Friday, January 15, 2016

Visit to the Collings Guitar Factory in Austin, Texas

Like Family or What I did on my Collings Guitar Factory Visit.

So, last month I had the opportunity to visit the Collings factory in Austin, Texas at the request of Steve McCreary. 
This came about because of a few questions I had about the Waterloo guitars they also produce. This is the first boutique guitar factory I've ever visited and I must tell you, it's very different from what I expected. 

Collings, located just outside Austin, is housed in one building. Bill Collings just recently built two more buildings on the same property but they house an auto repair shop, an artist studio and a Jiu Jitsu school, of which Bill was at so I wasn't able to say hello at the time of my visit. 

If by now you aren't familiar with Collings guitars, know that they are one of the most revered luthiers in the boutique guitar business. One great thing is that Bill wants to keep it that way instead of growing into mass manufacturing. Keeping it small ensures that each instrument gets the undivided attention it needs to wear the Collings logo on the headstock. 


This is where the wood is stacked before the transformation.

All their wood, including Ebony is sourced from legal distributors following strict guidelines.

Neck blanks waiting in the wings.

Choice Rosewood and Ebony that will become fretboards wait to be refined.

These two guys, they're the ones who glue the backs together and work the sides into the perfect shape.

This is Bruce Van Warts work table. 
This is where some magic happens because he's the ONLY one that get's to select and shape the tops of EVERY Collings instrument so that it rings out as best as it possibly can.

Here's the man himself. I told him he needs to put an insurance claim on his ears. He's been with Bill for quite a long time and has helped Collings Instruments become what they are today.

If you wanted to know what backstripping looks like before it's on a guitar, 
well, here it is.

Collings has very few CNC machines and the majority of work that they do is mainly cut away most of the wood from the outer edges of instrument shapes but also route out pick-up slots and tone control cavities in their electric lines.

This is a block waiting to go through the CNC machine and then be hand-carved for the top for their I-35 line.

Here's a crazy contraption that helps to align the bracing pattern. 
Not only does it keep them perfect, it also helps to dry the glue faster by way of a vacuum.

The Rosette station complete with different routers 
and inlay strips of various material.
The Zen meditation room is close-by because you need to be mellow and focused for this.

You can do side bends or sit ups but please don't lose that butt.

After the sides are bent they are put in these Medieval torture devices to keep
 them that way until they go to be glued up.

If you were wondering how Collings necks are so perfect and stable, 
on either side of the truss rod chamber, they put tension springs
 in opposite alignment from each other. 
I don't know how they figured that out but it works flawlessly.

Collings uses mortise and tenon AS WELL as bolt on necks 
to secure them to the body.
So, you have the ease of bolt on necks with the strength of the
mortise and tenon joint.

Slot A 

Bodies waiting for necks. 
Each one has it's own paperwork with all the info on it for that particular guitar.

Once the necks are connected to the bodies, it's time for some spray action. 

Once they're sprayed with laquer, they dry out, and wait for the seemingly endless process of sanding, spraying more, sanding then buffing, then maybe a little more sanding and final buff. 

These buffing wheel machines could also be used as some sort of exercise equipment.

Angela Wade, our rep for Collings, shows us a bridge after it was CNC'd.
ONE guy finishes ALL of the Collings bridges. Shaping and sanding them all to perfection.

And now we're off to the Finishing Dept. where we caught some of the coolest quilted maple come to life with some golden toner with a soft burst.

Tuning machines getting put on a mandolin.

Here's where some of the last bit of love gets put into the instruments.
This is also where, if you have to send your instrument back for any reason,  
it will end up in the safe hands of these guys.
The ubiquitous cowboy boot pinata because we are in Texas after all.

OK, so here's some Waterloo guitars waiting for their turn at the staining booth.

Waterloos are actually built in the other building above the auto shop across from Collings. 
It's a super small shop and only a few guys actually work on them. 
That's why there's not too many of them around folks. It's a boutique-boutique guitar.
They're not built with the same care and attention to detail as the Collings but they are built to last.
At some point there might be the opportunity to make more of them but for now, I think they only make 18 or so a month. I could be totally wrong about that.

Here I am in desperate need of a beard trimming, along with our lovely Collings rep, Angela Wade and the man that helps steer the ship, Steve McCreary. 
To conclude, I just want to say that not only was I amazed with the sheer craft these people take creating these impeccable instruments, everyone at the factory is really proud of every instrument that comes out. Every instrument has been touched and loved and formed and nurtured by all of them. I was brought out by relative strangers and came away as family.

Stop by our store and play some Collings guitars today!
2502 NE Broadway Street.
Portland Oregon, 97232

P.S. If I had it to do again, I would not take pictures with my iPad.