Santa Cruz Firefly

My grandmother bought a Martin 0-18 in 1930, and she was kind enough to give it to me many years ago. Everyone who has ever played that guitar has marveled at how great the tone is, how amazingly loud it is for such a small-bodied instrument, and how they don’t make ’em like they used to. The first two comments are absolutely true. As for the third, I and the folks at the Santa Cruz Guitar Company beg to differ. SCGC is known the world over for their righteous acoustics, and this particular specimen—the diminutive Firefly—is a flat-out stunning flat-top.

The Firefly arrived in a beautiful case, and opening it was like a scene out of Pulp Fiction, as radiant, plush green velvet cradles and hugs this classy, elegant acoustic. Santa Cruz is shying away from saying “parlor” and “travel guitar” when describing the Firefly because of the potential baggage associated with those terms. That will, however, clue you in to the dimensions of this instrument, which are on the smaller side. At 24", the scale length is almost one-and-a-half inches shorter than that of a Santa Cruz D series dreadnought. The Firefly’s body is almost three inches narrower at the lower bout than its D series sibling, but has roughly the same depth—a factor that will come into play as we discuss its tone.

Cosmetically, the Firefly sports a minimalist aesthetic on its front side with a discrete but perfect cedar top, understated ivoroid rosette, an ebony fretboard with small mother-of-pearl dots, and Ibony bridge pins. The glamour begins with the beautiful Brazilian rosewood headstock facing and cool Santa Cruz logo. The headstock foreshadows the Firefly’s Brazilian rosewood back and sides, which are utterly drop-dead gorgeous. Santa Cruz prides itself on being a very green company that uses only reclaimed wood, so this incredible specimen of Brazilian is more than 70 years old. According to SCGC’s president, Richard Hoover, this is both ecologically and sonically sound.

“None of the wood on this guitar was cut from living trees,” he says. “That’s the right thing for the environment, and a great side benefit is that this old wood sounds so much better.”

On the subject of sound, let’s just cut right to the chase. I’ve never reviewed a guitar that has caused so many people to instantly utter some variation on the phrase, “This might be the best guitar I’ve ever played in my life.” It’s tough to put into words what happens when you pick or strum the Firefly, but here goes: The sound is full, loud, and lively, with an amazing clarity and definition from string to string. The sustain is downright incredible, and the treble response is beautifully musical. Everyone who hears this guitar was floored by how much depth and power emanated from such a small body. That’s partly because of the great care Santa Cruz takes to tune the guitar’s top to match the resonance of the body cavity, and the way the company varies the top’s thickness—from thin at the edge to slightly thicker at the middle—to make it respond more like a speaker cone.

There is no frequency cancellation whatsoever with this guitar, and its overtones are rich and complex. Hit a chord, and the notes seem to dance around in mid air with ever-changing color and timbre. The medium action allows you to dig in as hard as you want, and the Firefly just keeps delivering, with no squashing or compression. My favorite approach was a hybrid pick/fingers technique—which really brought out all the guitar’s nuances.

Every once in a while you play a guitar that just puts it all together—an instrument that simply nails the elusive recipe of top-quality materials, impeccable workmanship, ravishing good looks, and stellar sound. The Firefly has all of those things in glorious abundance. This guitar is absolutely overflowing with tone, riffs, and songs that spill forth effortlessly no matter who plays it. Obviously, the Firefly isn’t cheap. You could knock three grand off the price if you went for Indian rosewood instead of Brazilian, and most of us still couldn’t afford it. But here’s something to think about: No one who has played this guitar has said it wasn’t worth its lofty price tag. It’s a handmade work of art, and we should all own a guitar like this some day. This isn’t just the best small-bodied guitar I’ve played in years (giving Hall of Fame status to my awesome little Martin). This is one of the best guitars I’ve ever played period.