoover global notoriety. We know Richard Hoover as the founder of the Santa Cruz Guitar Company (or SCGC, as it soon came to be known) and a veritable pillar of the guitar world.
Under his belt not only sits one the of the greatest custom shops on the planet, but also a long list of apprentices who’vegone on to help shape the world of modern lutherie as we know it. Hoover’s impact on the world of guitar making cannot—and must not—be underestimated.
In this Meet Your Maker profile, we’re going to tell the story of how Richard Hoover came to be one of the most celebrated guitar makers of a lifetime.
The making of Richard Hoover
Growing up in a rural environment, working on things “taking them apart, putting them back together” was just part of Hoover’s daily paradigm. His father was a skilled workman, designing and building fittings for general stores, working with wood and metals. Witnessing what his father was doing on a day-to-day, Hoover would help out, which he reflects on with fondness as a “great foundation for pretty much anything on a mechanical level”. Richard’s mother was a schoolteacher and piano player. And so the two major influences fused from a young age that would go on to shape the work he does now.
“I realized later on in life that those things were really dear to my foundations, but the music, and the stories behind it… those were really important to me. I had fairly usual hobbies growing up. I made models of cars. Hot rods. I loved them. And then later on skateboards and so forth. I had my hands on things, you know? I don't really remember my father directing me specifically on anything at all in that way, but that’s not to diminish his participation. I just think my learning was by observation,” Hoover recalls.
At this point, guitar making hadn’t even crossed his mind. The music was the dominating influence and so he sought to become a singer-songwriter. But a few different paths were explored as a young Richard Hoover looked for his calling.
“Playing guitar for me was a necessity. That's what it took to be cool. And that's what I thought it would take to, well,impress girls. I had several different groups in high school, mostly folk and songwriter type stuff, even though there wasn't a name for that genre at the time. I also sang in choirs throughout most of my youth.”
Finding spirituality in New Mexico
After graduating high school in 1969, Hoover went to New Mexico to join a collective and helped people who were there from the University of Montana build a school. Here, he built the foundations, did the plumbing, electricity, fixed cars… “I learned a lot there, not just the physical side of working, but actually working with people… working in a community. This changed my perspective on things, doing something for a cause, at a higher level. I always had a real deep spiritual foundation in my life and for what I did,” Richard says.
From those experiences in New Mexico, and still in his early 20s, Hoover walked his next path in search of continued community spirit and belonging. This took him to working with vulnerable children in a halfway house. “It was something that was between the law and the parents for these at-risk kids. It was kind of moving. There was a lot of people cast adrift to the road and the whole youth culture was trying to redefine itself at the time. They had their own rituals and their own ideas of how we should live. And lots of people got lost along the way to drugs. I spent some time working with people, counselling them, learning how to help people with real problems.”
“Leaving that chapter behind was hard, but it was really fulfilling. And I felt I’d seen kind of a calling that I was good at, but at the same time it was really wearing and abrasive on your soul. Dealing with crisis on a daily basis, the danger is you start to categorize people and their issues to be more efficient. And that's when you realize you've lost the compassion that's necessary to do that job effectively.”
New Mexico to Santa Cruz
After closing that chapter in his life, Richard Hoover “set back off to be Bob Dylan”.
“You know, that was the easy route and it’s when I met my current wife. Current wife?” he asks himself, laughing. “I say current wife, I don’t know where I got that from. That’s celebrity talk, I guess. I’ve only had one wife.”
‘We were in New Mexico, which is profoundly beautiful and the most idyllic place to be—but the opportunities there were limited. So, we came back to California. My wife was art director of Ramparts [a political and literary magazine published in the 60s and 70s], which was the cutting leftist magazine at the time. And she had to be there once a month. I could not stand to live in an urban environment, but that's where she had to be for her work. And I guess I also I needed that for my music. The compromise was Santa Cruz. Which I think you’ve heard of…”
Santa Cruz was the perfect place for Richard. The vitality, sophistication, and opportunities of a city, but also the ability to live rurally. “My goal is always to be at the end of the road, the top of the mountain and not the highest thing on the food chain. That's how I like to live. And in Santa Cruz, I could live as I wanted to.”
Another thing that threads Hoover’s story is his love of guitar music, one of the reasons he headed back to California. “Guitars always fascinated me. Why I didn’t build one earlier in my life I’ll never know. Maybe it was my nomadic lifestyle. Who knows?”
You can read the full Meet Your Maker feature in V1E1 of TNAG Connoisseur, which is available to download right now across all app stores. Use code 'conn01' to redeem the issue free of charge.