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Single Note Flatpicking
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|All clips were recorded with a sE3 studio condenser mic, Aphex 207D mic pre, RME Fireface digital interface, and the Samplitude V8 audio software.|
Santa Cruz has friends out in the world, friends who know they’re always looking for amazing wood stashes that they can turn into incredible guitars. Somebody found some Brazilian rosewood that had been cut in the 1930s and forgotten about, called up Richard Hoover and asked him if he’d like to take a look at it. “Well, duh!” was probably not what he said, but we’re sure it crossed his mind. He went, he looked, he cut a check… and the rest, well, it’s kind of like history, except for the part where it’s happening now.
The dreadnought body shape was introduced by Martin in 1934 as a way to allow guitars to be heard when they were playing with banjos, fiddles and Highland bagpipes. Dreadnoughts exist to be loud and project well. When made with the appropriate woods, they’re also clear, balanced, rich, bassy, brilliant—and did we mention loud? This dreadnought was made with the right woods. 75-year-old Brazilian is a rare and wondrous thing.
Hence the price tag, which includes two digits followed by three zeros. Let’s just get that out of the way right now: $15,000. Okay, the average guitar player’s car isn’t worth that much, but… it’s 75 year-old Brazilian, get over it. We all shook our heads, several times over, but kept coming back to, “How much would you pay for the Holy Grail?” Given the limited availability of these guitars, and knowing how the collectors market has performed over the past few decades, this guitar will eventually be worth many times that.
How did we score our time with this guitar? We’re not entirely sure, divine intervention may have played a role… but we are hugely honored and grateful to Richard Hoover of Santa Cruz, and to the owner of this guitar (at a five-figure price point, these are not made on spec) for allowing us the opportunity to spend a little time with it so we can share the experience with our readers. Most of us are never going to get to play a guitar like this.
Santa Cruz wisely let the wood speak for itself, so there is very little ornamentation. As Pat said, “They don’t make Brazilian like this anymore.” No, they don’t. To anybody’s knowledge it’s all gone, and there’s no reason to think there will ever be any more like what has gone into this guitar. Hoover laughingly describes the intensely grained wood as “comic-book Brazilian.” The Brazilian is used on the back, sides, fretboard, bridge and headstock. The headstock and fretboard look like one contiguous piece. It’s nothing short of outrageously beautiful. The sides of this particular guitar feature a black stripe in the grain that splits into two stripes at the bottom that form a little frame around the end pin. During our “roundtable” with this guitar Gayla asked, sort of rhetorically, “What color is this? I don’t even know.” Pat said, “It’s rosewood colored.” To quote Trent Salter, “ ‘Nuf sed.” Pat continued: “I can’t take my eyes off the peghead and fretboard, they’re stunning.” The lovely “zipper” backstrip is one of many vintage details. The original clear nitrocellulose lacquer allows the stunning beauty of the grain and the true color of the wood to shine; it’s buffed to a grand sheen.
The Adirondack top was cut in the ‘40s; it’s a gorgeously aged bright golden yellow with remarkably straight and even grain, finished with vintage varnish. The top has a wonderful vintage-style herringbone purfling and rosette, and the soundhole is enlarged, like Clarence White’s 1935 Martin D-28. In fact, this guitar sounds remarkably like White’s guitar, now played and curated by flatpicking maestro Tony Rice. It occurred to us to wonder, given Rice’s association with Santa Cruz, whether that guitar might have played a role in the creation of this one. It looks remarkably similar. The “dalmation” pickguard is another nod to the ‘30s dreadnoughts, and it does seem at home here.
The fretboard is highly polished Brazilian, bound with white ivoroid. It feels flawless under the fingers and will play in wonderfully. The fretwork is simply perfect. The neck was actually custom made for the lucky person who ordered this guitar, and that was the only thing like a quibble we had. All three of us prefer very different neck shapes, none of which are the traditional Martin deep V; this neck is also a little wider than the standard model. After playing it for a little while, Chris said, “Okay, I could get used to this neck—for this guitar.” Pat and Gayla simply nodded and said, “Mm hmm.” The action was also rather manly, but again, that’s probably the owner’s preference.
The whole thing is held together with real hide glue, which contributes to the resonance because it sets up hard as glass. The only touch of inlay on the entire thing is the SCGC logo at the sixteenth fret.
Tone Beyond Imagination
As previously mentioned, this guitar is new. Wet behind the ears. A baby. And it’s got that new-guitar tightness to the tone, but we could already guess what this guitar will sound like in a year. In fact, we’re hoping that whoever owns this guitar will play it in and send us a recording of it a year from now. (Seriously, whoever you are, we would like this very much.)
It’s everything we mentioned above about dreadnoughts generally (loud, clear, balanced, rich, bassy and brilliant) but it’s on steroids. Brazilian is… hmm, how do we say this..? Brazilian is to date the best tonewood ever, and nothing about this guitar creates a lick of doubt about that. We will let the sound clips do most of the talking for us, because words like “wow,” and “holy…” and “oh, f***, do you hear that?” don’t really do you a lot of good. The most sensible thing any of us could muster was Pat’s comment: “This is the most nicely balanced D I have ever played.”
Brazilian requires a firm touch to really get the wood to do what it does—if you’re at all timid about your playing, Brazilian is not the wood for you. It loves to be strummed, flatpicked, even “beat” on (but not in the bad way!) and the more in-charge you get, the more it will deliver. This guitar loves bluegrass pickin’ and DADGAD strummin’—it’s a fiddle-tune playin’ fool. Gayla sat on the couch for hours the first night this guitar got here playing everything from “Whiskey Before Breakfast” to “The Blarney Pilgrim” to “The Christmas Reel.” Pat showed up and played folk and jazz and classical and beyond. The next day Chris had a folk-rock fest at the office. This guitar wants to play, and it wants to play loud, and it wants to play a lot. Okay, we can deal with that! The use of a capo accentuates the tightness/newness of the tone, but that will loosen up in a few months. It didn’t take away one iota of bass response, or make the tone any less full.
The Final This-is-NOT-a-Review Mojo
There’s no way to “rate” this guitar—it’s ridiculously special. PG’s standard “buy if/skip if” format is also utterly irrelevant. If you have fifteen large to spend and you want to commission somebody to make you a phenomenal flatpickin’ guitar, call Santa Cruz and if they’ve got any of this batch o’ Braz left, they’ll make you one. If not, you’ll just have to content yourself with living vicariously through us.
Eighty years from now when our descendants are looking for the Holy Grail of Acoustic Tone from the early twenty-first century Golden Age of Lutherie, this guitar will be waiting. Hell, it’ll probably still be ringing.