My New Baby: A Santa Cruz Guitar, OMPW

I was born in California. In the LA area. But I don’t remember much about it, since my folks moved back to Texas (where they were really from anyway) just a few months later. A few years after that, they moved back to LA for several additional months, and I have vague recollections of Disneyland and apartment buildings from that stay. But it’s all very misty in the mind’s haze.

I mention this because the one thing that’s certain is that when I was just months old, my parents brought the baby-me back to Texas by car. I know this because I have heard the stories of the cross-country sojourn. They drove me back all those 1400 miles to Dallas, where I’ve lived out the vast majority of my life since.

Last week, our family went on our first vacation in two-and-a-half years. (Specifically, it was back in May of 2004 when Dennise, Maria and me last went anywhere together). Two elections, a new church building, a short-staff last summer, and a host of other really “important” things kept us from going anywhere whenever the chance would come.

But last week, we sensed we had the first real opening for a holiday with all of us together in those two-and-a-half years. And so we took it. We took a Spring Break trip to California.

I should warn you that I do intend to write a long, detailed, and potentially monotonous, travelogue-blog about the whole journey. (It was a wonderful trip) But there’s one minor plot twist I just have to share now.

The twist is that while on vacation I got a new guitar.

Back in December, it was clear we’d get a hefty tax refund this year, and that there was no other pressing use for it right now. So, my lovely bride suggested now might be the time to buy the high-end guitar I’d dreamed of for years. It would be my Christmas present.

She told me to start looking around. Which I did. The tax refund came in in early February, and soon Dennise was bugging me regularly about getting the guitar.

Parenthetically, this whole exercise in guitar-buying illustrates a key difference in our personalities. We had the money, she reasoned, so who not just run up to the store, pick one off the rack and bring one home? Years ago, when we’d only been dating a few weeks, I went shopping with her for jean jacket. We went into the Gap, she picked up the first one she saw, said “this looks good.” She was halfway out the door with her credit card receipt before I could say “What about this one?”

So, she reasoned, shouldn’t guitar buying be the same? See one. Pick it up. Buy it. You know, like, today?

She shops like I man. I shop like a woman. It’s an issue. But I digress…

You see, the high-end guitar I dreamed of isn’t usually on a store shelf. I wasn’t thinking about a Taylor or Guild. Or even a Larivee. (Which, as few years back, is what I was sure I wanted…)

No, what I dreamed of was an Olsen. But that’s really still too pricey. So, perhaps a Breedlove? Bill Nash and Tom PR both have them, and I’ve always loved theirs. That was a serious possibility. And you can get ’em at Guitar Center, so you really can just pick one off the shelf. (I’m still amazed that Guitar Center just keeps them in the shelf like that…) Collings are increasingly popular, and they’re even made here in Texas to boot.
So, there were a lot of choices.

But a couple of years ago, I played a Santa Cruz at a store in Garland, and it stayed with me ever since. I’d heard of them, but never played one before that. The actual luthiering (is this a word?) was straightforward, simple, but elegant. And the sound was wonderful. There was just something about that guitar that was really enticing.

So, it was clear to me that Santa Cruz was one of the finalists in my quest.

Back in December, there were a couple at one store here in the Dallas area, and they promised to get some more in stock. But they weren’t exactly the models I was hoping to see. They guy kept promising to get a few more in his showwroom, but it’s a pricey item to just keep laying around if you don’t have a potential buyer on the hook. So, the wait grew longer.

Dennise kept asking about it, confused as to why –after all these years of hoping– I’d wait even one more second to buy the guitar of my dreams.

But it had to be the right one, not just any old one.

Then came our trip. And for some reason, as we were driving around Hollywood last Thursday morning, it hit me that one of the best known guitar shops in the country is McCabe’s in Santa Monica. In fact, McCabe’s own website says that they are “quite possibly the best guitar shop in the world.” Might sound pompous for them to say this about themselves, but I know lots of folks who would agree. Here’s a nice virtual tour of McCabe’s courtesy of their website.

And it hit me that not only were they right here in LA, but that we’d virtually be driving right past them on the way to the pier later that day.

