The Santa Cruz Model H-13
...the woods and some more background

More about the fabled Batch of 15 of 2003

H-4, April 1979

I was delighted that Richard Hoover decided to bring le modèle H  back to being the guitar I had originally envisioned back in 1978. This is the template for the model now known as the H-13. 

Wood choices and type and degree of decoration aside, these basics are covered in the restored standard model H-13:

  • 13 frets (with a 25.5"± scale, this yields what I feel is the optimal bridge placement)
  • bridge closer to the center of the lower bout (and away from the waist)
  • soundhole placed in the waist, not above (these details go together)
  • brace dimensions and especially body depth 
During the course of 2003, fifteen of these guitars were custom made for a select group of players. I played traffic director for this series and the SCGC shop force realized their construction. Led by Adam Rose, the crew at SCGC put their heart and soul into these guitars. The collective expertise in that amazingly talented and enthusiastic group, which has been making stunning guitars for years, was what made these Model H guitars as lovely as they continue to be. Special thanks to Adam Rose for his diligence and support.

This basic guitar is also available now in a plainer version called the H-13L, which has a flat headstock shaped like a moustache on top, a somewhat large flat rectangular bridge with a shallow saddle angle, simpler binding and appointments, and with the fingerboard projecting over the edge of the soundhole. Fewer production steps = lower price.

PS: The list of folks who got in on the 2003 custom batch included:

1)    Henry Kaiser:   redwood and pink ivory, padauk neck, snakewood f'bd and bridge
2)    Kevin Carr:    red cedar and Oregon myrtle 
3)    Paul Kotapish:   Adirondack spruce and African mahogany 
4)    Paul Rangell:  Adirondack spruce and padauk 
5)    Ray Bierl:    Sitka and Indian rosewood
6)    Bob Carlin:   Sitka and African mahogany, sunburst finish 
7)    Bruce Molsky:  Adirondack spruce and padauk
8)    Chris Cooper:  Adirondack and bigleaf maple
9)    Gryphon:    red cedar and profoundly outrageous koa 
10)   Rick  Chelew:   red cedar and ribbon mahogany
11)   Jody Stecher:   Adirondack spruce and padauk 
12)   Josh Michaell:   red cedar and claro walnut
13)   Tom Adler:   Adirondack spruce and padauk 
14)   Dan Warrick:   red cedar and flamed mahogany, Brazilian f'bd and bridge, tortoise binding
15)   Paul Hostetter:  redwood and California sycamore, manzanita f'bd and bridge

Marquetry choices and color details varied considerably; there are no two alike in the batch. Have a look here at some of the results. And read on for some of my ideas on design and woods.

My old pal Paul Kotapish was one of the first to encourage a custom batch that he ultimately participated in, and he and I talked at length about what woods might be available and possible, and why would one be better than another and so forth. I won't bother to recount all of that now, it feels a bit dated, but it was a good dialogue that really helped focus the whole project. Here's what's left of that dialog that still seems worth repeating. My 3 cents' worth on the subject (since 2 cents gets ya nothing these days).

The top is 98% or more of the final sound. Body woods color the top sound, and that effect is most apparent to the player, not the listeners. The design of the box - and especially the skill of the luthier - is more important than the tonal quality of the body woods. Torres, Mozzani, Kaman and many others have demonstrated this over and over with guitars made of paper, plywood, plastic etc. Again, the most important part is the degree of skill that goes into making the guitar. Materials themselves are a guarantee of nothing. A good design is only going to come out as good as the skill of the maker.

Of the old Gibson Nick Lucases, which are the closest historical guitars to this Model H, my favorites have always been mahogany 12-fretters (I've never played a 12-fretter of anything but mahogany, come to think of it). Gibson also made them in maple and rosewood in the 13 and 14 fret models. In any event, mahogany rocks. The 2002 NAMM guitar was mahogany and cedar. 

