An engineer who brought a scientific approach to guitar making, luthier Bill Collings delivered the best instruments to discerning stars including Lyle Lovett, Lou Reed, Keith Richards and Joni Mitchell. He died July 14. His business, Collings Guitars, employs 100 in Austin, Texas, producing guitars of mahogany, ebony, indian rosewood and quilted maple. He talked about his latest introduction, the T series, last fall.
Each T Series guitar is built using animal protein glue and a very thin all-nitrocellulose lacquer finish, making them exceptionally dynamic and responsive. Bracing and tone woods are adjusted for weight and thickness to create a voicing characterized by warm, rounded highs and a present low midrange, while retaining a quick attack and strong projection.
T series guitars also include Collings Guitar's original vintage-style cases, which are built in-house to Bill Collings' demanding standards of craftsmanship. The pairing of these new Traditional guitars and cases makes for a combination of old world quality and aesthetic that is unprecedented among instruments available today.
Here's is a transcription of Collings and his colleagues on the last guitar he launched in his career.
The first time I made a guitar and had people play it I'm pretending that I know all he answers.
But I'm listening. That's where you learn everything. If you don't listen you're going to learn nothing. I've been on the hunt for an acoustic guitar, a new acoustic guitar, that has a lot of the qualities that I cherish so much about 1930s guitars.
There's a directness. There's an honesty to those guitars that really reward when I play my strongest and when I don't, they have a way of kind of saying "that's all you got?"
After 40 years of making guitars and playing more guitar, I started to gravitate to more of these older or vintage guitars and tried to really see what was making that guitar work.
We were going to build a guitar for Julian knowing that he liked vintage guitars and liked certain things. And those certain things were kind of lining up with what Bill has kind of working on his head with the T project.
The concept of the T-Series is to bring a great feel back in a guitar. The same way he's chasing what he's chasing as a guitar builder, we're chasing with our music.
Julian's involvement was really strong because when he started talking guitars, we didn't stop talking for four hours the first time we talked.
I’m thinking you don't like my guitars. He goes "Oh, I do. They're great."
"But I don't think that this note should be in this note....and this..." I said "I get it."
Bill has an amazing way of interacting with players. His language is his own and when he interacts with musicians I think he really is able to open his whole world up to the way we as players talk about these things and he can take that and he can translate that into his own language, which is key.
Some guitars are known for their piano-like characteristics.
That to me would mean there's a lot of high overtones bouncing around.
So you're not just getting your fundamental, you're getting a lot of little noise from all these strings. If a guitar has a piano like characteristic it could be very nice...really, really nice and it's a great compliment but not all people want a piano-like sounding guitar. They want a guitar-sounding guitar.
The newer way of guitar building for me it kind of has gone in a direction
in certain ways where no matter what you play everything sounds good.
Old guitars have a way of being brutally honest.
Making a new model is exciting to me and it's been a challenge. We are not looking at how to make a guitar better.
The art of guitar building has been refined for so many years by so many people in so many ways.
Really the more solid we can make that midrange and the less overtone in it, the more fundamental popping out, the more exciting that can to play because that's the truth coming out of that guitar.
We're talking about how to make a guitar responsive and true in a very specific way.
It's just a very subtle difference, but you change a bunch of things at the same time just a little bit and you get something different.
If somebody walked in and didn't really know guitars, they wouldn't know what we we're talking about...wouldn't have a clue.
Yeah, I think the thing that sticks out to me most just as a player is the way
the neck feels. It feels different and I'm not what this is modeled after...I really love this guitar.
I think from the outside it might seem like our quest is to find a perfect guitar. You know, a guitar that does everything, but leaves us wanting nothing more,
And in reality, a lot of my favorite guitars that I've ever played are unusual.
They have a character to them and they're not perfect and they've got lumps and bumps and they've got things that really force me as a player to kind of bring my best self forward.
You know, so they're instigators. Every minor little aspect, every little fine point of the Traditional Series has been thought out, talked about, tried, prototyped. The new cases I think are so thoroughly thought out.
Bill borrowed cases from everybody he could find and ate the meat and spit out the bones and the case really completes the guitar....and they were both coming almost to be in production about the same time and there was this perfect almost marriage of this kind of Traditional Series guitar with this case, which is designed after these cases in the wenties and thirties.
There's really quite a demand for original vintage cases for original vintage guitars and folks who like replicas of the vintage instruments would also like a replica of the vintage case and Bill has set his sights on manufacturing a case that's just like the original ones.
You pull it out of the case and it just feels light, it's got the right weight, there's no extra mass in it. It's not top-heavy, not bottom-heavy and as you hit it, it pops. You don't understand why but if you play smile.
It almost doesn't matter what we did behind the scenes. All that matters is once they pick it up they know they love it and that's all.
When I pick up a guitar, I want to enjoy it have it "whoa, whoa" and just you don't want to stop playing it. If you don't have that you don't have a guitar.