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The Santa Cruz Guitar Company. Tony Rice Professional, and Tony Rice Signature Guitars

Updated on July 30, 2017
Wesman Todd Shaw profile image

Wesman Todd Shaw started playing the guitar when he was 12 years old. He loves nothing more than to pick one up and pluck some strings.

Tony Rice With His Modified 1935 Martin D 28 That Once Belonged To Clarence White
Tony Rice With His Modified 1935 Martin D 28 That Once Belonged To Clarence White

Tony Rice, and His Legendary Martin D 28

This article is about several things. My favorite acoustic guitarist, Tony Rice, is one of those things; and his very famous 1935 Herringbone Martin D - 28 is quite another thing altogether, but this article is very much about that specific guitar. This article is also about the Santa Cruz Guitar Company out of Santa Cruz, California; easily one of the single finest manufacturers of acoustic guitars in the entire world - and their two models of Tony Rice acoustic guitar.

But nobody can even begin to tell you about Tony Rice's highly modified 1935 Martin D - 28 without first telling you that it had once belonged to Clarence White; and you do have to understand that Clarence White's guitar passing into the hands of young Tony Rice, who he had, in fact, known, was not only fitting and symbolic, but also a seamless evolution of sorts.

The 1935 modified Martin D - 28 that became the blueprint for so many different guitars, including the Santa Cruz Guitar Company's Tony Rice Model Guitars - is practically the Excalibur of acoustic steel string guitars. It's the sword in stone that Tony Rice, and only Tony Rice could extract.

Clarence White - Acoustic Guitars

Now Clarence White didn't always play his Martin D 28, in fact, he most often, when playing acoustic guitar, played a custom guitar that he'd had someone make him that was basically a copy of a Martin D 18 - but whatever the guitar was that Clarence was playing, acoustic or electric, everyone tended to stop what they were doing and listen, as he would surely be playing something that nobody else could even emulate - he seemed to break all the rules of the way time worked in regards to music, he'd put notes into the strangest places, and let them hang there for strange amounts of time, and then jump back into the melody of the song he'd been playing in stunning ways that continually amazed everyone who heard it.

So whether or not Clarence mostly played his custom guitar or his 1935 Martin D-28 was never really the issue, as when Clarence was killed on July 15, 1973, ran over by a drunk driver while he and his brother, Roland White, loaded their gear onto a van after a show - it doesn't matter anymore, as I've read that Clarence's primary acoustic guitar, literally, died with him in the same manner that he died - ran over by that drunken driver. The legendary Martin instrument did not then pass directly into the hands of Tony Rice - but providence thanked us all by directing that guitar into Tony's hands a bit later on down the road, and he's owned it, and recorded the finest flatpicking music this side of Clarence White's grave with it.

Tony Rice, and The Santa Cruz Guitar Company

So when Tony Rice became a legend in his own right,most every flatpicking guitarist in the universe seemed to be dying to own a guitar that looked and sounded just like his guitar does, the one that the late Clarence White used to own. It would be no different if someone like Eddie Van Halen had inherited Jimi Hendrix's prize guitar - the guitar just had double genius mystique all over it.

Tony Rice is the kind of guitarist that probably has spent more time playing guitar than anything else, and still does - there's no other explanation for someone being able to play like he does, or like Clarence White did - and they definitely sound completely different, but with some stylistic traits that flow seamlessly from one to the other - they had known each other, of course.

So Tony Rice tours and records constantly, and he does virtually all of it with the one guitar - but guitars sometimes need work done on them, necks reset, frets replaced, setups redone - what could Tony do should his prized and very famous Martin be down for some work? Well, he paired himself up for a reproduction of his guitar, and he chose the Santa Cruz Guitar Company with which to work - to reproduce the world's most famous individual guitar from the world's most famous model guitar that was made by the world's most famous and respected guitar manufacturer, C.F. Martin & Co.

The Tony Rice Professional - by The Santa Cruz Guitar Company

One of the Ultimate Bluegrass Guitars!
One of the Ultimate Bluegrass Guitars!

The Santa Cruz Tony Rice Professional

Quite simply, the Tony Rice Professional by the Santa Cruz Guitar Company is a reproduction of Tony Rice's 1935 Martin D 28. So how is that different from any other D 28? Well, in a few ways - first and foremost, if you look at it - the sound hole is bigger on this guitar than it is on most any other guitar. The guitar that used to be owned by Clarence White had had that done to it - someone had been experimenting with the sound of the D-28, and just filed away on the inside of the sound hole to increase the size of it proportionately. The second modification done to the old Martin was that the fret board had been entirely replaced with a bare ebony one that had no fret markers - Both Santa Cruz Tony Rice model guitars, of course, are true to that design, but they do, however, feature the Santa Cruz Guitar Company's emblem in abalone inlay on the 20th fret.

