Take Santa Cruz’s reputation for excellence and add a degree of custom shop variability – David Mead is like a kid in a sweetshop!
It is, perhaps, not so widely known that the Santa Cruz Guitar Company offers a custom facility alongside its standard instrument range. The company, originally set up by Richard Hoover in 1976, already has a considerable reputation among players for some of the very finest instruments available, its guitars receiving rave reviews wherever they land. But customers have a whole slew of options available when they order from Santa Cruz, meaning that the process of buying a new six-string can be finely tuned to an individual’s tastes and needs. I spoke with Richard about his company’s custom shop in the interview that accompanies the Santa Cruz Custom reviews in this issue, but for now, let’s feast our eyes on one of its recent builds.
Build Quality and Features
The first Santa Cruz we’re going to look at is an OM with some onboard custom refinements. Bear in mind that you can incorporate a considerable number of variables into your own guitar; things like nut width, body woods, scale length and so on. So if this one isn’t an exact fit for your dream instrument, it’s probably only a tweak or two away on an order form.
However, I’ll admit up front that the OM is very probably my favourite acoustic guitar body size. It’s a Goldilocks thing: for me a dreadnought is often a tad too big and a parlour or OO slightly on the small side. Experience tells me that an OM is just right. So it was with a great deal of anticipation that I opened the case on this guitar and I must say that I wasn’t disappointed. The extremely high build quality is obvious from the start. It looks clean and crisp and ready for business, so let’s move in for a closer look.
The OM’s top is Italian spruce, a wood with similar features to German spruce both in terms of looks and tone. The two woods are renowned for a finely rounded treble with a little “bounce” to the sound as well. The colour here is slightly less creamy than you might expect from, say, Engelmann spruce and the Koa bindings around the body and soundhole set things off very nicely indeed.
Under the hood, so to speak, and out of sight from all but the most prying eyes is Adirondack bracing which, when combined with the Italian spruce top, promises to be a fine formula for great sound.
It’s master grade Indian rosewood for the back and sides with a deep chocolate colour and straight grain, offset nicely with a “zipper pattern” centre strip. The finish to the body really is exemplary, inside and out, and its layers of nitrocellulose lacquer have been buffed to a mirror finish.
The mahogany neck – which begins with a Koa heel cap at its base – has a C profile to it and I might have even detected a very slight V in the mix at this point, too. At the top of the neck there’s a diamond-shaped volute and six open back Waverly tuners with ebony buttons either side of the headstock, which has the Santa Cruz logo emblazoned upon it in abalone.
Once past the 44mm bone nut, the ebony neck has been left clear of position markers, allowing the Koa binding to assume star billing as far as décor is concerned. Its bone for the string saddle, too, set in an ebony bridge with pearl-topped ebony string pins to round things off.
Overall this really is a beautiful looking instrument. Superbly understated in terms of furnishings, but I get the impression that a consummate amount of attention to detail is in evidence here. Even the tortoiseshell pick guard has a subtly bevelled edge which feels good to probing fingers.
Sounds and Playability
After just a few open string chords it’s possible to tell that the OM has some first class tonal attributes. There’s a separation to the notes that makes it possible to hear everything you play with equal clarity and the sustain is great, with both chords and single notes ringing on for ages. It’s a very bright sound – something that no doubt a little bit of maturity will mellow down slightly – but it’s very sweet at the same time. The bass response is good, too; drop tuned to D the guitar retains all its precision of tone, the bass cutting through enough without cluttering the midrange as it does so. My only criticism is that the position markers to the side of the fretboard get a little lost amidst the wild patterning of the Koa trim, which made fretboard leaps a little hit or miss to begin with. I think you’d get used to it fairly quickly, but it was a factor for me initially.
Played with a pick, chords just sing out with a considerable amount of volume and projection. Switch to fingerstyle and you’re rewarded with amazing crispness and tone, making the Santa Cruz a guitar for all playing seasons – a true all-rounder.
I’ve been rendered virtually speechless by the excellence of Santa Cruz instruments before and I sense that there’s a danger of it happening again here. The build quality of this guitar is of an incredibly high standard and the thought that you can build in your own custom variations into a variety of body shapes is an amazing asset for anyone who is still seeking perfection from an instrument. I began this review with the confession that the OM is my favourite body shape and so it would be understandable if my opinions carried with them a little bias. But I honestly think that most players would find this guitar an absolute delight and would encourage everyone to take one for a test drive as soon as possible!
Manufacturer: Santa Cruz
Model: OM Custom
Retail Price: £5,199
Body Size: OM
Made In: USA
Top: Italian spruce
Back and Sides: Indian rosewood
Tuners: Waverly vintage open-back nickel
Nut Width: 44mm
Scale Length: 644.5mm
Strings Fitted: Elixir .012 – .053 80/20
Left Handers: Custom order
Gig Bag/Case Included: Ameritage hard case
Pros: An OM with an outstanding array of tonal assets!
Cons: Side markers are a little difficult to see
Overall: A custom build of this quality would ensure that your ideal instrument is well within reach