In: Stuff24 Apr 2014
(map) Pete Townshend not only owns two of them, he even wrote a song about it, “Collings.” Famous players like Lyle Lovett, Jerry Jeff Walker, Keith Richards and many more are fans of these legendary guitars made near Oak Hill. And every Friday afternoon, visitors from all over the country take a free tour and see firsthand the story behind the sound. Interestingly, Bill Collings, the genius behind the craft and the man who pioneered the techniques used here, can’t play!
Wood comes in from all over the world – Brazil, Honduras, Madagascar, Germany, India. It’s dried out completely in a kiln, then stored in this acclimating room for at least three months to bring it to a specific level of humidity. There’s a great, fresh aroma of wood in here.
Guitar backs are two pieces of wood butted together and glued. Tops, backs and sides can be made of spruce, maple, mahogany or rosewood.
The sides are bent with special clamps designed and built by Bill Collings. The wood is spritzed with distilled water so as not to change its color. Bending it with steam bends it “like butter,” says this worker. The sides are left about five minutes, then clamped into a guitar-shaped cooling rack.
This top has been reinforced underneath with struts, and is now ready to be glued onto the body.
Binding – that black line around the edge – helps hide the joints where top and bottom are glued.
They also build mandolins and ukuleles. The mandolin tops and backs are hand-carved, while the ukuleles are built much like the guitars.
Guitar bodies await their necks and bridges. Now begins the long finishing process by hand of varnishing, curing, buffing, sanding, repeat. Lacquer is faster (three months vs. five for varnish), but varnish is believed to produce a better sound.
Finally, the necks are applied, then frets, tuners and strings. Each one sits for a day and then every single one is played to make sure the sound is perfect. They produce about 30 guitars a week, and last year built 400 electric and 1,300 guitars.
Tours are given every Friday afternoon at 3:30, and are free. You’ll need a reservation cause the group is limited to 12.