Frequently Asked Questions: You Ask, Richard Hoover Answers!
Q: I’ve asked this of a few people, but have never really received a proper answer. What is it about your guitars that makes them feel so much lighter than other builders’ guitars? Is it purely the weight of the woods? Thanks, Steve
A: Hi Steve – Here’s some physics on our engineering and how it insures that your Santa Cruz is light and durable. The first automobiles were built like boxes, and folded up like one if pressured off the perpendicular. Their strength came from the use of really heavy gauge metal. This added weight wasn’t necessary for strength as can be seen in egg shaped modern cars that can be pressured from all angles and maintain their integrity. These modern cars can be made with a fraction of the gauge (weight) of metal at many times the strength of their predecessors. We apply the same priciple to our guitars.
The experience of resetting necks on heavier brands of guitars, combined with an attention to modern engineering and 7 years of R&D led to SCGC’s system of radiused and parabolic bracing. This advanced engineering increases projection and makes a stronger, more responsive guitar than most at about the same weight of the venerable pre war instruments. This also allows us to dimension woods for resonance rather than over building just for strength. All the best, Richard
Q: What pick-up systems do you recommend?
A: There are several great pick-ups available. L.R. Baggs, Highlander, K & K, Fishman, Schertler and B-Band are the most common pick-ups we recommend. For more information, feel free to contact us. Different systems have different advantages depending on your needs.
Q: I have some variation in response when I plug my guitar in. Any ideas?
A: The piezo elements in your pick-up respond to the same downward string pressure that makes your guitar perform acoustically. In the acoustic mode, string energy puts the saddle, bridge and top in motion, pumping air that we perceive as sound. To amplify the guitar piezo, elements are placed between the bottom of the saddle and the bridge. These rely on a positive contact or pressure to transfer the strings signal electronically to the speaker in your amplifier. For equal amplitude you need equal contact with each piezo element. If the bottom of the saddle or bridge slot are not completely flat, they will create unequal contact with the piezo elements. An additional concern is the uniform density of the saddle material: bone can be porous, creating various densities within the same piece. All of these can affect the volume of each string. In your case the high E is too hot and can be tempered by placing a very thin shim of resilient material beneath the saddle directly under the E string. Buy one of those nice cigars in an aluminum tube, give the cigar away, but save the wonderful cedar wrapper in the tube to use for shim material for this and other cool tricks I’ll discuss in the future.
Q: Why does SCGC use a dovetail jointed neck instead of a bolt-on neck?
A: Dovetail joint is an integral connection between the neck and the body. The counterpart is a bolt-on neck. Both function mechanically well – bolt-on is easier, advantageous to the manufacturer as it requires less skill, is cheap to do and takes less time. They say it is a great advantage to the end user as the neck can come off quickly for repair, and that you have to rip a guitar apart to take off a dovetail jointed neck, but this is not so. If a dovetail neck wasn’t superior sonically, we wouldn’t do it. We voice and tune our instruments to be very responsive. The dovetail jointed neck allows us subtle degrees of control to give the guitar the optimal presence to sound its best… it’s like a laser beam as opposed to a flood light, or clean, clear and precise vs. open, airy, friendly and blended. A trick that we use to control getting these different sounds is to either allow vibration from the strings/body to chimney up the neck or to block it. This is done by manipulating the density of the wood in the neck, using heavier gears or a larger peghead, which blocks vibration up the neck and gives guitar more focus. The opposite is a slotted peghead, light open back gears and less dense wood in the neck; this allows vibration and gives a more open, airy ambience. The Dovetail neck facilitates that, allows focus or vibration freely, whereas the bolt-on neck is already adding mass in addition to the wood and doesn’t allow for this trick. By design, the dovetail joint is accessible – simply by removing the fret above the body joint towards the sound hole, we can drill a hole and inject steam into it, which melts the glue and allows for easy removal for repair. A dovetail neck, by nature, is strong enough to hold string tension… just a little glue is used, so facilitating the repair is a straightforward process. We take extra time, expertise and money to make these necks, as it is extremely beneficial to the customer.
