Collings Guitars: A Standard in Excellence
Posted by Robinson Earle on Dec 28th 2018
Collings Guitars: A Standard in Excellence | Midwood Guitar Studio
Bill Collings came from an engineering background and his meticulous attention to detail was unparalleled. He found a way to consistently produce exceptional, high-end instruments with the smallest possible difference from serial number to number. If you hear a D2H somewhere and decide to buy one online, you can be confident about what you’re going to get.
One of the Collings achieves this is by having extensive criterion for the wood they use on each model. For instance, although both dreadnought models, D1s and D2Hs receive Sitka tops with different characteristics to better suit their back and side woods (respectively, Mahogany and Rosewood). Also, rather than having luthiers build guitars from start to finish, the Collings factory has each team member specialize in certain areas of construction. This approach, combined with CNC technology for the sake of precision, results in instruments of unparalleled consistency and benchmark perfection. The setup and fit/finish are always flawless.
Although he’d been building guitars since the 70s, Bill Collings received national attention in 1987 when he was commissioned by vintage guitar giant, George Gruhn, to build 24 custom “Gruhn” guitars. By the mid-2000s he’d established himself as one of the most reputable builders in the country, with many famous players endorsing his instruments. He eventually came to have a staff of over 80 employees, producing 3,000 instruments a year.
The original Collings tone could be described as falling somewhere between a high-end Taylor and a vintage Martin or Gibson, which is to say, somewhere between modern and traditional voicing. In more technical terms, they offer big bass and complex highs while still presenting lots of mid-range detail to cut through a mix and strike a natural balance across the frequency spectrum. They are also relatively easy to play. Even a beginner can make one sound great. This accessibility from a player perspective was/is integral to their enormous success as a guitar company.
Seemingly as a response to the emergence of other builders embracing a more strictly traditional approach to construction techniques and voicings. Colling unveiled its “traditional” series. These guitars are more unique and variable, but consistently spectacular. The wood is hand selected and voiced by master luthiers, put together with hot hide glue (animal protein), and encased in an ultra-thin coat of nitrocellulose finish. They even come with handmade leather cases.
Although they started with acoustics, Collings electrics and mandolins have proven equally popular among pros and hobbyists. They even started a smaller company called Waterloo (the original name of Austin, Texas) that specializes in humble, depression-era guitars. Bill Collings passed away in 2017, but will live on through his instruments. What he accomplished is as simple as it is infinitely complex: take a good design, and make it perfect.