The Art of Handmade Guitars
Does the musician approach their instrument differently when it’s made by Collings? When it’s manufactured from start to finish and created exclusively by the practiced dexterity and skill of human hands? Nestled within the pulse of the Austin, Texas music scene USA, the handpicked raw wood techniques employed at the Collings workshop link the brand with guitar manufacturing not seen since the turn of the 20th century. Owned by music greats such as Joan Baez and Keith Richards, the Collings approach to guitar manufacturing makes it distinctive amongst its peers.
For example, it is often said of the Collings OM2H T acoustic guitar that it has a warmer voice; the low-mids are more complex, and that, along with the texturally pared highs, results in a compelling singular sound that’s brilliant for solo playing. According to the NY Times, making a single Collings guitar takes about 20 craftsman more than 35 working days. With this focus on high-quality production, the company creates only around six acoustics, three electrics, two mandolins and two ukuleles per day, which amounts to around 3,000 instruments produced annually. Various conditions associated with handcrafted guitars, such as the onsite temperature, are highly impactful. For that reason, the Collings facility maintains a daily 72 F temperature with 48% humidity climate controlled environment.
Bill Collings, founder of Collings guitar, was destined to build something great. His grandfather’s uncle was an innovative automaker. His grandfather was the president of Dow Corning, manufacturer of silicone products. His father was an engineer. As Bill grew up, he spent time working in a machine shop, where he discovered his calling: as a creator of some of the finest guitars to ever grace the scene. He did it, not for money or for fame, but because of an internal drive to create the perfect fretted instrument.
Since 1979, his company has produced over 20,000 instruments for some of the biggest names in music: Keith Richard, Eddie Van Halen, and many others. His devotion, energy, and tireless quest for perfection lives on in his many designs, and in the engineers who have taken the reigns since his passing. Bill Collings will always remain one of the pre-eminent luthiers of his generation.
High Quality Performance
The clean, meticulous construction of Collings guitars, as well as their feel and tonal performance, make them the instrument of choice for many guitarists. Everything is handmade with no outsourcing overseas. The Collings team of craftspersons institute and maintain its many characteristics of quality by using the best practices. The trim, scallop, and the final taper are crafted by hand using the finest tools. Moreover, each member of the Collings facility team is a guitar player themselves. One of the reasons Collings chose Austin as a location in the first place is because, as it happens, a great many people in Texas, and especially Austin, play guitar.
What type of wood is used to make a Collings guitar? The secret is not only in finding the strongest, most suitable wood for an instrument, but also knowing exactly how to manipulate that wood, and this is what provides the instrument the platform it needs to provide high-quality performance.
The Golden Age of Steel String
The 1930’s pre-war Depression era of Martin and Gibson is commonly referred to as the Golden Age of steel string guitar, and established the fundamental principle features and conventions of modern acoustic guitars as we know them today, says Music Radar. Before the Collings CJ, the popular vintage-style flattop models of the 21st century were the vintage Gibson J-35 and the J-45, known by their minimalistic ornamentation. This was paired down for depression era musicians who were low on cash.
The lightness of the instrument makes it an effortless conduit of sound that begins reverberating right out of the case. The structural improvements to the design of the CJ-35 include the string separation and placement as well as the more refined articulation in the shape of the instrument. These changes enhance that vintage Americana sound. Due to the stiffer non-scalloped Adirondack bracing with its more significant dynamic headroom , the CJ-35 offers a large that is achievable by any player.
Does the Collings talent for acoustic sound carry over to their electrics? Collings first began producing electric guitars in 2006, which was nearly 27 years after the company first opened for business in 1979. Despite the delay, it quickly earned an excellent reputation. The City Limits Deluxe, for example, made with custom ivoroid “top hat” pickup rings and knobs, is one of their most popular lines, known for its tonal complexity and sustain made possible from the hand-set mortise and tenon neck joint. It’s a lightweight mahogany model electric guitar, often compared to the Les Paul without the back-breaking weight.
The semi-hollow Collings SoCo I-35 double cutaway, named after Austin’s South Congress Avenue, has Collings translating its loving artistry into the realm of electric guitar making. Its hybrid design makes it spectacular for both jazz and blues-rock guitar playing.