Q: What effect will neck design (mass) and fret size have on the sound of the guitar?
A: We all love the feel of a well proportioned neck. It enhances the playability and enjoyment of our guitars. The mass of the neck will indeed affect the tone of your instrument. Whether this is a positive or negative influence depends on your taste in tone. When I design a guitar for Jazz applications I want a precise tone with excellent projection to showcase the players single note leads or rapid chord comping. One of the factors to facilitate this is to increase neck mass. This can be done with the use of a heavier tuning machine in a larger headstock or with a denser neck wood. The effect is to prevent vibrations from chimney-ing up the neck and dissipating. The results are more efficient transfer of string energy to air movement through the sound hole, thus increasing projection. In the case of a guitar designed to have vintage appeal or a roundness, warmth, and openness of tone we benefit from a lighter weight headstock and tuning machines. In this instrument, the vibrations transferred to the neck enhance the qualities of this style of guitar by making it more forgiving and less precise. One caveat, guitars with mechanically fastened, bolt-on necks instead of the traditional dovetail joint won’t benefit as much from this intricate technique. By considering these factors you should be able to get both the tone and the right neck in the same guitar. Technically, jumbo frets would add mass to the neck and affect the sound as mentioned above. Realistically, this would be a small contribution to the equation. More important would be the fret height. The higher the fret, the steeper the angle when depressed, creating more downward pressure and positive contact of string to fret, resulting in clearer tone and increased amplitude.
Q: What is a dart? Does it affect the sound and/or playability of the guitar?
A: The term ‘dart’ refers to the carved volute at the transition from the barrel to the headstock of the instrument on certain models of guitars. It was originally integral to the glue joint of the headstock to the neck, but now with one piece necks it is simply a design element. Generally, it doesn’t affect the tone or playability except in serving as a thumb stop. It may strengthen the transition area somewhat, but broken off headstocks are uncommon on SCGC guitars of all kinds as a result of the fact that the truss rod does not extend through that weaker transitional area.
Q: How do I access the truss rod? How do I adjust the neck?
A: Please refer to the exhaustive section of the care and feeding page dealing with these issues.
Q: My truss rod doesn’t seem to adjust the neck at the point it meets the body. It’s not a Santa Cruz but it does have an adjustable rod. Is it defective?
A: The limitations in your truss rod don’t have anything to do with your choice of brand or neck wood. The range of adjustment of any guitar neck is defined by the area that can be bent. The barrel of the neck (1st to 12th fret) is close to the same thickness along its length allowing it to bend uniformly. Above the 12th fret the heel quickly adds an unbendable mass and the upper limit of the rods capability. Allow me a quick explanation of how the rod works. The single action truss rod found in most guitars is laid in a groove very close to the back of the neck. When tightened (clockwise) it compresses the back of the neck, pulling the bendable area of the 1st to 12th fret back against the pull of the strings. When loosened (counter-clockwise) the string pull bows the neck forward in the area of the 1st to 12th fret. In better guitars the truss rod should have a dual action where the rod will also stretch the back of the neck to allow for precise forward adjustment. From your description it sounds like you can achieve a straight neck up to the 12th fret where it appears to bend upwards as it joins the body. This will cause buzzing or fretting out in the upper positions with high action and poor intonation. There are tricks to improve playability at this point, but the proper remedy for a nice guitar like this is to reset the neck angle and enjoy for years to come.
Q: Why does my guitar’s action rise seasonally or rise on my new guitars after a period of time?
