The Gibson Nick Lucas Special and the Santa Cruz Guitar Co. H-13

In 1927 Gibson introduced the Nick Lucas Special, a small flattop with an extra deep body. Nick Lucas was an excellent player and was one the first pop musicians to accompany himself on guitar. In the early 1920s he played an archtop L-5 but soon found that he wanted a guitar with a mellower tone but that still had some volume. In an unusual move, rather than make a larger-bodied instrument for Lucas, Gibson opted to take their classic L-1 shape, which measured 13 1/2” across the lower bout, and deepened the 4” body to 4 1/2”.

This small change gave the Nick Lucas Special a volume boost while retaining the tonal balance and clarity he desired. Over the next few years Gibson worked on refining the guitar and by the time the model was discontinued in 1941 due to America’s entry into World War II, the Nick Lucas Special had evolved from a 12-fret guitar to a 13-fret and then finally a14-fret version. After the war, Gibson didn’t revive the style, Nick Lucas hadn’t had a hit in years, and the guitar was basically forgotten by players.

In the early 1960s, Bob Dylan started playing a 14-fret Nick Lucas Special that had been stripped and refinished as a blonde guitar. Over the years, following Dylan’s lead, more and more players began to rediscover the style and by the early 1980s the Nick Lucas Special had earned a reputation among guitar geeks as one of the best sounding vintage flattops ever built.

Over the years, a number of luthiers have been inspired by the small, deep body concept and have gone on to design their own versions. Richard Hoover of the Santa Cruz Guitar Company was one the first builders to make a version. Dubbed the H, in honor of Paul Hostetter who helped design the guitar, the Santa Cruz version had a 13-fret neck. Although it can be a bit confusing to play, the 13-fret neck placed the bridge in a sweet spot on the top that seemed to bring out the best tone.