Bill Collings’ story provides a classic example of what can be achieved with an engineer’s brain, a machinists’ hand and an experienced repairman’s eye. After dropping out of medical school in Ohio to work in a machine shop, Collings moved to Texas in the mid 1970’s where the experience he gained repairing and restoring guitars guided his design of the first Collings guitars. His understanding of the flaws and shortcomings found in production instruments was instructive, and he set out to eliminate those shortcomings with the very first Collings guitars. After building about fifty guitars and a few banjos in Houston, he relocated to Austin, Texas and briefly shared shop space with like-minded instrument makers Tom Ellis and Mike Stevens. By the mid-1980s, Bill was building flattop and archtop acoustic guitars in his own small shop. His reputation for outstanding quality and meticulous attention to detail quickly spread. In 1989, he rented a 1,000-square-foot space and hired two helpers.
That same year, George Gruhn, the acclaimed collector and purveyor of vintage fretted instruments and owner of Gruhn Guitars in Nashville, asked Bill to make 24 custom “Gruhn” guitars, giving the Austin luthier national exposure. By 1992, musicians such as Pete Townshend, Joni Mitchell and Brian May were playing Collings instruments and demand was increasing steadily. As the business grew and processes were refined, one thing remained the same: Bill Collings’ commitment to build the finest stringed instruments available.
Fueled by his fascination with the construction and design of a variety of instruments, Bill soon began crafting more than just acoustic guitars. In 1999, he introduced the first Collings mandolins, which like his guitars, quickly set new standards for the industry. In 2006 his interest in carved top instruments led him to introduce a line of electric guitars that players quickly embraced because of the instruments’ exceptional craftsmanship and tone. In 2014, Collings founded Waterloo Guitars, a stand-alone line of vintage-inspired guitars designed to capture the tone and character of some of the best depression era instruments. In that same “vintage” vein, in 2016, and after years of development, Collings began to sell their own acoustic guitar and mandolin cases, designed and fabricated in their Austin shop, built to match the quality of their instruments.
After 40 years of innovation, Bill Collings’ sadly lost his life to cancer in July 2017, yet his legacy lives on through his dedicated team of skilled luthiers and craftsmen that are carrying his vision into the future.
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