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Santa Cruz Don Edwards Cowboy Singer Guitar Review

The all mahogany-bodied, 12-fret, 00-sized Don Edwards Cowboy Singer perfectly embodies the balance between organic and exacting.

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It’s nice to imagine that a little bit of

every guitar’s creator comes out in the

instrument itself. But that notion is entirely

more believable when you play a Santa

Cruz. Richard Hoover, who co-founded

the company in 1976 before taking over

in 1989, is a big-hearted dude with a

deep love of guitars, good Mexican food,

and a great tune. He’s also an unwavering

stickler for detail. Not surprisingly, his

instruments walk the line between living,

breathing things and precision equipment

like few guitars can. And pickers from

Tony Rice (who is honored with his own

signature model dreadnought) to David

Crosby count Santa Cruz guitars among

their tools of choice.

The all mahogany-bodied, 12-fret,

00-sized Don Edwards Cowboy Singer—

one of the latest signature creations from

Santa Cruz—perfectly embodies the balance

between organic and exacting. It’s a

guitar of obvious and uncompromising

quality that looks timeless just sitting in

its denim-and-leather case. But as a single

strum reveals, it’s an uncommonly lively

and harmonically even instrument that

also barks with an authority that belies its

small size.

A Cowboy’s Tale

The Cowboy Singer’s namesake and inspiration,

cowboy balladeer Don Edwards,

could rightly be called a legend. He may

be best known to contemporary listeners

for his lament “Coyotes,” which closed

Werner Herzog’s 2005 film Grizzly Man.

But his signature Santa Cruz celebrates his

50th year as a keeper of the cowboy-song

tradition. And while Santa Cruz could

have slapped Don’s name on just about

any guitar and done his legacy justice, the

full-spectrum voice of this signature model

is particularly well-suited for performers

who, like Edwards, rely on the simple

combination of voice and guitar or even

6-string alone.

Hoover and Santa Cruz worked from

a proven template when designing the

Cowboy Singer. It’s clearly inspired by

Martin’s enduring 00 shape, which dates

back to the 1870s. But it’s likely more specifically

modeled after the 00-17, a gloss-finished,

all-mahogany version of the 00 that

Martin sold during the Great Depression.

While the Cowboy Singer looks understated

in the tradition of those instruments,

it is certainly not austere. The

buffed nitrocellulose finish is absolutely

glassy and flawlessly applied. That’s a

wonderful thing, given the gorgeous grain

of the mahogany and the beautiful cocoa-hued


Elsewhere on the Cowboy Singer,

things are equally luxurious and low-key.

Mahogany body binding subtly but

effectively highlights the Cowboy Singer’s

classic lines and proportions. A small tortoise

pickguard is a nod to Martin’s early

mid-century 00 and 000s, as is the pyramid

bridge. The slotted, ebony-capped

headstock—which is festooned with

Waverly tuners topped by snakewood

knobs—could also be an homage to

Martin’s 00s, circa 1930. But Hoover is

also a fan of the sonic properties of slotted

headstocks, citing an improved resonance

that certainly seems part of the Cowboy

Singers voice and sustain.

The fretboard is practically naked save

for a lone star at the 5th fret (a nod to

Edwards’ Texas roots) and Edwards signature

inlayed at the 19th fret. And the

shallow-V neck with a 1 13/16" nut width

gives you a spacious expanse for fingerpicking

and chording.

Mellow and Bright as a Texas Sunset

The Cowboy Singer defies a lot of assumptions

about how an all-mahogany guitar

should sound. To be certain, there is a pleasing

warmth and mellowness to the attack

that is typical of a mahogany top. But the

Santa Cruz has a dimension, brightness, and

crystalline tone that you could safely call

uncommon for this tonewood recipe.

That Santa Cruz gets such a wide

spectrum of sound and projection out

of a small-bodied mahogany acoustic

speaks volumes about Hoover’s extra-mile

manufacturing methods, which include

thin nitrocellulose finishes and time-consuming,

tap-tuning of tops. And in

the Cowboy Singer, the payoff comes

in the form of an extremely dynamic,

touch-responsive guitar that can gracefully

accommodate stylistic shifts.

Fingerpicking a set of familiar, first-position

folk chords is all it takes to hear

the Cowboy Singer’s dynamic range. Many

mahogany-topped guitars have limited

headroom, and really attacking them when

chording will blur overtones. The Cowboy

Singer, in contrast, feels limitless. It’s odd

to describe an acoustic other than a dreadnought

or jumbo in terms of horsepower,

but in its own controlled way, the Cowboy

Singer feels like it has the stuff in spades.

You can move from nuanced upper-register

picking to more vigorous chord strumming

without sacrificing any harmonic

detail. And in the hands of a skilled singer

and fingerpicker, the shift can be startlingly

effective and prompt a lot of musical

drama and moods. In that respect, it’s easy

to see why Edwards—a performer who

relies almost entirely on the sound of his

voice and guitar—arrived at this design.

One of the merits of 12-fret guitars

(which have their neck joint at this point,

rather than at the standard 14th fret) is

that the increased distance between the

bridge and soundhole can make a body

less stiff and, in some cases, capable of

producing richer tones. It’s hard to know

how much this factors into the voice of

the Cowboy Singer, particularly given how

bright it can be for a mahogany guitar. But

you certainly get the sense that the 12-fret

configuration of the Cowboy Singer has

a lot to do with how deftly the guitar

balances rubbery bass tones and bell-like

trebles. The balance becomes even more

remarkable when you use a capo on the

Cowboy Singer. Typically, playing with

a capo trades low-end oomph for high-harmonic

zing. But even with a capo at the

5th fret, the Cowboy Singer has plenty of

thump for thumbpicked alternating bass

lines (though its wide string spacing means

a lot of capos won’t fret all six strings at

the 5th fret or higher).

Open tunings showcase the Cowboy

Singer’s remarkable combination of girth,

chime, and resonance, and reveal the guitar’s

lively energy. Variations on open G

and DADGAD that are heavy on octaves

lured me into playing fewer notes—more

slowly—so I could relish the even, ringing

sustain and the surprising multitude of

overtones you can coax out of the Cowboy

Singer’s compact body.

The Verdict

Just about any guitar from the Santa Cruz

factory is bound to be some measure of

exquisite. And even by the company’s

lofty standards, the Don Edwards Cowboy

Singer is soulful and extraordinarily beautiful

to look at and play. With its wide string

spacing, the fretboard is ideal for peppering

fingerstyle work with pull-offs, hammer-ons,

and bends. But it’s the Cowboy

Singer’s broad and multifaceted sonic signature

that makes this Santa Cruz special.

It has superb and unusual balance and

dynamic range for an all-mahogany body—

a distinction that’s certainly attributable

to Richard Hoover’s holistic and exacting

approach to guitar building. And if you’re

a fingerstylist who digs the feel of a 12-fret

neck, or a singer and picker who looks to

the guitar for texture and nuance, it’s hard

to imagine a finer slab of wood and wire

for the job.

Buy if...
you love the warmth of all-mahogany guitars, but lust for a little more low end and zing, and embrace the notion of subdued, yet extraordinary guitar craft.
Skip if...
you prefer 14-fret neck joints, need jumbo-body volume, or need super bright spruce-and-rosewood tones.

Street $4300 - Santa Cruz -