THE LIST OF GUITARISTS WHO PLAY SANTA CRUZ guitars is huge and includes such names as Will Ackerman, Joan Baez, Elvis Costello, Steve Earle, and Dickey Betts. Santa Cruz also offers several signature models: the Tony Rice, Arlen Roth, Ron Block, Norman Blake, Bob Brozman, Janis Ian, and now, the Otis Taylor.
SCGC’s latest signature guitar has some unique attributes. For starters, the Otis Taylor features a 14-fret neck with 13 frets clear of the body—a configuration specified by Taylor, who said this about it in a GP article from August 2009: “To show you how un-technical I am, [my signature] guitar only has two frets past the neck-body joint because I don’t use those frets.” This leaves about 4" of board with nothing on it other than a pearl “OT” logo, so if your fingers can reach up that high, you can even get in some fretless tonalities. This sweet looking instrument has an overall length of 39.5" with a body that’s 14.6" wide and 4.87" deep. It’s constructed of beautifully figured Madagascar rosewood with a spotless interior that reveals carefully shaped and sanded Adirondack spruce bracing. The Italian spruce top is tinted to a dark honey shade and it sports five-ply ivoroid binding and a three-ring rosette. Binding also edges the gorgeously figured back, framing a center strip made from light-colored wood pieces, and extending along the ebony fretboard and ebony-faced headstock. [Due to the scarcity and expense of Madagasscar Rosewood, SCGC has introduced the Otis Taylor Touring Model, also endorsed by Taylor, in addition to the standard model. The Touring Model has Indian Rosewood back and sides and a Master Grade Sitka Spruce top and is priced at $4,950 U.S. retail.]
As with all Santa Cruz models, the Otis Taylor Signature wears a high-gloss finish and is built in classic vintage style with a hand-shaped neck that is glued to the body. The bracing is also installed with hot hide glue—an option that reportedly transfers vibration more readily than modern glues, increasing the quickness of response while also enhancing the volume. “Otis needed a warm blues tone, but with some edge to it, and using hide glue helps us get that kind of response,” says Santa Cruz’ founder, Richard Hoover.
A hand-made guitar such as this take many hours to build and finish, but the result speaks for itself in what amounts to an heirloom-grade instrument. The OT arrived with an excellent setup, and the combination of low action and carefully shaped and polished frets made for superb playability. The OT came up to pitch easily courtesy of the smooth turning open-gear tuners, and it sounded very in-tune in all regions of the neck. The perfectly notched bone nut and compensated bridge saddle get some of the credit here, but whatever else the Santa Cruz folks do to make their guitars sound so tuneful is realized when you pick one up and give it a strum. The terms “dimensional” and “complex” immediately come to mind when playing the Otis Taylor, which is a very rich sounding guitar with impressive articulation and note detail. Chords sing out with a zingy clarity while buoyed by a fullness and resonance that fills the space around you with juicy overtones. The response is lively, with taut lows and snappy upper-mid presence, and the ringing tones you get when combining fretted notes and open strings is just plain heavenly. The OT is a natural for fingerstyle playing, and it dishes out impressive volume when played with a flatpick. Above all, the sheer musicality of the Otis Taylor Signature makes you want to keep on playing because it’s so inspiring. And that’s reason enough to give it an Editors’ Pick Award.
SPECS | Santa Cruz Guitar Company, (831)425-0999; santacruzguitars.com
MODEL Otis Taylor Signature
PRICE $6,905 retail/street price N/A
NUTWIDTH 1 11/16"
NECK Solid mahogany with C profile
FRETBOARD Rosewood with compound radius
FRETS 14 (13 clear of the body)
TUNERS Santa Cruz vintage-style
BODY Madagascar rosewood back and sides, solid Italian spruce top
BRIDGE Ebony with compensated bone saddle
FACTORYSTRINGS D’Addario phosphor bronze, .012-.054
WEIGHT 3.96 lbs
KUDOS Amazing quality. Superb tone. Great playing feel.