Behind the Scenes at Collings Guitars
Two of our staff, Eric M., sales and Anne T., marketing, went to Austin, Texas in February to visit Collings Guitars. Though Mass Street Music has been a Collings dealer for acoustic guitars, electric guitars, mandolins and ukes for many years (in fact we were the third dealer ever), this was Eric and Anne's first jaunt to the Collings 'factory'. We say it with quotation marks because really, every instrument Collings builds is custom. Though you'll find CNC (computer numerical control) machines and modern technology, it's truly a workshop with hand crafted work happening around every corner and each guitar, mando and uke is built to be the very best it can be (which always turns out to be phenomenal).
Collings Guitars, Austin, Texas
Bill Collings once said, “There are three things that go into a great guitar: the design, the craftsmanship, and the wood.” Dedication to absolute top quality in each of these realms is why their guitars, mandolins and ukes are among the very best instruments available today. They do not have an assembly line – each instrument is custom crafted to be the very best tonally, structurally and visually.
Mass Street Music owner Jim Baggett said, “They're just so consistent. When we had our Collings Day last year and Bruce Van Wart (who chooses and matches the woods for Collings Guitars) visited, a customer came who had bought our very first Collings guitar (with a serial number under 300) – that guitar is still consistent with what they are building now.”
Bruce Van Wart's desk with woods chosen for specific guitars
One part of that consistency is a perfect balance of modern technology and old school craftsmanship.
"I was entranced by the CNC machines," Eric said, "but the real revelation for me was how the people who do the hand work in the shop transform these very precise, computer-aided objects into instruments with soul."
They use CNC machines for certain work like cutting f-holes, routes and more plus a PLEK machine which helps make the frets and action absolutely perfect down to the smallest measurements. We were a bit stunned to see the f-holes on a gorgeous burst finish I-35 being drilled in after the finish was already on, but it leads to a more precise edge and Collings is all about perfection. The machines are only one part of the job though, and would be nothing without the talented hands-on staff of craftspeople.
One CNC machine with computer on right
Though Collings seems like a big company, in part because of their international reputation for excellence, it's a family atmosphere with each person contributing their special talents – from Bill's innovations to Bruce Van Wart's wood matching for specific guitars, to the folks who do only sanding, or inlay or do the final set ups on the guitars.
More matched woods at Bruce Van Wart's desk - we like to call him the "Wood Whisperer"
Anne was thrilled to meet Steve who does the incredible burst finishes on the Collings acoustic guitars.
“I noticed a work area that looked like a Jackson Pollack painting on the walls and the floor, then a fellow came over and stuck his head in a paint can to get a whiff. I said, 'That can't be good for you.'”
“He laughed,” she continued, “and Alex, who was giving us the tour, introduced me to him. Turns out Steve makes all of the flawless burst finishes on the acoustic guitars, like the one on this 01 SB guitar. It was a real treat to meet him after photographing (for the MSM website) and loving his work all these years.”
In another area of the facility, people work on bindings and inlays. Others work on crafting bone nuts and others, bridges. Each is an expert in their area and some are cross-trained in other areas as well.
Just past the main factory floor that houses much of the machinery, CNC machines and shapers, you'll find another of Bill Collings' work areas dedicated to cars and motorcycles - and very cool ones at that. They've even crafted their own machinery bits to shape metal for some of these projects. Bill's passion for building and quality is evident the moment you meet him – he's excited about everything and clearly loves what he is doing, whether it involves a guitar or an automobile.
Metal bits rounded specifically for working on Bill's cars
Our visit was a reminder of why we love this guitar company so much – absolute dedication to quality and a real love for what they do, much like our own store, plus we learned more about the build details and materials so we can better serve our customers who may be interested in these remarkable instruments. Meeting in person the staff we talk with frequently was wonderful, as was meeting some behind-the-scenes folks who also make it all happen at Collings. Special thanks to Bill, Angela, Alex, Steve, Bruce and the whole Collings crew - and our boss's daughter Lauren who hosted us – we'll be back!
View our Collings Acoustic Guitar Videos
Interested in ordering a Collings? We can help you suss out the many great options and help you find the one perfect for you. Just give us a call at 785-843-3535 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org for more info
Enjoy more photos from our visit to Collings:
Bill Collings, Eric M., Anne T & Steve McCreary
I-35 Electric Guitars in process
We saw plenty of cool posters and signs around every corner
Eric looks on while Collings' Alex Rueb waves some magic into a guitar top
Alex showing us various peghead overlays
If Eric only knew those awesome electrics were right around the corner
(L) The entryway of Collings is adorned with a fantastic vintage uke collection they scored from
Matt Umanov. You could spend all day checking out these ukes.
(R) It was great to see Bruce Van Wart again, who matches the woods
for all the acoustic guitars - he visited Mass Street Music in 2014.
Some gorgeous Collings mandolin work
Learn more about Collings craftsmanship in this video.
Check out Collings own 'Virtual Tour' (click on left hand menu at the site to visit different areas of the facility)