Three days ago a customer sent me an e-mail with the news Bill Collings had passed away. For those readers unfamiliar with the name, Bill was the man behind Collings Guitars of Austin, Texas.
For most of us involved in building traditional American acoustic guitars the instruments from Collings shop are exemplars of quality and consistency. I've never owned a Collings but I have handled, played, and worked on hundreds of them over the last 25 years and my impression of perfection has remained unchallenged. A few minutes studying the inside of a Collings box with an inspection mirror will humble any craftsman. They are that good. Personally, I think they're the best.
I did not know Bill beyond a few hellos when he came to visit a shop in Carlsbad, California where I ran the repair department for many years. In 2004 I had occasion to be in Austin for a few days and the shop owner suggested I stop in to visit the Collings factory a few miles south of town. The boss called Steve Mc Creary, Bill's right hand man, and arranged my visit.
A few days later Steve greeted me at the front door and began to show me around the rambling arrangement of work rooms which have long since been vacated for a better facility. The old shop was not particularly impressive but the work being done in there was and the overall vibe was redolent of confident mastery.
After 20 minutes or so we entered a hallway and ran into Bill. Steve reminded him of who I was and Bill graciously offered to guide us around the rest of the shop. Passing through a large space with a roll up door I felt like I'd walked into a hot rodder garage. A couple of street rods were parked there obviously in the process of serious gearhead surgery. I recognized an engine and transmission combo, mentioned it, and was treated to a huge smile and an utterly transformed Bill Collings. He began to riff on his cars, especially one he was building for his daughter. Being an unrepentant car guy myself I joined in and we carried on for a half hour and likely could have gone on for some time.
The tour resumed and finally it was time to go but that interlude in the "garage" with Bill was the highlight for me. A serious craftsman's calling and quality orientation were so obviously a major component of the man but often it's the hobby that illuminates the soul.
Bill Collings passing is a huge loss. I wish I'd known him better.