SANTA CRUZ (KPIX) — For a lot of people all over the world Santa Cruz means something more than beaches, boardwalks and surfers. It means world-class acoustic guitars and that has a lot to do with the collision of two remarkable talents.

One of those talents was Tony Rice, master of the bluegrass guitar solo, who died on Christmas Day in North Carolina at age 69.

The other was Richard Hoover, of Santa Cruz Guitar Company. He crafted guitars for Rice.

“Absolute serendipity,” Hoover remembered. “Bluegrass, the genre that Tony was famous in, it’s not something that I followed or was even into.”

Hoover had made all of four guitars in 1976, when he met Rice, who was playing gigs in the Bay Area. Rice asked Hoover to make an updated replica of his old Martin D-28. Four decades later, Santa Cruz is a go-to maker for high-end, custom guitars among the world’s best players.

“You know, making guitars for Eric Clapton and other notables was great but nobody was the opinion leader like Tony was,” Hoover says. “He really charted our destiny.”

The company has been through ups and downs and several natural disasters but 2020 was not a disaster. In fact, demand for the guitars, often priced in the thousands, may have swelled with the pandemic.

“This is a high-ticket item,” Hoover said. “And I think … (demand) comes from people sitting at home and saying ‘time is all I really have, I’m gonna use it wisely!’ So we are one of the lucky ones, except for being shut down right now.”

The company weathered a tumultuous 2020 only to lose someone so central to its success in the closing days of that miserable year. Hoover, however, focused on gratitude when paying respects to the friend that helped build his company’s success.

“Wake-up calls like this are good for the living,” Hoover says. “If anything, wrestling through that eulogy for Tony gives me a perspective on gratitude for what I do have. That I’m rich in spite of business troubles, COVID, forest fires, whatever God wants to send our way. The foundation is solid, and we are the lucky ones.”