Behind the Scenes at Collings Guitars

Collings workshop mandolin finishing workTwo of our staff, Eric M., sales and Anne T., marketing, went to Austin, Texas in February to visit Collings Guitars. Though Mass Street Music has been a Collings dealer for acoustic guitars, electric guitars, mandolins and ukes for many years (in fact we were the third dealer ever), this was Eric and Anne’s first jaunt to the Collings ‘factory’. We say it with quotation marks because really, every instrument Collings builds is custom. Though you’ll find CNC (computer numerical control) machines and modern technology, it’s truly a workshop with hand crafted work happening around every corner and each guitar, mando and uke is built to be the very best it can be (which always turns out to be phenomenal).

 Collings Guitars factory in Austin Texas

Collings Guitars, Austin, Texas

Bill Collings once said, “There are three things that go into a great guitar: the design, the craftsmanship, and the wood.” Dedication to absolute top quality in each of these realms is why their guitars, mandolins and ukes are among the very best instruments available today. They do not have an assembly line – each instrument is custom crafted to be the very best tonally, structurally and visually.

Finishing work on a guitar in the Collings guitar factory

Mass Street Music owner Jim Baggett said, “They’re just so consistent. When we had our Collings Day last year and Bruce Van Wart (who chooses and matches the woods for Collings Guitars) visited, a customer came who had bought our very first Collings guitar (with a serial number under 300) – that guitar is still consistent with what they are building now.”

Woods matched and awaiting build at Collings Guitars

Bruce Van Wart’s desk with woods chosen for specific guitars

One part of that consistency is a perfect balance of modern technology and old school craftsmanship.

“I was entranced by the CNC machines,” Eric said, “but the real revelation for me was how the people who do the hand work in the shop transform these very precise, computer-aided objects into instruments with soul.”

They use CNC machines for certain work like cutting f-holes, routes and more plus a PLEK machine which helps make the frets and action absolutely perfect down to the smallest measurements. We were a bit stunned to see the f-holes on a gorgeous burst finish I-35 being drilled in after the finish was already on, but it leads to a more precise edge and Collings is all about perfection. The machines are only one part of the job though, and would be nothing without the talented hands-on staff of craftspeople.

CNC machine drilling f holes into burst finish I35 LC collings guitars 1

  CNC machine at Collings guitars drilling f hole in I35LC -2

 CNC machine drilling f hole in I35 LC guitar

One CNC machine with computer on right

Though Collings seems like a big company, in part because of their international reputation for excellence, it’s a family atmosphere with each person contributing their special talents – from Bill’s innovations to Bruce Van Wart’s wood matching for specific guitars, to the folks who do only sanding, or inlay or do the final set ups on the guitars.

Select woods chosen by Collings' Bruce Van Wart for guitars

More matched woods at Bruce Van Wart’s desk – we like to call him the “Wood Whisperer”

 collings guitar factory, crafting guitar nuts

collings guitar factory - working on a city limits electric guitar

Anne with Collings master finisher SteveAnne was thrilled to meet Steve who does the incredible burst finishes on the Collings acoustic guitars.

“I noticed a work area that looked like a Jackson Pollack painting on the walls and the floor, then a fellow came over and stuck his head in a paint can to get a whiff. I said, ‘That can’t be good for you.’”

“He laughed,” she continued, “and Alex, who was giving us the tour, introduced me to him. Turns out Steve makes all of the flawless burst finishes on the acoustic guitars, like the one on this 01 SB guitar. It was a real treat to meet him after photographing (for the MSM website) and loving his work all these years.”

In another area of the facility, people work on bindings and inlays. Others work on crafting bone nuts and others, bridges. Each is an expert in their area and some are cross-trained in other areas as well.

hand work being done at collings guitars making bridges

Crafting bridges

Finish work on some electric guitars at the Collings facility

Eric M with one of Bill's vintage motorcyclesJust past the main factory floor that houses much of the machinery, CNC machines and shapers, you’ll find another of Bill Collings’ work areas dedicated to cars and motorcycles – and very cool ones at that. They’ve even crafted their own machinery bits to shape metal for some of these projects. Bill’s passion for building and quality is evident the moment you meet him – he’s excited about everything and clearly loves what he is doing, whether it involves a guitar or an automobile.

 Machinery bits made specifically for shaping metal on Bill Collings' vintage autos

Metal bits rounded specifically for working on Bill’s cars

Bill at Collings also works on his vintage autos

Our visit was a reminder of why we love this guitar company so much – absolute dedication to quality and a real love for what they do, much like our own store, plus we learned more about the build details and materials so we can better serve our customers who may be interested in these remarkable instruments. Meeting in person the staff we talk with frequently was wonderful, as was meeting some behind-the-scenes folks who also make it all happen at Collings. Special thanks to Bill, Angela, Alex, Steve, Bruce and the whole Collings crew – and our boss’s daughter Lauren who hosted us – we’ll be back!

Check out all of our Collings Acoustic Guitars, Mandolins and Electric Guitars

View our Collings Acoustic Guitar Videos

Interested in ordering a Collings? We can help you suss out the many great options and help you find the one perfect for you. Just give us a call at 785-843-3535 or email us at for more info

Enjoy more photos from our visit to Collings:

Bill Collings, Anne T, Eric M of Mass Street Music and Steve McCreary at Collings Guitars

Bill Collings, Eric M., Anne T & Steve McCreary

guitar bracing at Collings Guitars

Collings Bracing

Collings electric guitars at the facility, awaiting finishes

I-35 Electric Guitars in process

Vintage 'build your own guitar' magazine ad on a machine at the Collings facility

We saw plenty of cool posters and signs around every corner

Mass Street Music's Eric watching Alex of Collings Guitars explain some bracing details

Eric looks on while Collings’ Alex Rueb waves some magic into a guitar top

cool posters and a sweet Collings burst guitar at the collings factory

Collings peghead overlays in raw form

Alex showing us various peghead overlays 

Mass Street Music's Eric M at collings guitar facility

If Eric only knew those awesome electrics were right around the corner

Collings acoustic guitar bodies awaiting necks       Mandolin work being done at Collings Guitars

Just part of Collings vintage ukulele collection    Collings' Bruce Van Wart in front of Collings' vintage uke collection

(L) The entryway of Collings is adorned with a fantastic vintage uke collection they scored from
Matt Umanov. You could spend all day checking out these ukes.
(R) It was great to see Bruce Van Wart again, who matches the woods
for all the acoustic guitars – he visited Mass Street Music in 2014. 

Collings Mandolins in build process awaiting finish    Collings fern inlay mandolin headstock

 Some gorgeous Collings mandolin work

Learn more about Collings craftsmanship in this video.

Check out Collings own ‘Virtual Tour’ (click on left hand menu at the site to visit different areas of the facility)

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