Two Santa Cruz Guitar Co. Models with a 1930s Vibe
Michael John Simmons-
By the late 1920s recording technology had advanced to the point where the raucous, strident tone of the banjo could be replaced on shellac by the softer, mellower sounds of the guitar. (Vinyl was still a few decades away) Two of the first guitarists to take advantage of the new recording techniques were Nick Lucas and Roy Smeck. Nick Lucas was a singer, a songwriter and an excellent guitarist. He was popular on radio, sold millions of records and even made a few movies. Roy Smeck was a popular vaudeville star who was known as the Wizard of the Strings for his virtuosity on the Hawaiian guitar, the ukulele, the mandolin, the Spanish guitar and the mandolin.
The two men were so well respected as guitarists that Gibson created two of their first signature model guitars for them. The Nick Lucas Special was introduced in 1927 and it had the same shape as the 12-fret L-1 (colloquially known as the Robert Johnson model) but with a body that was much deeper. This configuration produced a tone that was richer and fuller with lots of projection. In 1930 the shape was changed to the slightly larger L-00 silhouette, but still with the deeper body. This version featured a 13-fret neck, a configuration that placed the bridge in the sweet spot on the top. Many guitarists felt that the 13-fret neck was confusing to play so in 1934 Gibson switched to a more standard 14-fret neck, which was perhaps easier to play but since it moved the bridge closer to the stiffest part of the top, they didn’t sound quite as magical.
In 1934 Gibson introduced, the Roy Smeck Stage Deluxe, a 12-fret slope-shouldered dreadnought designed for playing Hawaiian steel. The Stage Deluxe was a wonderfully, rich sounding guitar that was equally capable of projecting to the back rows of a vaudeville theater and producing delicate harmonies in the recording studio. The Stage Deluxe was the only 12-fret dreadnought Gibson ever produced and players who didn’t play steel lusted after its versatility. Sadly for them, the guitar was made with flush frets, a two inch nut and a straight saddle, all of which made it perfect for Hawaiian playing but meant that if someone wanted to play it in standard style, a Stage Deluxe would require extensive, and expensive, modification. (That didn’t stop Jackson Browne from having more than a dozen Roy Smecks converted over the years.)
Gibson never produced a lot of either model and today Nick Lucas Specials and Roy Smeck Stage Deluxes are highly sought after. Which brings us to Richard Hoover and the Santa Cruz Guitar Company. Richard Hoover has always had a good eye, and ear, for which classic designs he could enhance with his own esthetic. With the RS, he has taken the 12-fret slope shouldered dreadnought idea and tweaked it in some intriguing ways. The guitar is crafted with the usual Santa Cruz attention to detail. The multi-colored purfling adds a subtle touch of pizazz that beautifully sets off the sunburst finish. The top is spruce and the back and sides are mahogany, a combination that produces a balance of warmth and clarity. The RS can produce any sound from a whisper to a roar and works well for both flatpicking and fingerstyle.
The H/13 is one of Santa Cruz’s oldest models and it’s a cult favorite among some very accomplished players. (The H stands for Paul Hostetter, a local artist and musician who commissioned the first H/13 in 1978.) The combination of the small but deep body with the 25.375” scale length produces a rich, full tone with an astonishing amount of projection. Like the RS, this guitar has multi-colored purfling. The back and sides are mahogany and the top is made from Adirondack spruce. Both the RS and the H/13 owe their inspiration to instruments from the past, but Richard Hoover and his crew at the Santa Cruz Guitar Company add some special magic to produce some guitars are truly their own.