Looking for a change to the old OM and dreadnought? Santa Cruzs tribute to the Gibson Nick Lucas and Roy Smeck are classic and refreshingly different. Review by Jerry Uwins
Santa Cruz is no stranger to vintage interpretations. This concert-size H13, with an unusual configuration of 13 frets to the body, is inspired by a variant of the L-1 that Gibson made during the late 1920s and early ’30s for the top guitar-toting crooner of his day, Nick Lucas. Santa Cruz first introduced the H13 in 1978 but it was discontinued due to slow sales. 2002 saw a limited-run reprise, followed in 2006 by relaunch as a regular production model.
Thirteen-fret acoustics aren’t common these days, but the concept largely retains the physical balance and richness of resonance associated with 12-fretters, while offering high-position access not far adrift of the 14-fret norm. The H13 certainly handles excellently, and the format means the soundhole and bridge are shifted towards the ‘sweet spots’ of middle of waist and lower bouts.
Unlike the original Nick Lucas Specials the H13 has a slotted headstock, but the elegant 14.7"-wide sitka/mahogany body mirrors the old Gibson approach, with 125mm-deep rims giving a sizeable, dreadnought-like soundbox. Adornments include ivoroid body and neck binding with herringbone top purfling and backstrip. An ebony pyramid bridge and small teardrop tortie pickguard further contribute to the handsome, precisely executed retro vibe.
The one-piece mahogany neck, 44.5mm across the nut, is sensibly judged for easy fingerstyle playing without sacrificing comfort for chord work. The shallow profile is moderately V’d, the fretting is beautifully polished, and the satin finish offers a speedily slick feel. The ebony fingerboard has no front markers, but side dots provide the necessary references.
This is a generously voiced guitar. Dynamics emerge easily, the underpinning is robust thanks to the deep body, and the airy tonal character is well balanced across the strings. There’s also a pleasant, warm bloom to the low end which, though perhaps not as rich as a similar rosewood-backed instrument might deliver, adds an attractively mellow vein within the otherwise enjoyably peppy sound.
Those with deep pockets and left-field tastes must try this new Santa Cruz. The H13's all-round abilities makes one wonder why 13-fret acoustics are so rare. It almost makes the ubiquitous 14-fretter seem like an arbitrary convention.