Sooo, we stopped in. And there, sitting on the shelf, was this beautiful Santa Cruz OMPW:

“OMPW” stands for “Orchestra Model, Pre War.” Orchestra model refers to the body type –slightly smaller than the classic Dreadnaught– and “Pre War” refers to a pre-World War II type of strut construction inside the guitar. (It’s all very technical…)
Here are some much better pics, and all the specs from the Santa Cruz website.

Anyway, turns out the body is actually roughly the size of my old guitar…..which makes it a little smallish. I know a lot of folks shun the Orchestra (sometimes called “Concert” size) because of this. And I’m a big guy, so you’d think –for sheer looks sake– that I’d want a big body to play.

But I couldn’t believe the sound of this guitar. It’s just stunning. Incredible low-end, and amazing mids and highs too. And it all blends really well together. The sound simply jumps out at you, and the resonance is like very few guitars I’ve ever played in my life. To me, it sounds very much like an Olsen. (which may be an insult to some Santa Cruz lovers, I realize…)

Not only did McCabe’s obligingly sell it to us, but they also installed a Baggs Dual Source pickup and mic the same day. This Baggs system is one I’ve seen in a lot of other guitars, and been impressed with. It has both a pick up, and an internal mic. The system allows you to either mix the sound of each into mono feed, or actually separate the mic and pickup into separate channels for even more serious mixing later.

The one McCabe’s sold me, and Matt installed, has a smaller controller in the sound hole than is shown in this picture above. And Matt actually hid it even more discreetly, so that it’s hardly visible at all. (Very nice job, by the way…)

Some folks apparently complain about feedback problems with this system. But playing around with it the past few days, I don’t think it’ll be a major issue (I’ve been told that keeping the mic feed out of stage monitors seems to mostly solve it…), and having both a mic and pickup inside really does seem to capture the essence of the guitar more completely than many other systems I’ve seen.

So, we paid for it, went off to the beach for the afternoon, and then came back and picked it up after dinner. Boom. It was done just like that.

After that, we drove along Mulholland Drive, and saw the lights of the city, before heading back to our hotel at the base of the pier. I played it every chance I got the rest of that trip.

While this seems like some kind of impulse buy, it’s actually the culmination of several months of thought and behind-the-scenes patience. Good things come to those who wait. I keep learning that again and again.

And how great to buy it at the famous McCabe’s. Glad to have a connection to that fine place. And how cool is it that –just like me when I was only a couple of months old– our family then brought this new baby back to Texas, making that same cross country sojourn of years before.
It’s now safely here at home. And I am so, so, SO terribly grateful to my lovely bride (and to the other family members who contributed towards this in previous years…) for this Christmas gift. Thanks, D.

And many thanks to Matt in McCabe’s repair shop, and Nancy on the sales floor, and everyone else there for taking such good and quick care of me. (Here’s Nancy playing a Charango behind McCabe’s counter…)

And to everyone else….stay tuned for amazing sounds coming your way soon.

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Eric Folkerth is a minister, musician, author and blogger. He is Senior Pastor of Kessler Park UMC United Methodist Church in Dallas, Texas. Previously, he was pastor at Northaven UMC in Dallas for seventeen years. Eric loves to write on topics of spirituality, social justice, music/art and politics. The entries on this blog reflect that diversity of interests. His passion for social justice goes beyond mere words. He’s been arrested at the White House, defending immigrants and “The Dreamers,” and he’s officiated at same sex weddings in his churches, in defiance of what some believe is Methodist teaching. Eric is an avid blogger and published author, and 2017 recipient of the prestigeous Kuchling Humanitarian Award from Dallas’ Black Tie Dinner. (Human Rights Campaign) Eric has led or co-led hundreds of persons on mission trips around the globe, to places such as Mexico, Haiti, Russia, and Nepal. He has worked with lay persons to build ten homes, and one Community Center, in partnership with Habitat for Humanity of Dallas. He’s a popular preacher, and often tackles challenging issues of social justice in his writings and sermons. His wife, Judge Dennise Garcia, is a State District Judge for Dallas, County. As judge of the 303rd Family District Court, she consistently gets high ratings from area lawyers, and was named “best judge” by The Dallas Observer. First elected in 2004, she was the first Latina ever elected to a county-wide bench in Dallas County, and is currently the longest service district judge in that district. She was re-elected for a fourth term in 2018. They have the world’s best daughter, Maria, and an incredible dog, Daisy. Find links to Eric’s music-related websites, at the top of this site’s navigation menu.

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