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Collings: David Kalt Takes The Factory Tour

Austin is one of those mysterious cities to me. I've been amazed to see the massive migration of smart, creative minds to this quickly expanding city. The opportunity to experience South By Southwest this year would not have been complete without a visit to The Collings Factory where Bill Collings and Co. are building some of the finest guitars in the world right now – right here in America.

From downtown, the Collings Campus is a brief 15-20 minutes away, and if you’re not careful you can easily pass by the inconspicuous driveway of their 20-acre complex. As we parked, I started to get that feeling...the excitement a kid might feel when entering the Wonka Factory. This is where the magic happens!

Matching guitar sidesDavid matching some sides

Guitar side-bending pressSide-bending press

Guitar side-bending pressSide-bending press

Over the past few years, my appreciation for outstanding guitar craftsmanship has definitely grown – but my respect for Collings in particular has increased exponentially. The quality and precision of Collings instruments was further impressed upon me during this factory visit as I witnessed a business philosophy in action:

Process Ownership
Collings took a process that has been around for over a hundred years and made it their own. Sure, Martin and Taylor have been making acoustic guitars really well for a long time – but that doesn’t mean there isn’t room for improvement. For instance, Collings has taken the process of wood-bending and developed their own machines that perfect this art. I like the idea of a company that’s not afraid to look at a process that’s considered ‘the best’ and say ‘I can do even better’.

Staff Empowerment
It was obvious to me that Collings gives their staff the freedom needed to be outstanding at their craft. They hire smart, talented luthiers, technicians and artists – provide high-quality mentoring and experience, and then let them do what they do best.

Vision Commitment
Bill Collings’ original vision was to create hand-crafted instruments with high levels of consistency. Most large acoustic guitar manufacturers have implemented automation to achieve consistency. But Collings maintains their commitment to the original vision, and their instruments are still hand-made and still impeccable. Because of this, Collings guitars hold their value over the years better than many others, which is great for those of us who love used gear!

Some will argue that Collings guitars are too expensive, too exclusive. Their lowest priced models are in the $3K range. It can be a lot of money to spend on a guitar. But then again, it could easily be the only acoustic guitar you ever have to buy.

(David Kalt is the owner and CEO of Chicago Music Exchange)

Acoustic guitar side-bendingSide-bending

Acoustic guitar side-bendingSide-bending

Acoustic guitar tops and backsGuitar tops and backs

Guitar side-bending jigsSide-bending jigs

Guitar side-bending jigsSide-bending jigs

Glueing on guitar headstock veneersGlueing on headstock veneers

Guitar back flameAdmiring the flame

Acoustic guitar nitrocellulose lacquer off-gassingNitrocellulose off-gassing

Collings headstockCollings headstock

Sparying nitrocellulose laquer on Collings electric guitarSpraying nitrocellulose laquer

Scraping in binding on Collings electric guitarScraping in binding

Freshly painted Collings mandolinsFreshly painted mandolins


David Kalt
David Kalt

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