Harmony Central Visits Collings Guitars
By Russ Loeffler |
Collings Guitar is located outside of Austin, Texas. When I began planning for a trip to the 2019 South by Southwest festival, I knew that I wanted to include a visit to the Collings shop on my itinerary. I called several weeks ahead to reserve a space for a tour of their shop. Shop tours are only held on Fridays at 3:30 p.m. So, it’s a good idea to reserve a space in advance. The Collings Guitar shop is located on Hwy 290 west of Austin, Texas. (512-288-7776)
Bill moved from Ohio to Houston in the mid-70’s where he worked as an engineer with an oil field company by day. He built guitars on evenings and weekends. Within a few years he was building guitars for Texas musicians including Lyle Lovett. In the early 80’s he moved to Austin and set up shop with luthiers Tom Ellis and Mike Stevens. A few years later he moved into his own one car garage shop. As the company grew he moved to a 3,200 square foot shop outside of Austin in 1992. The shop grew in size and more employees were added. In 2005 built the current 27,000 square foot shop with CNC (computer numerical control) technology and modern machining equipment.
Collings builds acoustic, archtop, and electric guitars as well as mandolins and ukuleles. They build some of the highest quality production instruments made anywhere in the world. Bill Collings was an engineer, designer, machinist, and an artist. So, he was constantly looking to improve the building techniques and quality of the his instruments. He pioneered the use of high-tech manufacturing equipment while retaining the use of hand-built techniques. Instruments move from “high tech” workstations to “hand crafted” stations and from one end of the factory to the other several times before an instrument is completed.
The Quality Legacy:
Bill Collings passed away less than two years ago. The reverence that all of the employees have for Bill was evident by the way everyone spoke of him. Nearly every workstation had pictures of Bill on the wall. The employees and luthiers at Collings are continuing his unrelenting efforts to improve the quality of the instruments they build.
The wood for the bodies and necks is stored in a section of the factory where the climate is controlled and maintained at 49% humidity:
Finished guitars ready for hardware assembly.
Contrasting the modern equipment are workstations where luthiers continue to use hand crafted techniques:
The top and bottom of guitar are glued and set in with tape.
The binding of this guitar is finished by hand.
Fretwire is installed on this neck with a hand press .
A luthiers workstation.
The luthiers were enthusiastic and willing to share their techniques.
Collings instruments are expensive, but the tour only confirms that they are a great value. I recommend the shop tour, but need to warn you that you won’t leave without having a few instruments on your wish list.
Russ Loeffler is a contributing editor to Harmony Central who covers trade shows and live events when he is not fine-tuning his guitar chops. He is also a gear head with a passion for good music, great tones, and music that is much easier to listen to than it is to play.