October 26, 2009

Touring Collings Guitars

Filed under: Music,Places — Cory @ 9:49 am

For a few years now I’ve dreamed of owning a Collings mandolin. I first learned about Collings Guitars shortly after I bought my Taylor, about 5 years ago. If Taylor is the Lexus of guitars then Collings is the Rolls Royce (the comparison in relative price differences holds up too).

I recently discovered the Redbone Guitar Boutique in San Antonio, pretty much by accident. I walked in and talked with Scott Stephens for a while and learned that they carried Collings (as well as G&L!). Scott told me that he personally drives up to the Collings facility outside of Austin to pick up each instrument, so that they never have to be shipped. After I left I started thinking about how neat it would be to custom order a Collings mandolin and be able to personally pick up my instrument from the people who made it. I spent a few more days thinking about whether I wanted to make the financial commitment and once I had I went back to Scott and ordered a Collings MT-O mandolin.

A couple days later Scott called back to tell me that he was arranging a private tour of the Collings facility for Redbone customers, and wanted to know if I was interested. Although Collings normally offers public tours on two Fridays per month, but I had never made time for it. This time I wasn’t going to miss it.

Not including Scott there were only three of us on the tour, which was really nice. Our tour lasted about two hours and we were able to see the entire process from raw wood to finished instruments. I’ve never seen a company so focused on producing perfect products. Everything they do is calculated, yet each instrument is a unique work of art. Every detail is considered, even down to shaving off six thousandths of an inch of finish where the bridge meets the top.

The other thing that struck me while I was there was how honest Collings is as a company. Never once was I told not to take a picture of something, and I even asked (my pictures are here). They are proud of the entire process and welcome you to see it. In order to produce a product of such high quality they have to stay honest. Even home grown innovations such as the machines that Bill Collings built himself are explained to visitors. Most businesses protect their trade secrets and proprietary processes for competitive advantages, but Collings doesn’t need to since the instruments speak for themselves. Even prototypes are destroyed so that no instrument with the Collings name on it goes out without being 100% perfect.

They also aren’t willing to sacrifice quality for quantity. Only about 1500 guitars are produced here per year, and about 500 mandolins, and 500 electric guitars. That comes out to about 7 guitars per day, 3 mandolins, and 3 electrics. And before you think “that sounds like a lot”, consider that is with nearly 70 people working full time – for 13 instruments per day. I think it is awesome that artists produce instruments for other artists.

I would certainly recommend this tour to anyone who lives in South Texas. Even if you aren’t a musician, the tour is fascinating because of the craftsmanship and level of attention to detail they give to every aspect of their work. And at the end a beautiful guitar or mandolin is the result. I can’t wait to pick up mine. :)

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