By Richard Bienstock | Photo by Massimo Gammacurta
Collings Guitars initially earned its esteemed reputation by building exquisite high-end acoustics that have been seen in the hands of everyone, including country greats like Lyle Lovett and Emmylou Harris and classic-rock legends like Pete Townshend and David Crosby.
Company founder (and medical-school dropout) Bill Collings began the business by building guitars in a small space in Houston, Texas, before moving operations to a garage in Austin. Since then, the company has grown into an Austin-based operation that boasts nearly 100 employees in a facility that occupies more than 20,000 square feet.
Over the years, the company ventured beyond the flattop realm to offer archtop guitars, mandolins, and even ukuleles. About eight years ago, Bill Collings and his team made the leap into the world of electrics with their I-35 semi-hollowbody. Today, the company’s electric line also includes such models as the single-cutaway City Limits, the double-cut 290, and the 360, which, with its sleek, offset contours, is perhaps the company’s most radical body design.
Now, Collings has introduced the 360 ST, a new version of the 360 that retains the alluring body shape of its predecessor but is markedly different in tone, feel, and style. The main differences are right there in the designation—the ST in the model name stands for “Single-cut Tremolo.” Whereas the 360 sports dual mini-humbuckers and a stop tailpiece, the 360 ST comes equipped with a Gotoh tremolo bridge and a trio of stellar Jason Lollar Blackface single-coil pickups. It’s the first single-coil guitar Collings has produced as well as its first electric with a 25 1/2–inch scale, and the company pulled out all the stops in doing it.
“We tried out a bunch of different things before settling on the Blackface, which is a great-sounding pickup,” Bill Collings says. “And even then, we had [Lollar] do something a little special. The pickups in the neck and middle positions are Blackface models right out of their catalog, but the one at the bridge is custom made for us. We needed something with a little more output and a little more beef, because while there is a bit of a Fifties element to the ST, we also wanted something that was a good tool for today.”
The three single-coils, which are capped with custom Bakelite covers, are set into bodies offered in arresting color options like Seafoam Green, Crimson, and Butterscotch (the finish on the guitar shown here) to conjure a cool midcentury vibe. Additionally, the ST body is offered in either alder or ash, two woods that enhance the snappy attack of the single-coils. Says Aaron Huff, Collings’ electric guitar/archtop manager, “We actually built a [360 ST] prototype out of the same scrap mahogany that we use all the time, just to see how the guitar would function mechanically. But when we plugged it in and listened, it was obvious that putting single-coils on a mahogany body just doesn’t get the right sound. You need lighter woods to get that classic tone.”
Indeed, the 360 ST is a pleasingly bright and resonant guitar, and our review model, an ash example, exhibited additional “spank,” which according to Huff is a characteristic of the lively wood. Additionally, the deep treble cutaway and smooth contoured heel of the set neck allows easy access to the uppermost frets.
Other smart appointments on the 360 ST include single volume and tone controls, a five-way selector switch, a figured maple soft-V neck, an unbound Haircut headstock with ebony peg-head overlay, a rosewood fingerboard with a 12-inch radius and mother-of-pearl dot inlays, a fully adjustable truss rod, and nickel Gotoh SG301 tuners with vintage-style buttons.
The ST’s distinctive mix of features—a single-cutaway body, ash or alder tonewoods, a set neck, and single-coil pickups—has led to it already being championed by celebrated artists like Andy Summers, who has been playing a Seafoam Green example with his new band, Circa Zero. According to Huff, Collings will continue to push its electric guitar designs into new realms. “What’s really interesting is a lot of our small movements come from customers and players,” he says.
“People wanting this pickup or that wood, or this design and finish—that’s really cool, because it gives us an opportunity to meet a customer’s specific needs and at the same time grow our options a little bit. And we take our time with it. We move slowly, because we want to nail it.”
Indeed, even as Collings Guitars increases in size and renown, the quality and build of its guitars has remained as impeccable as ever. Much of this is due to the attention to detail bestowed on each instrument that leaves the company’s facility. In fact, Bill Collings estimates that his company is currently producing just three electric guitars a day, with six or seven acoustics built in the same timeframe. “Building guitars is a constant challenge if you want to do it right,” he says. “And that’s what we always want to do, because that’s what we do. We make stuff, and we make stuff we like.”
LIST PRICE $3,800
Collings Guitars, collingsguitars.com