A: A well made acoustic guitar, by design, is a delicate balance between structural integrity and tonal response. It would be easy to overbuild a guitar that wouldn’t distort under the multi-kilogram tension of the strings, but it would have a disastrous effect on the resonance and sustain of the instrument. To achieve the sensitivity to respond well to the strings energy, the guitar top may be made lighter in weight and tend to yield to the pull of the strings. This tension will cause the back to stretch and the top to compress, sinking at the sound hole and rising at the bridge. The strings move further from the fretboard and require more force from the left hand to depress them. I’ve borrowed techniques from the construction and restoration of Stradivarius violins to “spring” the top bracing to avoid the otherwise inevitable triumph of string pull over structure, without compromising tone. For guitars, including earlier Santa Cruz, without benefit of these improvements periodic truss rod adjustment and lowering of the bridge saddle to compensate for the rise of the top will keep the action playable. If the saddle is taken to its lowest point, and the action is still too high, it will be necessary to reset the angle of the neck to offset the rise in the top. This is a routine procedure for advanced technicians but costly if not covered under your warranty. I would advise it if the monetary worth or the sentimental value of your guitar justifies the cost. The results should be “like new” playability, improved intonation, and increased volume and tone.
Q: How do I ensure/measure for proper neck relief when going from mediums to lights strings and back?
A: Medium gauge strings are no problem for your Santa Cruz with the caveat that the mediums extra tension may move the top and neck slightly thereby raising your action. Clockwise adjustment on the truss rod should bring it back to what you had with the lights. If you achieve the proper neck relief (see below for specs) and still find the action high this can be remedied by lowering the saddle. When changing from medium to light gauge strings you would compensate for the reduced tension by turning the truss rod counter clockwise and/or raising the saddle height with a replacement or, in a pinch, shim it up a bit it to avoid string/fret buzz. These remedies presuppose that the neck to body angle is within spec. If this is not the case it will need to be corrected by the maker or an experienced tech.
Then again things may be fine without any adjustment so skip all this and go play guitar.
Here’s a trick you can try at home to determine the proper neck relief with out the supervision of an adult luthier. With the guitar strung to tension place a capo at the first fret. No capo? Enlist a passerby to press their finger at the first fret on the low E string until you’re satisfied with the results. Place your index finger at the 14th fret on the low E. Halfway between these two positions the bottom of the E string should clear the top of the 7th fret by .005″ to .012″. If your not practiced at judging that by eye take a one, five, or ten, dollar bill, which measures four and a half thousandths, and before you mail it to me slide it between the top of the 7th fret and the bottom of the E string. If the bill gets pinched between the two your neck is too straight. If three bills or one folded in thirds slides freely through this space you are exceeding .012″ and the neck has excessive forward bow. What remains in between these two extremes is the range of measurement that the player will need to achieve more or less relief depending on playing style, choice of string gauge, and height of action.
Unless you are well versed in the mechanics of your truss rod, it is best to use the above-mentioned bills to attract the attention of an experienced repair person and have them perform these adjustments for you.
Q: My old Gibson’s finish is really cracked and I don’t want this to happen to my Santa Cruz. What did I do wrong and what can I do right?
A: Yikes! The dreaded sixties Gibson finish! Every vintage guitar aficionado and technician is familiar with this problem and has grown used to throwing up their hands “that’s the way they are”. There are a few causes of lacquer checking and cracking and the Gibsons of this era seemed to use of all of them. The most common contributor is the lacquer formulation. Along with the solids used to give the finish body, a plasticizer is added to give it flexibility. Too much of this substance makes the guitar difficult to polish and can have a dampening effect on the tone. Too little and the lacquer dries brittle, unable to flex with the movement of the wood from string tension or humidity changes, consequently cracking. Another factor is the thickness of the finish. Building a thicker coat of lacquer creates tension within the finish which will crack as the wood moves. The final insult to these sad instruments is what lacquer chemists call the thermal shock cycle. This quantifies how many cycles of heat then cold the finish can endure before cracking form the above mentioned causes. The good news is that your troubles are mostly cosmetic. The finish won’t fall off or further harm your guitar tone. Every guitar will be benefit by protecting it from extremes in temperature and humidity and this may prevent further damage to your finish, but the bottom line is to consider this vintage character because that’s the way they are!
