Santa Cruz H13 review

  • £3199

A cute little picker with a big sound: it'll break your heart… and your wallet.

TODO alt text

Our Verdict

If you love a small- bodied 12-fret vibe, but hanker after big sound, you'll find that the H 13 bridges the gap in a cunningly satisfying way.

For

  • Cleverly designed, masterly update on a surprisingly neglected acoustic body style.

Against

  • Nothing really, though not a superstitious player's choice!
Buying options

The hybrid H 13 is like a modified version of SC's 12-fret 00, with a dreadnought depth body and an extra fret's-worth of neck courtesy of its longer scale.

Its evolution, however, dates back to 1978 when a fellow luthier suggested a new model to SCGC, based on Gibson's early 1930s- era Nick Lucas Special.

His inspiration: a guitar that Bob Dylan used in the mid-1960s – a 13-fret version of this small (00-size), yet deep-bodied Gibson.

After a prototype run, a few 13-fret models were built, but SC settled for a more marketable 14-fret revision – the H.

Overview

This is SCGC President Richard Hoover's personal favourite model.

Its unconventional design yields theoretically ideal location of the soundhole and bridge to ensure efficient transfer of energy to and from the top, and a dreadnought depth body (deeper than both 14-fret H and VS bodies) for significantly increased volume.

Despite its aforementioned Gibson-derived inspiration, its aesthetic style is more Martin-like.

Taking Santa Cruz's consistently meticulous build quality as read, we'll focus on the H 13's specific features.

Entirely differently proportioned to the VS, this soundbox is accordingly uniquely voiced.

Its top-grade Sitka spruce soundboard is more lightly braced, with two fewer midriff finger braces, while the tall 'X' struts are carved even thinner and scalloped.

The lower bout tone bars are, however, double tapered like the VS's.

This top's rosette is identical, but the perimeter purfling is eight-ply.

The handsome tawny back panels also get three-ply edge purfling and a white/ brown/black wood marquetry strip for the central seam that is continued on along the sides' end-joint. The body binding is ivoroid.

General technical aspects of the neck's jointing and finishing are as before.

Here we find the so-called carved dart behind the square-slotted headstock, and the latter is not just for retro charm, as it offers increased string angle over the nut, enhancing sustain.

The tuners feel much the same. Equally as immaculate as its brother, this rectangular bridge is a slimmer one-inch (25.4mm) wide, but has pyramid-shaped 'wings' – a classic early Martin style that SC adopts as standard for the first time.

With similar dimensions and technical precision, the H 13 neck delivers much the same in terms of general playability as the VS. It might be a tad shallower, but not by much.

The main issue to those of us used to standard 14-fret necks is that there's less clear fingerboard and, frustratingly, two more frets doomed to gather dust 'up top'.

However, if you do like a challenge, the body section is still impressively even, with minimal distortion around the joint area. Intonation is spot-on too.

As usual, with this reviewer's experience of matt-satin nitro neck finishes, it has quickly started to feel sticky. It's a body chemistry thing, apparently, so not everyone experiences this phenomenon.

Sounds

Santa Cruz acoustics are renowned for their breadth and tonal complexity. When we had a go on the shallower, cutaway body H Studio, its fully rounded character amazed us.

Here, with extra box volume to develop those sound waves, you'd be forgiven for assuming it's a mini-jumbo in a blind test.

Bass is naturally shelved off, but its tight, well-balanced low-mid hum is impressive for a little 'un.

The typical mid-range swell, common in smaller-bodied acoustics, sounds particularly in full voice here – focussed, yet satisfyingly thick and fruity.

It's sparkly, with a good wash of excited harmonics livening up the treble and delivering the kind of presence fingerpickers often prefer.

The wound strings have a fair bit of zing, while the top strings are laced with a spicy edge; but there's enough colour in this guitar's palette for this trait not to dominate.

The H 13 doesn't require stern treatment to achieve considerable volume and projection.

And this sensitivity – along with its crisper, more laid-back and detailed overall sound – naturally lends itself to the more subtle and intricate styles of guitar playing.

As a reviewer, it's easy to get blasé about high-end acoustics clocking up three-grand price tags, but these are fantasy purchases for the majority of us.

That said, the sheer strength of personality, plus the obvious build and sound quality that this instrument delivers, leaves little logical argument against such a price.

Tech Specs

Country of OriginUSA
Available Finishclear nitrocellulose gloss body, matt-satin neck. Custom finishes available to order (prices accordingly)
Back MaterialMahogany
Bolt-on NeckNo
Bridge56mm
Bridge MaterialEbony
Case IncludedYes
CutawayNo
Fingerboard BindingIvoroid
Fingerboard MaterialEbony
FretlessNo
Guitar Body MaterialSitka Spruce
HeadstockSlotted
Includes BagNo
Left Handed Model AvailableYes
Max Rim Depth125
Neck MaterialMahogany
No. of Frets21
No of Strings6
Nut MaterialBone
OptionsStandard H (£2,499) with rosewood back/sides as standard, narrower 14-fret neck (20-fret fingerboard w/mini-dot markers), shallower body, solid headstock, enclosed chrome tuners and standard bridge style.
PickguardNo
Scale Length (mm)645
Sides MaterialMahogany
Weight (kg)1.6
Weight (lb)3.5
Width at Nut (mm)44.5
Max Body Width372