The Interviews - BILL COLLINGS INTERVIEW - By Ace Batacan (a.k.a. Eiko)
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Jan 22, 2005. at the 2005 NAMM show in Anaheim.
Question and Answer session with Bill Collings conducted by Ace Batacan (a.k.a. Eiko)


(Left: Ace Batacan and Bill Collings)

Ace: Have you or anybody at Collings visited the Collings Forum website?

Bill: I don’t but some do. They talk about it a lot and they tell me what’s going on.

Ace: What do you/they think of it?

Bill: I think it’s great. I love to hear what people say. It seems like a group of people helping sell the guitars. It’s as if they’re saying to others, “It’s ok. It’s not so bad.”

Ace: The person who runs it is Ed Sam, out of Hong Kong. He does it on his own time and with the help of the other members, it keeps going.

Bill: That’s great. I don’t like getting on the internet too much because you’re on there for so long. The guys at the shop do it and are checking it all the time. I’m real proud. I feel really lucky. I know it helps people with their quest for knowledge and I sometimes hear that they got on there and got good help. That’s very neat.

Ace: The Forum members will be happy to hear that.

Bill: I don’t think it hurts – let’s put it that way. (laughs)

…interrupted by a visitor, a friend of Bill’s (Mr. X). Bill tells me that Mr. X has 16 Collings guitars. Mr. X adds that he has 4 on order. Bill says: “That’s funny. He’s becoming the winner real quick”. We all laugh…

Ace: Which model would you say is the most popular out of all that you build?

Bill: The Dreadnaught. It would be the most popular model – probably in the world. Everybody has to have at least one.

Ace: Outside of the flat top guitars, you also build mandolins and archtops. Do you have plans to build something else, like a Barritone or Classical, or 7-string?

Bill: I’ve had a few people want Barritones. Just a few and we’ll make them for those people. Today, I’ve had people talking about 7-strings. I think that could be something we could do on a custom order. And looking at maybe an 0 size guitar.

Ace: Do you think you will build something like a 14-fret 000 or a full size Jumbo?

Bill: We do have a 14-fret 000. It’s the OM short scale. That’s what we call it.

Ace: Any new options?

Bill: Not really. If someone has an idea, we’d talk about it. We haven’t had to invent a lot of new stuff just for sales. We just try and keep the quality in what we do already, if that makes sense.

Ace: How would you describe the environment or culture for the people working at Collings?

Bill: It’s really a hard job but we try to make it as light as possible. Jokes are common. It’s like a family environment.

Ace: How many employees do you have?

Bill: In the 40s, around 45 or so. Some of those are trainees, not really helpful yet. Some of them don’t make it and some do.

Ace: Collings is famous for its immaculate, flawless craftsmanship and consistent tonal quality. What do you attribute that to or how did you get there?

Bill: Well that’s the deal. Rather than have 5000 models, you really have to work on the systems over and over. Well how we got there is we don’t break our construction up into tiny little pieces. The knowledge overlaps from each task to the other so as it goes to the next guy, he knows what he’s supposed to get and accepts the quality. It’s also a problem because it’s a little slower to run that way but it helps the quality. So we keep it flowing that way as if one person is doing the whole guitar.

Ace: What is your favorite wood, etc.?

Bill: Any wood that’s good can be good. Like Sitka. There’s a lot of great sitka because there’s so much of it.  There is not a lot of good Adirondack because there’s not a lot of it but we buy the top quality that we can. We are hard on our suppliers.  But sometimes we get stuck with stuff that we shouldn’t, that we don’t use. I have palettes of wood that we don’t use. Maybe someday they may become good, I don’t know.

Ace: The woods that you use, how long before you build with them?

Bill: It varies. Our wood inventory is high, especially for the size of our company. For mandolin, we really ran our inventory up but we needed the selection. We need to have them around at least a year before we even use them.

For example, Indian Rosewood. It comes to us from India wrapped in burlap. It probably would not be used for about a year.

Do everyone at Collings play guitar?

Bill: Probably. The people are drawn to the job either by the craftsmanship or the guitars.

Ace: What can you tell us about #10,000?

Bill: It’s a real nice guitar. It’s a D45 Brazilian with Adirondack. It’s a well made guitar and we’ve been working on it for 6 or 8 months. It will be another month or two. We do it when we can.

Ace: Then what are you going to do with it?

Bill: Well, we’re going to sell it. We don’t know how because there’s only one. All the dealers want it. This guitar represents all the guitars.

Ace: Are you considering building guitars with non-traditional tone woods like cherry, walnut, or cocobolo?

Bill: Yes. I think there’s interest and there’s validity in all those woods. They’re all interesting. We won’t do anything that will be no good.

Ace: What would you say is the difference between the older and newer built Collings guitars?

Bill: I think they have always been good guitars. They have gone through some voicing changes and lots of little changes. We constantly try for more. So my goal would be the ones we make tomorrow will be better than yesterday’s. Hopefully, the more we make the better they will be. I think they’re all good. All the old guitars we get to hear that we get back, it’s amazing how they’ve opened up and have done their thing.

Right now I’m working harder on feel. Little things that will bring in “feel”. Even with the finish that we use. It will wear like it’s old, not like thick polyester resin and look bad. It will wear like good lacquer and look like a great old guitar, not a worn piece of plastic.

Ace: Collings has the best sunburst in the industry. What’s the secret?

Bill: Well, that’s why we charge for a sunburst. Unfortunately, a lot of companies put sunburst on flaws but we don’t. We put sunburst on good wood and it takes a lot of work to pull it off, to keep it smooth and to keep it faded properly. Everything about it is more work. It’s all labor and we sell labor. Unfortunately, we sell high end labor on any work we do. The sunburst reflects what we do. We love it. You can’t just go do it. It’s something you have to practice and plan.

Ace: I’m a total Collings convert, every since I touched my first one. Everything about it feels right.

Bill: It’s like that fine car. It makes you play better. Anything we can do to make it better, we want to know.

Ace: Thank you for your time. I’m sure the Collings Forum folks will appreciate this.

Bill: I hope so. It was good.

Ace: Keep up the good work.

Bill: It’s all about the people that work on it all day long at the shop. Thanks.


Ace’s notes:

Meeting the Collings “family” at the NAMM show was great. Everyone was very friendly. Special thanks to Steve McCreary for his hospitality and hooking me up with Bill. Thanks to Bill’s wife, Ann, for letting me have Bill for the interview. She was very gracious.

Lastly, I would like to thank Bill. At first, he thought it would be on camera because I was using my video camera to record the audio. He wanted to make sure he looked good! After I said it will be recorded audio and typed up, he just grabbed two chairs and we went to the far corner of the booth. Of course, some visitors to the booth wanted to talk to Bill but only a couple got through. He really concentrated on what we were talking about and stayed with me until I was done with my questions. Bill decided not to charge me the $5 per question he mentioned in the beginning when I asked him for permission to do the interview. I’m sure he was kidding. Bill is “the man” and it was an honor to meet him in person.

(Top: Ace Batacan and Steve McCreary)


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