Q: I just bought a used Santa Cruz in mint condition. Is it still covered by your lifetime warranty?
A: The lifetime warranty covers the guitar for the lifetime of the original owner. SCGC typically goes far beyond their stated responsibilities to help any Santa Cruz owner but the official lifetime warranty doesn’t extend beyond the original ownership.
Q: I own a Santa Cruz that I bought new. I’m thinking of having some work done on it by my local luthier. Would that affect the warranty?
A: Having a luthier work on the guitar in itself won’t affect the warranty. Any damage or problems resulting from work done by a luthier of your choice would not be covered under warranty.
Q: What are the advantages of saddle through vs enclosed saddle bridges if any?
A: SCGC does do a through saddle where historically appropriate though it is not my choice for the best way to do it. I still need to work on the physics to support my hypothesis though this is what I work from: The through saddle came to be because it requires relatively simple woodworking compared to an inlaid saddle. The through saddle has a longer contact area at the bottom though it does not have the advantage of being in contact at its ends. If one was to calculate the contact surface of the two, the inlaid saddle would be ahead in its ability to transfer string energy through the bridge and into the top. The biggest disadvantage to the through saddle is that due to its design, material cannot be removed from the bottom as a way to lower action without shortening its length and contact in the slot. This makes it necessary to remove heighth from the top which will undo any previous intonation compensation. Other than that it looks nice and retro.
Q: I just got a very nice used S.C. V.A. made in 2007 and it is virtually in mint cond. but when you tilt the guitar in the light you can see a very faint line running down the middle of the top from the bridge going back. Is this maybe just more or less the seam showing thru the finish or how do you tell if it’s actually separating. Also I wondered if the tint toner on the top might be revealing the seam abit more. My OMPW kind of looked the same if looked at in the right light and angle, but it was fine. Did I mention I just love this guitar. I can’t believe how well it responds to fingerstyle or laying a pick into it. Thanks, Dave
A: Thanks for the kind words Dave. Since I can’t see the phenomenon, here’s my hopeful speculation:
The seam shows a faint crease rather than a crack in the finish. The guitar has been through a few seasonal cycles though all is ok otherwise. The wood moves with changes in humidity and temperature though the hard glue joint of the top does not. This difference in contraction and expansion between the two telegraphs through the lacquer which, by design, retains slight elasticity so that it doesn’t crack in cold weather. If this is so, it is only a cosmetic concern that could be remedied by a professional rubout and buff. Check in with us for a referral to some one in your area that is qualified if you wish.
Q: Hello – I recently bought a used OMS from 2006, which is a great guitar. When I first played it at luthier’s store, it sounded very great with lot of volume, so I bought it. The luthier changed the old strings by new ones (12/54 Ernie ball) and made a set up of the neck, nut & saddle. When I tried it at home, I was quite disappointed when I compared it to my Martin OM28V which was very much louder! And I was sure that the OMS should be the winner and it is not. Is the lack of volume due to the setting, string, ?? Thank you for your help.
A: Hi Tazz – At first it sounded great and then the luthier; 1. changed the strings and 2. changed the set up and then it sounded bad. So you know from the first impression that it is a good sounding guitar. Either the Ernie ball strings don’t please you (try D’Addarrio or Elixer to see if this fixes the sound) or, if no other changes have been made other then the luthiers modifications, then the luthiers work is the only remaining possibility for the bad sound. I suggest that you get the evaluation of a different luthier. If you need a referral perhaps we have a colleague in your area.
Q: I own several SCGC guitars – a DPW I’ve had since 2001, a VS, OMPWM-S, and a OMPW. I also own a Bourgeois. I love these guitars but wonder what happens after the driving forces behind these shops i.e., Richard, Dana, et.al., decide to retire. Richard, do you have a succession plan that makes it possible for my kid to get my DPW repaired by SCGC in 50 years? Thanks, Phil
A: Hey Phil – Thanks for the warm and thought provoking assignment from the ghost of Christmas’ to come. I know that Dana is on holiday the week of Dec. 21-25, 2059 and I am hesitant to book appointments more then one calendar year out. Given that, you can be sure that if your son shows up in my absence for his half century check up I will have left instructions that he be treated with deference. Having turned down most major companies repeated offers of courtship over the years, SCGC has achieved a reputation as being unacquirable, leaving me no option to retire as a kept man. So on I go until I or my betters find me in the way.
