Instruments & Gear: Fine Lutherie

Santa Cruz Legends in Lutherie FS

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A stunning redwood and mahogany guitar, built in collaboration with Heartbreaker Guitars.

by Teja Gerken
July 20, 2020

During its almost five decades in business, the Santa Cruz Guitar Company has participated in many unusual collaborations. But recently, one of its dealers, Las Vegas, Nevada’s Heartbreaker Guitars, came up with an idea that may be a first in the industry. As a dealer of both Santa Cruz and Rick Turner guitars, Heartbreaker’s Brendan Smyth knew that the two companies were located only a few miles from each other and that Rick Turner and Santa Cruz founder Richard Hoover were long-time friends, so Brandon thought it would be cool to get these two pioneers of contemporary small-shop lutherie working on a project together. On the surface, this may seem like an odd match, since Santa Cruz is one of the premier builders of high-end flattops, and Rick Turner is best known for his electric guitars and basses (though he builds the occasional acoustic, like the 2002 Jumbo I demoed here). But both builders are legends in their fields, having elevated guitar design and craftsmanship during their more than 50 years as guitar builders, placing instruments into the hands of many of the world’s most respected musicians, and generally considered wise elders to be looked up to. Rather than having the two luthiers collaborate on building a guitar together, the decision was made to have each company build to their strengths and create a total of ten pairs of guitars using the same woods, similar appointments, and a common custom inlay, and to offer them as exclusive “Legends in Lutherie” pairs. The Rick Turner half of the deal is a version of his classic Model 1 (made famous by Lindsey Buckingham), while Santa Cruz chose to base its contribution on its FS model, and I recently had a chance to spend time with the Legends in Lutherie FS in the Peghead Nation video studio.


Introduced in the early 1980s, the FS is one of Santa Cruz’s more original designs, and its small-jumbo body ushered in the trend of using this body style for modern fingerstyle guitars. Like most Santa Cruz guitars, FS models have been built with a wide variety of woods. Looking for a combination that would work for both flattop acoustic and solid-body electric instruments, the builders chose Honduran mahogany for the backs and sides and redwood for the tops. The mahogany used on our demo FS is of incredibly high quality, but the real star is its redwood top. Reclaimed from a bridge that stood in California’s Yosemite national park from the 1920s until it was damaged by a fire in 2013, the redwood has the old-growth quality of tight, even grain and beautiful coloring that is virtually unavailable in more recently cut logs. The Legends in Lutherie instruments include a slightly shaded top finish and a restrained set up appointments, including faux-tortoise binding and a cool, western-inspired “midnight rope” pattern used in the purfling and rosette. The biggest aesthetic splurge is a noteworthy one: a custom “Legends of Lutherie” fingerboard inlay between the ninth and 12th frets created by premier inlay artist Harvey Leach that includes two redwood trees as well as Rick Turner’s and Richard Hoover’s signatures.


Playing the guitar, it immediately became clear that Santa Cruz knows how to build an amazingly great fingerstyle machine. The Legends in Lutherie FS has a lightning fast response, its balance and refined tonal separation are a match made in heaven for polyphonic playing, and it’s able to develop a rich and highly complex voice without much effort. Redwood’s tonal character is often compared to cedar, but I found the Legends in Lutherie FS to be warmer sounding than many cedar-topped guitars, especially when I dug in a bit harder, which can sometimes make cedar sound slightly brittle. The guitar’s 1¹³/₁₆-inch nut width allows for a bit of extra room for the fretting fingers, without feeling that much wider than the 1¾-inch necks I’m used to. The Legends in Lutherie FS includes an L.R. Baggs Anthem SL pickup system, and the rig sounded beautifully natural when plugged into our Fishman Loudbox Mini Charge amp.


There is no question that Heartbreaker’s idea has resulted in an extremely cool project. I have no doubt that the Rick Turner half of the equation is equally as stunning as the Santa Cruz Legends in Lutherie FS, and for a collector who wishes to own a matching set by two of the most influential and legendary builders in the biz, these ten pairs represent a unique opportunity. And if you want a great Santa Cruz similar to the Legends in Lutherie FS, I’d suggest talking to a dealer about a custom order.


SPECS: Non-cutaway Santa Cruz F body. Reclaimed old-growth redwood top. Hide-glued, tapered Adirondack spruce X-bracing. Honduran mahogany back and sides. Mahogany neck. Ebony fretboard and bridge. “Legends in Lutherie” inlay. 25.375-inch scale. 1 ¹³/₁₆-inch nut width. Evo frets. Chrome Gotoh Delta Gold 510 tuning machines. L.R. Baggs Anthem SL electronics. Made in USA. $16,000: sold as a pair with Rick Turner Legends of Lutherie Model 1. Base price for standard Santa Cruz FS model is $8,100.

Category: Instruments & Gear

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