“You’ve got the FTC-1 prototype? Oh, wow. I remember that guitar like it was yesterday. It’s on your website? How much? That’s Santa Cruz history right there. It should be in a museum. Maybe I ought to buy it back,” Hoover chuckles down the telephone.
Richard Hoover on the Santa Cruz FTC-1 Prototype
The Santa Cruz Guitar Company FTC (flat-top cutaway) that we have here should, indeed, be somewhere in a museum.
This is the first-ever FTC built by Richard Hoover in 1978 (see the label, it’s actually signed Otis B. Rodeo, which was Hoover’s stage name at the time), and was based on an old Epiphone guitar. It has a carved back, just like an archtop, and the soundboard is conventionally X-braced. The idea behind it was to develop a guitar that would give the trademark projection and note separation of a big-bodied archtop but with the sustain of an X-braced flat top.
At the time of its build, the Santa Cruz Guitar Company was in relative infancy and didn’t have the marketing machinery behind it to promote and explain what was considered then a radical design concept. That was until, one Eric Clapton saw this very guitar on an ad in Frets magazine. Clapton ended up ordering his own FTC, based on this prototype here, andloved it. It featured it on Clapton’s Another Ticket album and so began the relationship between the world’s most celebrated guitar player and the Santa Cruz Guitar Company—all thanks to this very FTC.
TNAG Connoisseur reminisces with Richard Hoover about building the FTC-1 back in 1978...
You built this very guitar 43 years ago. Do you still remember building it given its significance in SCGC history…
Absolutely. I remember it vividly because we were doing something that we had no idea how to. The idea for the FTC really is from archtops, but at that time, archtops hadn't had their resurgence. Archtops were something that your goofy uncle played, who used to be in a band with 20 people. The only real guitar for a grown-up person was a dreadnought. An archtop was really, really weird.
You based the body shape on an early Epiphone?
Well, kind of. The FTC was inspired by an Epiphone that was made in maybe the 50s or 60s, that had a flat top and a carved back. And whether or not that back was carved or pressed, I still don't know. The the concept for this was to gain the projection of an archtop guitar, but to retain the sustain of a flat top guitar. To have the presence, the tonality, and the warmth of a flat top guitar, but have it in a really powerful instrument. One of the things about projection, is you can manipulate it, almost like you would focus a beam of light. Some guitars can be hugely loud, but this volume is right there with the player, radiating in 360 degrees. You can then have a guitar that you can narrow the focus by degrees, and you can finally come up with a guitar that really projects. So, where the player would sit and go, ‘this is very loud’, and the person in front of them is chasing their hat to the back of the auditorium, right? And part of that is that arched back.
Where did you take the initial measurements for this guitar, given you’d never built one before?
For the first arched back, we'd taken measurements from an old Gibson L-5. I remember networking with some cello makers about how to make this back work. To actually carve it was, well, a riot. I mean, it's a lot of work to gouge and move all that wood. The bright idea was to put a kind of half round router bit in the drill press and then set it to a depth and hold the back by hand to be able to carve out the interior and remove the bulk of the wood.
That sounds dangerous…
Pretty much! It was so dangerous because the router bit was tipped with carbide. And it was under a real unusual kind of oblique load, and it could dislodge the carbide making it fly up. So I set [SCGC partner at the time] Bruce up with a couple of telephone books under his shirt as a breastplate in case, well you know… the carbide would have to go through the telephone book before it could harm him.
Tell me about the maple...
Oh, that cost a fortune. For us at the time, it was a staggering amount of money. And you really couldn't make a mistake, right? You couldn't ruin it. I remember that wood being a real beauty… almost translucent. In between the dark and light parts of the flame was a translucency and little sparkling specks in it. I just loved that wood... It was such a gorgeous material to work with.
And how about bending it…
Bending the cutaway was a big deal because in designing that guitar to make it look right, the cutaway is a tighter radius than is prudent—and it’s hard to do. But we had to do it, so we did it anyway. I remember the discussion we had designing that thing. And looking back now, I can see those parts of classical design. It was a big, and fairly brave, battle to get the FTC design so that things fell into place together. Things that I remember as being standout… The peghead is asymmetrical, reflecting asymmetry of the cutaway. And the inlays—those were a real beauty too. But we actually just went back to classic dimensions and got something that looks refreshingly new, that's truly timeless in that regard. And that was the whole idea with the FTC.
This very guitar, the FTC-1, started your relationship with a certain guitar hero?
Yeah. Right! We got a letter from him…
‘Him’ is Eric Clapton…
This started with an ad. We were able to cobble together enough money to run an ad in Frets magazine—it was about the size of four postage stamps. And it was a picture of the guitar that you have in your shop right now. The FTC-1.
Clapton saw the ad, and wrote to you asking for one?
I went to the mailbox one day, and there was this lavender envelope, which really stood out. And I looked at it and up in the return address corner it said: ‘E. Clapton, London, England.’ And I thought, ‘Hm, maybe it's Edmond Clapton, the, er, plumber from London…’ Because the alternative was just too impossible to imagine, right?
Eric Clapton writing to us. The handwriting was almost calligraphy. It said something like ‘I’d like to experience an in the flesh meeting with that guitar. Please call Diana at this number.’ And then there's a string of incomprehensible numbers. And we spent the better part of the day trying to figure out how to make an international call!
When we did get to Diana, she says, ‘Are you in receipt of Mr. Clapton's letter?’ And we said, ‘Yes.’ She said, ‘Oh, good. We'd like you to know that we'd like to get that guitar.’ Our first question was ‘Is this the Eric Clapton?’ She pauses, then laughs. The silence seemed to last forever. She then says, ‘Okay, this is something important to know. Mr. Clapton is contracted for the rest of his life with endorsements, so please don't ask for anything except for making the guitar.’ We said, ‘That's fine. Don't worry. We're happy.’