Although I have no desire to abdicate, it is only prudent that I plan for a smooth transition of the responsibilities and proprietary knowledge that I enjoy at the present. Lucky for you and SCGC, I have worked towards that goal since we began the concept of team lutherie 34 years ago. I have inculcated the vision and oversight into my trusted colleagues so that whether through my dotage or providence they are fully equipped to carry on at any given time.
You may take some peace of mind in knowing that through our many years of striving to do the right thing we have attracted the expertise and good will of a remarkable assembly of professionals that will continue to advise, protect, and defend SCGC, its people and its legacy beyond my personal run. For all that I am grateful and at ease that our obligations and our customers expectations will stand a good chance of being met for the future.
Merry Christmas to you and yours and…
All the best,
Q: Hi – I have a santa cruz om short scale guitar. I play a lot of dadgad tunning staff and I have a lot of buzzing sound. I use elixir sized 13-56 and still have this problem. what do you recommed I should do? Also, do you have explanations about how to setup the neck? I can’t find the truss rod?
Thanks a lot, Oded Navon (Israel)
A: Dear Oded – The buzzing can be caused by several things though the most likely, given your description
and location, would be neck adjustment. As you have discovered the medium gauge strings did not solve the problem though I have included in my answers how to adjust for string gauge changes. In addition to the information below there are two sections on Truss rod adjustment and action settings in our Care & Feeding section of the website:
Mediums to Light Gauge Strings and Back
Changing from light to medium gauge strings are no problem for your Santa Cruz with the caveat that the mediums extra tension may move the top and neck enough to raise your action. When making this switch on any SCGC, especially those with pyramid bridges or advanced X braces (H-13 and PW’s for example) you should observe your guitars action over a three month period. If the action pulls up call SCGC for consultation and reassurance. Clockwise adjustment on the truss rod, if needed, should bring the action back to what you had with the lights. When you achieve the proper neck relief (see below for specs) and still find the action high this can be remedied by lowering the saddle. When changing from medium to light gauge strings you should compensate for the reduced tension by turning the truss rod counter clockwise and/or raising the saddle height with a replacement or, in a pinch, shim it up a bit it to avoid string/fret buzz. These remedies presuppose that the neck to body angle is within spec. If this is not the case it will need to be corrected by SCGC or an experienced/authorized technician. Unless you are well versed in the mechanics of your truss rod or the acceptable range of the neck to body angle give us a call @ 831-425-0999 to be sure that you’re in the proper hands to get an expert evaluation. If things seem fine without any adjustments, skip all this and go play guitar. Remember to watch your action over time.
Proper neck relief and how to measure it:
Here’s a trick you can try at home to determine the proper neck relief with out the supervision of a luthier. With the guitar strung to tension place a capo at the first fret. No capo? Enlist a passerby to press their finger at the first fret on the low E string. Place your index finger at the 14th fret on the low E. Halfway between these two positions the bottom of the E string should clear the top of the 7th fret by .005″ to .012″. If your not practiced at judging that by eye take a one dollar bill, which measures four and a half thousandths, and slide it between the top of the 7th fret and the bottom of the E string. If the bill gets pinched between the two your neck is too straight. If three bills or one folded in thirds slides freely through this space you are exceeding .012″ and the neck has excessive forward bow. What remains in between these two extremes is the range of measurement that the player will need to achieve more or less relief depending on playing style, choice of string gauge, and height of action.
Unless you are well versed in the mechanics of your truss rod it is best to use the above mentioned bills to attract the attention of an experienced repair person and have them perform these adjustments for you.
All the best,