Meet The Builder: Richard Hoover von Santa Cruz Guitars

Das kalifornische Küstenstädtchen Santa Cruz hat viel mehr zu bieten als die Lage am legendären Pacific Coast Highway und den Vergnügungspark am Pier. Nur wenige Meilen vom Beach Boardwalk Park entfernt, baut ein kleines Team rund um Mastermind Richard Hoover Instrumente die den Namen der Stadt tragen.

In unserer Reihe „Meet the Builder“ stellen wir die Menschen hinter der Marke vor, reden über Musik und
Gitarren und stellen fragen zu heiß diskutierten Themen.

What made you want to become a luthier?

My motive to build guitars was like every young person’s desire to change the world. As a Californian coming of age in the 1960’s I was in a vortex of social crisis. I felt a strong call to action and to and break free from the contrived restraints of specialization. Grow your own, make your own and fix your own became a mantra of my generation leading us to self-sufficiency and shared access to the know-how for making our own necessities.

We see the benefit from this paradigm shift today in organic foods, equality in the workplace and local governance that value people over profit. In my own experience, these same principals guided me and my early colleagues in pioneering a niche industry that hand-made guitars from responsibly sourced woods and materials for honest value. At the time guitars were made at factories and appeared in a music store independent of any direct interaction between player and fabricator. The revolutionary idea that the guitarist might have a say in the process was yet to be.

If you think back to the early days, what was the moment you thought „I can actually do this for a living?”

Making a living was a byproduct, really an afterthought, of the process of my guitar making. My father’s inspiration as a commercial artist showed me that I could make anything without fear of failure if I didn’t need to meet someone else’s expectations of success. So, at 16 years old I disassembled my Harmony Guitar to understand how it was made. My Mother, as a reference librarian, could not find anything in print to guide me in guitar making, though she did find plenty on violin making. The violin tradition is what led me to build guitars with inspiring sound, rather than just marketability.

Being the first has its advantages. In the early 1970’s the idea that humans could make a guitar was so unique that we were welcomed by customers, dealers and suppliers based on that fact alone. I didn’t need to find a way to monetize guitar making back then, the money found me through the pent-up demand for custom made instruments that was unserved by factories at that time.

How many people work at your shop now?

I will give the timeline: From 1968 to 1976 it was only me making guitars. I had two short cooperation’s with other people in Mandolin making and Guitar Repair.

1976 to 1989, I was joined by 2 partners to form Santa Cruz Guitar Co., Will Davis and Bruce Ross. Both brilliant contributors to the foundation. Will left in 1978 and Bruce in 1989.

During the latter partnership we hired Michael Hornick, Jeff Traugott and later Steve Palazzo and Steve Swan, all who moved on to notable careers of their own. From 1989 to the present SCGC has grown to a team of 15 luthiers today

What was the most uncommon custom request you got?

What was requested and what we built are two different lists. Mark O’Conner replaced Tony Rice as the guitar player in The David Grisman Quintet when Mark was 19 years old. He asked if we could make one guitar with both a 6-string guitar neck and an 8-string mandolin neck. He was serious, we were aghast. I am grateful that the conversation ended there, and we did not ever go any further with double necked guitars.

A sad request, also declined, was for a credible copy of an heirloom guitar that originally belonged to the father of the wife of a famous US musician. He believed that he may have pawned the guitar during a time when he was drinking a lot and could not remember the town where it happened. He hoped we would build a replica that could fool his wife into thinking her father’s treasured old guitar had never left the house.

What’s your take and experience on the thermal treatment of woods?

Torrifaction, thermal modification by accelerating some of the aging process in wood through heat, results in some of the benefits of tone that we enjoy from old wood. Santa Cruz gets this tonal advantage by using old wood from the beginning, so Torrifaction is a duplication of our efforts and a confusing message to send to our customers. Aside from that, it is a welcome innovation for players to have improved tone in affordable instruments.

We have done some strictly controlled experiments with this material so that we could speak about it from experience and with credibility. It does make a difference when done properly and adds a desirable color and smell to the guitar. Other than the nice smell, we can achieve the same, plus additional benefits to sound by using old growth wood to start with.

Tell us about your favourite personal guitar, what brand and model is it and what makes it so special?

SCGC’s H-13 really is my personal statement in guitar design. I am not presuming this is “The” guitar for anyone else, any more than I would expect others to prefer my own choice of a hand chisel for woodworking. The H reflects my own taste in decorative appointments which favor the retro-industrial-cowboy motifs of my childhood, and my audio preferences of even EQ and clarity. I also want the guitar to be surprisingly loud. The H-13 is really a Trojan horse concept, friendly looking on the outside, but full of surprises. It is attractive enough to be invited anywhere, and smart enough to hold its own!

Paul Hostetter, the late master luthier and the inspirational namesake of the H model, was a treasured friend lending even more emotional attachment to this Santa Cruz model.

What music do you listen to right now?

I like to challenge myself with “difficult listening” selections to expand my tolerance of new time signatures and tonalities. Henry Kaiser’s work is a good example. His new CD tribute to the late Paul Hostetter records more than a dozen of the world’s coolest players all performing their pieces on different SCGC H-13 models. Martin Simpson, Rick Turner, and others did very traditional arrangements of familiar pieces where we can tap our foot to a recognizable beat. Mr. Kaiser starts his own piece this way with the blues staple Spoonful and then takes us through changes in tempo and tonalities that would be perfectly coherent to the people used to hearing them as the norm, though to us it can seem like he’s making it up as he goes. The truth is, he could transcribe this work to show you the parameters of each of these separate voices while showing his intent in choosing the transitional variants he used to connect them. I am also loving the app Radiooooo! This allows you to choose music from a country and a decade and listen to random selections from the popular tunes of that location and in that era. A time machine in your pocket.

What makes Santa Cruz so special that you named your company after it?

Santa Cruz County is an exceptional vortex of geography, weather, and influence on one’s state of mind. It has not just been a haven for the creative and expatriated since the 1960’s, it has attracted the misfit and freethinkers of the US westward expansion since the 1860’s. The native peoples here coexisted with each other in many separate societies without territorial animosity from at least 8000 BC until they were invaded by the Spanish Military and the Catholic Church only 400 years ago.

I first saw the Monterey Bay, the marine sanctuary of Santa Cruz, when passing over the mountain summit from the great San Joaquin Valley where I was raised. I made my decision to live here, right then, when I was 9 years old.

My choice for home and my decision to name SCGC after Santa Cruz comes from my pride of association with the place on the self-serving level, though it was my willingness to associate myself publicly with its spiritual moorings that holds the most important meaning. Santa Cruz, Spanish for the Sacred Cross, is the iconic image of our struggle to reconcile the perfection of nature with our incomprehensible human experience. It is also the fabric of my own understanding of God.

Santa Cruz as a symbol of resurrection, represents the “new beginning” of our collective dreams and the perfect metaphor for launching my own career of guitar making as a vehicle for service to others.

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