Differences? Well, the Tony Rice Professional model features old growth Brazilian rosewood just as pre war Martin D 28 guitars did, but the Tony Rice Professional model features European spruce from Germany rather than Adirondack spruce - surely this was Tony's choice, as everything on these guitars is exactly how he wants it - and as these have been in production for a large number of years - Tony's preferences have surely evolved. What info I'm going to relay here is the most current info - but anyone who would be selling you a guitar like a Tony Rice Professional from the Santa Cruz Guitar Company would well know exactly how to answer your questions if you were purchasing an older used one - if they can NOT, then report them to the police - it's someone's prized instrument that they'd worked hard for, and it's stolen.

I'm left to speculate here from Santa Cruz own website - but surely the neck is mahogany, there is a Brazilian rosewood veneer over the head stock or peg head, and of course there is herringbone trim all over this thing - which practically as a rule, indicates a high X and scalloped bracing, and that is most certainly the case here. The pick guard on these are always of a very beautiful tortoise look, but not actual tortoise material - for endangered species reasons. The SCGC is calling the pick guard Dalmatian. Other than that - this is THE guitar that everyone is copying, Collings makes it's own version - and what is best between a Collings and a Santa Cruz is going to be a total toss up. C.F. Martin is also making a version of it's own highly modified guitar, and has, in fact, made several over the years.

Tony and Wyatt Rice With Their Santa Cruz Guitars

The Santa Cruz Tony Rice Signature Guitar

The Tony Rice Professional by The Santa Cruz Guitar Company - is misnamed. Yes, it's as professional as you can get, but it's a seven thousand dollar PLUS instrument, and nobody has to spend that much money for a professional level acoustic guitar, nor should they ever EVER need to. What you've got with the Tony Rice Pro - is Brazilian rosewood and German spruce.

You don't need to have those woods to have a great guitar - not at all. The Tony Rice Signature guitar is much more affordable, and NO cheaper, it's just less expensive due to supply and demand. It's the East Indian rosewood and Sitka spruce version of the same guitar - it's every bit as fine an instrument - it's just that East Indian rosewood is easier to come by, easier to shape into a dreadnought guitar, and therefore less expensive. Sitka spruce is also a very fine tonewood - both of my personal guitars have Sitka spruce tops, and I've owned guitars with much more expensive Adirondack spruce tops, I'm here to tell you - spending several thousand dollars on a more expensive guitar with rarer woods doesn't make you a better player, or really even get you a better instrument.

I know that no one might be very impressed with the drop in prices - but this guitar sells for just a tad over five thousand dollars.

The Tony Rice Signature Guitar By The Santa Cruz Guitar Company.

Finding a finer dreadnought guitar is very hard to do.
Finding a finer dreadnought guitar is very hard to do.

The Tony Rice Signature Model Guitar.


It just doesn't get any better than this - The Santa Cruz Guitar Company is the creme of the best crop, to be honest about it - I like them better than even Texas' own Collings guitars, but I've had my hands on more Santa Cruz guitars than Collings guitars - and I own one of the Santa Cruz guitars as well. My personal guitar isn't a Tony Rice model, mine is a model D with Brazilian rosewood and Sitka spruce, the blank fret board, and absolutely no emblems or markings on it - it's got the data and signatures of the luthiers on the inside.

First time I played a Tony Rice Pro was in about 1991 in Winfield, Kansas at the Walnut Valley Festival, a friend of my guitar teacher handed me one and told me to hold it carefully, and not for any reason in the universe to let it out of my sight. I realized then that my guitar was in my tent....and every bit as nice as the one I was holding, and I then worried!

The slightly less expensive Tony Rice Signature model - I've played those in the Guitar Centers in Dallas, and nearly bought one once. Of course it's way too similar to the Santa Cruz that I already own for me to buy one just like it for full price, me being a working man only when I've got a job!

The only guitars that I've played that I like as well as these are D 28 copies by Dana Bourgeois, and his Bourgeois Guitar Company. There are NONE that I know of better than Santa Cruz or Bourgeois - except for the rare Martin or Taylor.

Tony Rice, Ricky Skaggs, J.D. Crow and the New South Doing a Gordon Lightfoot Song


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    • Wesman Todd Shaw profile imageAUTHOR

      Wesman Todd Shaw 

      8 years ago from Kaufman, Texas

      Thank you VERY VERY much Sue Swan!!!!!!!!!!!!!

      I'm working towards that slowly - I need the equipment to make a youtube vid....which I've never seen done before, and so I don't even know what I need.....but when I do get it, I'll be doing it.

      I've got a plan for that :-/

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      Awesome hub Wes!

      Nice picture of you and your Santa Cruz guitar. It would be nice to hear you play it.

      Voted up and awesome.

    • Wesman Todd Shaw profile imageAUTHOR

      Wesman Todd Shaw 

      8 years ago from Kaufman, Texas

      I know that's right!

      I used to actually always have money and a good job - these days, there ain't no high end guitars likely to come my way unless a organize a Guitar Center heist! LOL!

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      Wes you flung a craving on me for one of them Santa Cruz guitars, now if I had a rick uncle who might leave me some moola coola, I'd go right out and get me one. I have only played one and it was hard to let go. Great hub and an awesome guitar,


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