Instruments & Gear: New Gear

Santa Cruz Catfish Special

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An all-mahogany 0-size 12-fret made for blues guitarist Catfish Keith

by Teja Gerken
August 06, 2018

The Santa Cruz Guitar Company has been building high-end steel-strings that combine vintage designs and contemporary features for more than four decades. And while the company’s catalog includes variations on most vintage templates as well as several influential original designs, the company continues to come up with new models, often inspired by custom orders. Acoustic blues specialist Catfish Keith has played Santa Cruz guitars for years, and he recently ordered a custom instrument that Santa Cruz decided to turn into a production model that it is calling the Catfish Special. We recently had the chance to check one out in the Peghead Nation video studio.

The Catfish Special is based on Santa Cruz’ 1929-O model and has the same all-mahogany construction. But the 1929-O has austere appointments and relatively plain-looking woods, while the Catfish Special has stunningly figured mahogany throughout and a light sunburst shading, along with ivoroid binding on the body, neck, and peghead; a three-ring rosette; and a beautiful pyramid bridge. While most vintage 12-fret 0’s have a slotted peghead, Catfish opted for a solid design that is home to a set of open-back Schaller tuning machines.

The Catfish Special has the compact, intimate playing feel typical of 12-fret 0-size guitars, and the 1¾-inch nut width and relatively slim neck profile give the instrument a contemporary feel. Catfish Keith’s dynamic playing style puts high demands on his instruments, and Santa Cruz has managed to build a guitar that can keep up. Mahogany-top guitars often do well when played hard, as the slightly compressed sound inherent to a hardwood top helps control the attack, and the Catfish Special has no problems with forceful picking. But I was surprised by how beautifully it responded to gentler playing, providing a rich voice with great sustain and volume. The sustain and balance were especially impressive when I played single-notes with a bottleneck slide.

All in all, the Catfish Special is a wonderful 12-fret 0-size guitar that will appeal to anyone looking for a small-body flattop with a huge sound. And for players who want more elaborate appointments, the model is also available as the Catfish Special Professional, which includes Catfish Keith’s logo in the peghead and bubble position markers in the fretboard.

SPECS: 12-fret 0-size body. Solid figured mahogany top, back, and sides. Mahogany neck. Ebony fretboard and bridge. 24.75-inch scale. 1¾-inch nut width. Schaller tuning machines. Made in USA. $7,420 (list).

Category: Instruments & Gear

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