Santa Cruz Vintage Southerner review

  • £2999
Pick it up and you won't want to put it down!

MusicRadar Verdict

For those who have failed to find a vintage J-45 that's not got a belly like an ale-monster, or find the Gibson reissues' technical foibles plain irksome, then the Vintage Southerner is your perfect high-end option.


  • +

    Flawless finishing. Authentic details. Majestic tone and refreshingly lightweight build.


  • -

    Nothing really, but you do have to be partial to this sort of tone and feel to appreciate the VS, it's not an all-rounder.

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Santa Cruz created the Vintage Jumbo in the spirit of Gibson's classic jumbos of the 1930s and 1940s (J-35, Advanced Jumbo, J-45 and Southern Jumbo); and the Vintage Southerner (VS) takes this even further.

Opting for a rectangular bridge, an all-over tobacco sunburst finish, and ivoroid-button open-gear tuners, the VS look is even closer to those old Gibsons.


With its short-scale neck, the VS also captures that authentic J-45 feel. Construction and voicing, however, get the full SCGC treatment; and the company philosophy is to cultivate a unique sound for each body style, developing its perceived tonal strengths to a new level of sophistication and distinction.

'Out of sight, out of mind' is definitely not the company maxim, as you conclude from the clinical tidiness of this guitar's innards.

Strategic hand tuning of the top bracing governs much of this acoustic's intended tone; and it's a familiar-looking overall layout, featuring tall, slim X-braces, carved into a triangular-ish cross-section and tapered in two stages rather than scalloped. The long, diagonal lower bout tone bars are similarly profiled.

An immaculate two-tone tobacco sunburst obscures much of this high-grade Sitka spruce top, but its '7-9' rosette of black, maple and ivoroid rings, and two-ply ivoroid/black perimeter purfling is notably clean-cut.

Back and sides are equally opaquely lacquered and entirely undecorated. Outer body binding is ivoroid.

The one-piece neck is traditionally dovetailed into a simple neck block (that is, not L-shaped) with equally traditional bracing supporting the top's upper bout.

Of course, the fingerboard is utterly immaculate, with invisible binding and the fret-ends painstakingly filed into soft-cornered triangles, as if the maker wants you to notice they've been attended to.

A perfect job has been done on the nut too. The headstock is a hybrid of 1930s Gibson and Epiphone (offset notch) outlines; and with SC's own-brand vintage-style tuners, it's all very authentic looking.

In use, the tuners are stiffer and stickier than the finest sealed machines, but they really suit this model.

It's also worth noting that the pearl SCGC logo is properly inlaid in the ebony veneer, not just stuck on under the lacquer.

Vintage rectangular - though minus the 'through-cut' saddle - the plainly styled bridge is fittingly finely finished, with a very slim, snugly slotted and logically compensated saddle, plus pearl-dotted ebony pins.

Looks aside, it was also decided that this bridge suited the tonal arc of the shorter scale better.

Like many high-end makers, SCGC insists that an expertly applied traditional nitro-cellulose finish - like this all-gloss example - offers an as yet unmatched balance of looks, protection, repairability and tonal transparency.

It does, however, need more loving care. With its relatively full-bodied neck, the VS feels fittingly 'vintage' on first play.

The statistical evidence: a 45mm nut and a fully rounded 'C'-profile that tapers in depth from just over 21mm (first fret) to nearly 25mm (10th). With optimal string spacing to boot, cramped it certainly is not.

Assuming the price tag doesn't put you off, this neck's solid dimensions might, but it's amazing how quickly you can adjust.

You hardly notice the fingerboard as your tips glide along it; and it's really refreshing to slide over a recently applied gloss nitro neck surface that's not at all squeaky.

Technical details like neck alignment and fingerboard/fret evenness are appropriately expertly 'engineered'; however, the neck's depth makes even this review model's very typical, clean-fretting action feel higher than it is by measurement.

That said, compared to the long-scale VJ, using the same string gauge, it is a less strenuous play.

If you're feeling adventurous, 12th-fret intonation harmoniously supports high-voiced chords, but Santa Cruz retains its pointy, triangular heel, eschewing the low profile rounded heel found on similar Gibsons.


We were blown away by the sheer power of this guitar. Thud an open E string with the pad of your thumb and you'll hear and feel some impressively deep, fundamental bass that seems to emanate, uncannily, from outside the soundbox.

Pluck or pick firmly with nail or plectrum, however, and you tap into a deep well of rich and fruity aural delight that imparts incredible definition, colour and musical vitality to each note you play - low or high.

Driving the whole show is a thick, pronounced and sonorous mid range voice that provides the muscle, projection and flavour, while the boomy bass and sweetly singing treble add warmth and spice to the tone.

It seems like a more open spread than your archetypal dreadnought produces.

The unwound strings deliver some of the most satisfyingly full-bodied and sustaining high notes you could wish for from a steel-string acoustic: never piercing, just exceptionally emphatic.

The Vintage Southerner doesn't hit full power with just a light stroke, and needs a certain assertive touch to get it going.

But once flowing, it just keeps getting louder and louder with little deterioration of tone.

Sure, you can play softly, with crisp clarity, but you notice a harder, tighter side to the sound when delicate chiming qualities might suit better.

Approached more fittingly, with plenty of vim and vigour, it just sings and roars excitedly at your command, and it's only going to get better with age.

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 prices.