Some top wood options:

  • Sitka spruce - a fine old standby
  • Engelmann spruce - another western spruce that is often sold as "German" spruce.
  • German spruce? Please read this.
  • Red (Adirondack) spruce - very expensive, but when it's good, it's a truly great wood. Complex, rich sound. Some people make a distinction between red spruce and Adirondack, because they feel a spruce has to come from the actual Adirondacks to merit the name. They're all Picea rubens
  • European spruce - AKA: Picea abies - another old standby, right up there with Picea rubens. 
  • Port Orford cedar - very hard to get good pieces, but when it's good, it's very good. Tonally between red cedar and spruce, looks like spruce if you don't look too close.
  • Alaskan yellow cedar - northern cousin of Port Orford and potentially even better. Again, hard to find. 
  • Coast redwood - difficult to find any that's stiff enough for guitars, but when it's right, it's fantastic.
  • Western Red cedar - SCGC has always used very nice cedar. My feeling is that cedar has a less complex sound than spruce, and the note comes up much quicker. Spruce has a slower rise, more extended swell. In my mind's own oscilloscope, here’s a visual comparison:

I like them both very much. In the Model H guitar, the punch of cedar works extremely well. I do not, for a moment, buy the old wives tale that cedar plays out or fatigues. I could talk more about where this needless and bad reputation got started, if anyone is interested. I also repudiate the silly idea that cedar is for fingerpicking. My H-4 from '79 is cedar and it's spent its life (so far) strung with mediums while being flatpicked fortissimo. 

  • In the case of any topwood, one must take each piece on its own merits and judge by results. 
  • There is no correlation between look and sound.
  • I subscribe to the notion that topwood should be stiff both directions and have good tap. Meaning it should sound very alive to the touch.

Top and body can be the same woods.

  • Koa - obviously can be good for tops, but plain koa has always sounded better to me than figured koa. If you know the old koa Martins you know the good sounding ones were most often the style 18 with plain koa. Style 28 usually had fancier koa and generally didn't sound as good. Think about tone first, then think about looks.
  • Mahogany - several kinds exist. The current usual is "Honduran" (Swietenia macrophylla, which comes from Brazil and other places as well), which is soft and OK, but less exciting than some central American stuff that has a ribbony figure and is denser with a better tap. They are all Swietenia. 
There is also "African mahogany" (Khaya ivorensis and relatives), one of my favorites, which is not a true mahogany but was much used in 20th century American guitars until the Sixties when it became too hard to get. It's ribbony (lots of interlocking subgrain) and was Martin's standard for many years. As it became scarcer, they saved it for necks only. Finally they gave up and used Swietenia macrophylla, though this wood can be really great too of course. It's in very short supply and will probably be listed as endangered soon, which will drive the price into the stratosphere. You see it on older other-brand guitars, even Goyas and Harmonies. It's much like plain koa tonally. Gibson used it sporadically. It has enormous potential as a top wood. 

As I see more guitars made with more adventurous materials choices, including several marvelous guitars with walnut tops, I am realizing there are lots of options that should be on the table (no pun intended). Most luthiers are understandably reluctant to experiment with these materials.

Rarely do I see body woods having a significant effect on the top other than coloring it—not, mind you, that that is insignificant. In fact, from across the room, no one can tell what the sides and back might be made of - that quality is for the player who is not blindfolded. But we all know many people listen with their eyes. 

Maple is problematic for some people, who ascribe completely conflicting qualities on it—too bright, or too soft and muted. I do know maple often wakes up late, but I think it's well worth the wait. 

That said, I decided to go into uncharted territory with another very soft wood: California sycamore, on my new H. And to compound that all, I chose local coast redwood for the top! Someone had to do it. As this guitar has ripened, it has been a great surprise. More on this elsewhere on this site.

Some body woods I really like include:

  • Mahogany - almost any (see above).
  • Maple - they're all great, properly used.
  • Rosewoods - Genus Dalbergia:
    • Brazilian rosewood - needs no further explanation
    • Indian rosewood - also just fine; any rosewood will be fine, including: 
    • Cocobolo - eye-popping color and figure, excellent clank
    • Honduran - restrained visually, high tap (it's the rosewood of marimba keys)
    • Madagascar - visually like Brazilian; so endangered in Madagascar that it should not smuggled and sold.
  • Bubinga - another hard tropical wood with good resonance, stability and fabulous grain
  • Wenge - a subtle hardwood, little figure but striking light cambium lines through rich chocolate brown summerwood. Great tap. Some folks hate the dust though. I like it, and it smells like chocolate. Deadly splinters however!
  • Sycamore - Platanus sp. Hard to find commercially, and largely under-appreciated.
  • Imbuya - a lovely softer wood that looks superficially like walnut, but isn't. My H-4 is imbuya, I have seen many guitars, mostly in Europe, made from this wood.
  • Walnut (great for necks as well, as long as it's eastern walnut, not western claro!) a thoroughly lovely and versatile wood; some makers are finally using it for tops.
  • Bay Laurel (AKA myrtlewood in Oregon) - a stunning wood tonally and visually. This should exceed koa as a top wood. 
  • Osage Orange - no one has the courage to use this much yet, but it's a fabulous wood. Bright yellow when fresh, ages to a nice orangish-brown. Very resonant. Cheap and easy to source as well.
  • Oak - Quercus spp. Well-chosen pieces can make very beautiful guitars. The open grain is a complication for finishing, but not worse than some other common tonewoods.
  • Macassar ebony - the streaky brown and black and gray stuff some folks mistake for rosewood. 
  • Padauk - a close relative of Dalbergia, notable for having the same clank. Brilliant red color, lovely, even though the grain tends to be rather plain most of the time. I hear a few makers are using it very enthusiastically as a top wood too. 
I have been uncertain about how to distinguish Burmese from African from Andaman padauk, so I did a little research:

      Burma Padauk - Pterocarpus macrocarpus

      Rather common in the upper mixed and dry forests of Burma; also found in mixed deciduous forests of Thailand; medium-sized tree, up to 80 ft in height, boles clear to 25 ft straight and cylindrical, sometimes irregular; trunk diameters 2 to 3 ft. 

      Heartwood bright yellowish red to dark brick red, streaked with darker lines, lustrous when freshly cut but becoming a dull but attractive golden brown on exposure. Texture moderately coarse; grain interlocked; has a faint spicy odor. 

      Rather difficult to saw, especially when dry, and also difficult to work with handtools, turns well, dresses to a smooth finish, glues satisfactorily.

      African Padauk - Pterocarpus soyauxii

      Harvested in the Congo of Central Africa. 

      Heartwood vivid red when freshly cut darkening to a purple brown on exposure. Texture coarse; grain straight to interlocked; lustrous; faint aromatic scent when freshly cut. Sawdust may cause respiratory problems. Saws well but requires slow feed, easy to machine but with some tearing of interlocked grain, takes a good finish, glues easily and holds nails and screws satisfactorily.

      Andaman Padauk - Pterocarpus dalbergioides

      Heartwood variable, mainly a rich crimson hue or shades of red to brown, often with darker red or blackish streaks, sometimes pale red or yellowish. Texture rather coarse; grain generally interlocked; dull to lustrous; without characteristic odor or taste. 

      Not difficult to saw and machine but because of interlocked grain does not dress to a smooth finish, turns well, takes a good polish. 

      And more:

      Padauk, while emanating from Africa, is secured principally from the Andaman Islands, a group of islands in the Bay of Bengal about 650 miles southeast of Calcutta.  Historically, most of the settlement on the island consisted of penal colonies and a great portion of this timber was formerly logged by convict labor.  Today Padauk is logged mainly by the direct descendants of these former penal colonies. The Padauk tree is one the most common in these islands.  The trees do not grow in groups, but are scattered throughout the forest. 

      Because of the brilliant red color of some of the wood, the name 'vermilion' has been given to it.  Among old cabinetmakers it is often referred to as East Indian mahogany and Indian redwood.  It comes in both a striped and mottled effect.  Much use had been made of it by the Pullman Company for trim in dining, smoking and sleeping compartments.  Craftsmen find it an excellent wood for various small pieces of furniture, turned articles and certain musical instruments. 

      The Padauk from Africa is generally inferior to the Andaman wood because of its open grain and softer texture.  However, it is still extensively used in the making of dyes.

Bear in mind that finding acceptably aged sets of dream wood may be problematic. And there are some woods that luthiers have experimented with and rejected because of issues like horrible dust, unbendability, abject fear, and so forth.

 To the first model H page
To my Main Page | Site map
To some talk about scales, neck clearance, and so on

Here are the normal labels for the Batch of Fifteen (there's another):


The bottoms are snipped off to fit the back bracing inside the soundhole.

Please note:

I am not an SCGC dealer. I will happily advise you if you wish, but if you want to acquire 
one of these guitars (which I hope you will) you must buy it through a regular SCGC dealer.

Support your local music store!

My favorite local dealer is Gryphon
They talk the talk and walk the walk, and completely understand these guitars.

Questions? Questions? Yikes!
Drop me a line: click right here!

pictures of some new ones