It’s hard for me to figure out where to start with this write. I feel like I’ve just set out on a journey to find silver and come back with pockets full of bronze, silver and gold. The man I’ve been reading about and listening to for the last few hours has given me a plethora of information about Santa Cruz Guitars, but in doing so I’ve become one of hopefully many to learn how when the right inspiration reaches a brilliant mind, the story can become idolizing. Take a few minutes and let me tell you just a piece of what I now know about Richard Hoover and his Santa Cruz Guitar Company.
“I’ve always been driven to create. Making things, drawing things; Guitar making just brought it full and whole to me. From drawing on paper [or] just fooling around making things to have something with real substance to it. A guitar – [the] cheapest guitar can change the world. You can write a song that can change an international border or attract a mate for life.”
Richard Hoover’s story begins like many of our own stories. ‘My first guitar as a young boy’ narratives that for most of us leads to a short-lived dream of becoming a rock star. Years later, the guitar has become a hobby or maybe tags along for the occasional gig with the boys, but likely none of my readers reached a level of fame worthy of changing their last name to Jovi. Hoover’s story, however, takes a hard left “as a young boy” when his Harmony guitar brings a true entrepreneur's line of thinking to mind. Instead of bigger and better, Richard said to himself, “Wow, somebody makes these...” and he was off.
Hoover’s parents’ occupations helped aid his interests with his Father working with many different materials on a daily basis – woods, plastics and glass – and his Mother being a reference librarian, giving him access to all the guitar-building information he would need, or so he thought. The information he found is what Hoover gives most credit to Santa Cruz Guitar Company’s uniqueness. Richard dove into the world of the luthier; The making of the violin.
In an interview with McCoy Tyler of Reverb LP, Hoover explains, "The violin tradition, which is very different from the steel string guitar, is really still our foundation today. The violin is a very sophisticated instrument in a solo or orchestral context, so it requires more sophisticated building strategies.
Stradivarius’s big secret was that his instruments were built in-tune with themselves. The components (composed of frequencies) allowed the instrument to resonate as a chord, rather than as random frequencies. It worked in unison, it gave sustain, and it had complex overtones within that harmony. And that’s the strategy that we apply today."
One of the most surprising characteristics of SCGC, and Hoover himself for that matter, is the openness with the ‘secrets’ of success. Using the theory behind a violin’s construction is something a company may keep in the vault, but Richard Hoover explains swiftly why he shares every detail of his story. “The key to happiness is making other people happy,” he explains in several interviews. While we’ve heard this sentiment before, it’s not often paired with a passion, not to become an industry giant like Martin or Gibson, but to create an instrument that people can hold with the reverence of a Stradivarius. What Hoover found in following the luthier is that a violin is not made to be a specific shape. A violin is built to sound like a violin. While this may tickle everyone's ear, it’s a mindset that none of the larger guitar companies give claim to their fame. Richard explains that when shopping for the perfect guitar, we’re often told to first find the brand and model we want, but to then find the specific guitar that fits us by playing as many of that model as we possibly can – hit ever guitar store in town if necessary – until we’ve found the one that sounds just right. Hoover asks, ‘Shouldn’t you have the option to be able to pick up a specific model of guitar and know exactly what it’s going to sound like?’ Enter Santa Cruz Guitars.
Each guitar is tuned by one of a handful of craftsmen inside SCGC. While the outside of each Santa Cruz may look identical between models, the insides have slight to dramatic dissimilarities. Before each guitar is built there is a target warmth, a target tone, volume, response, etc. With each piece of wood forged into one of Hoover’s guitars, there’s a variation of the strength to weight ratio which can change every aspect of the wood’s sound. Adjusting the binding and beveling of each piece is just one of the keys to their goal of each and very model sounding the same for their customers. The location of their company in Santa Cruz, California is no coincidence. Hoover explains that being “centrally located” is beneficial to his guitars as they leave the workshop to be exposed the varying climates and conditions. With each piece of the guitar being tuned to talk to one another, SCGC’s efforts to minimize the drying and swelling of their guitars are appreciated by it’s customers years down the road.
Another nod to customer satisfaction is their choice of supply. Hoover is insistent to forever be cooperative with "Responsible Harvest." The use of laying wood or dead standing trees is an effort to both assist in the conservation of a healthy ecosystem, but also the supported cultures effected by the deforestation of such trees. When SCGC does harvest live trees, it's from a sustainable yeild system, much like that of a Christmas tree farm. Woods from systems like this can be part of a 80 to 100 year cycle.
“Our instruments go out and take a life on their own. Of course, it’s satisfying when I can mention a name of a celebrity that everybody knows, but my real gratification comes from people that use the guitars in teaching, charity, worship and things like that that truly change the world.”
Richard Hoover is loud and clear when he says he doesn't consider SCGC to be a factory. The human element involved in the guitar making inside the walls of Santa Cruz Guitars leave no question as to why they proudly call themselves a custom shop. Of the roughly 500 guitars that leave the shop each year, only 100 or so leave the country. To date, 75% of the guitars produced by SCGC are customer requests, while the other 25% are models they believe will please most of the people most of the time.
"Our mission statement is peace of mind and quality of life. And if that's the first filter that everything else comes through, we'll do pretty good -- And that's not a selfish statement either, because you truly become happy by other people's happiness. That's one of the immutable laws of nature, it's not my opinion. That's what makes the world go around. I realize that's very philosophical for people that might be interested in how we run the company, what's our business success and so forth, but it really all comes down to that."
While each Santa Cruz has a look and sound to be appreciated, there are a couple of models that have caught my eye that I have to share.
This, my friends, is the Santa Cruz Guitar Company Catfish Special. Like a few other guitars I’ve swooned over, this is an instrument that can be displayed proudly without ever needing a strum. It’s addition to the SCGC lineup, however, came from it’s popularity after being played at Santa Cruz’s 40th anniversary party by the famous Catfish Keith. His custom 1929 O model build gained so many inquiries that Hoover and his crew decided to add it to the catalog. The reason your eyes are so happy is the figured mahogany that’s been faded into a beautiful sunburst all around handsome guitar. “Simple, but beautiful” as Rich explains in the review below from Heartbreaker Guitars in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Another model you’ll find at this proud Santa Cruz Guitar Company dealer is the Santa Cruz OM Custom. With a larger size than the catfish, the Adirondack Spruce top over a Master Grade Figured Mahogany gives this SCGC a warmer, fuller tone for a much different sound profile. Played here by Mike of Hearbreaker Guitars, you can hear for yourself what gives Santa Cruz Guitars their pride.
Whether you’re after the Brad Paisley model, a Redwood Firefly or a Tony Rice Signature, check out the collection in person or HERE at Heartbreaker Guitars, a proud dealer of many SCGC Guitars. Hear and see for yourself the great look and sound that Richard Hoover and Santa Cruz Guitar Company has to offer.
Contributor for Heartbreaker Guitars