Collings New T Series

T Series Guitars – How Traditional Can You Get?


Building vintage vibes while remaining intrinsically Collings deep down, the Traditional Series guitars look to be instant classics.

Luthiers Bill Collings, Bruce VanWart, and virtuoso Julian Lage collaborated to create the new Traditional Series, which draws its specs and inspiration from priceless vintage instruments.

Here is their T Series promotional video:

Top Shelf Guitars Built to a T for Traditional

While the details remain intentionally vague to create anticipation and “buzz”, the look of the instruments and what they say about the old guitars implies the new Collings T Series guitars are close reproductions of vintage Martins.

The participants in the video speak of the necks, and the weight and balance, and show bridges and scalloped braces that all seem quite vintage Martin-esque. Even the cases have been designed to evoke a vintage mystique.

But what Bill Collings’ describes as a fundamental midrange free from intruding overtones suggests the antithesis of traditional Martin tone, which has all sorts have harmonic overtones and sympathetic bottom end undertones continually mingling with the fundamentals. His words hit closer to vintage Gibson tone, even if no Gibson has the lengthy sustain of a Collings. But really, his overall account evokes typical Collings tone, with perhaps even fewer wondering overtones. And the actual guitars heard in the video seem to comply, while also having a more open echo under that pure Collings top voice that does have some vintage “old wooden box” vibe.

Pre-war Particulars

But what is clearly very much like vintage Martins is the shaping of the neck. They do not discuss that in detail in the video, so I went looking for particulars.

The Collings T Series instruments have the same headstock pitch and fingerboard thickness of previous Collings guitars. But the carving of the solid mahogany neck is entirely new for the small Austin, Texas company known for the uncompromising quality of their exquisite guitars and mandolins, and whose many devotees include A List artists Lyle Lovett and the late fingerstyle virtuoso Pete Huttlinger.

According to Mark Althans, Manager of Artist Relations, Customer Service, and Repairs for Collings and Waterloo Guitars, “It is a fairly faithful recreation of a late 30’s Martin 000 or D carve… Smaller in depth in the early frets than our standard Modified V, it’s a soft V with a more exaggerated taper (increased neck depth) into the upper frets…with the V becoming a bit more pronounced.”

That description does indeed fit many pre-war Martin necks, even if Althans seems to use “taper” to mean how a V neck increases in depth and girth as it moves toward the body, where Martin defines taper as the specific widening of the fretboard as it advances up the neck.

Wait There’s More

“The fingerboard edges are rolled over quite a bit as well, to create a nice worn-in feel. It’s a wonderful feeling neck,” Althans continued.

Now this I gotta see! There is something comforting about the worn feeling to a vintage Martin with an unbound neck. And Gibson builds their guitars with a rolled fingerboard from the get go.

But one of the things people love most about Collings guitars is how effortless and comfortable the necks feel. And yet at the same time, other people, usually those with larger hands or longer fingers, can find the Collings necks to be too shallow or narrow for their liking and the strings a bit too close together. Well, the T Series guitars may be ideal for just such guitarists.

Collings Traditional Series guitars come with a 1-3/4″ width at nut and 2-5/16″ string spacing (a favorite combination of mine.) And that should automatically require a slightly wider fingerboard in the upper frets from a standard Collings guitar. In combination with the vintage V neck shaping, that does appear to add up to a traditional feel indeed.

Something most modern makers get wrong is how vintage Martin necks do not have a perfectly-graduated slope from heel to headstock. They get quite shallow down in the Cowboy Chords area, at times with no V at all, but the thickness increases rapidly above the 5th fret. And Mark Althans suggests that is what they were going for with their new T Series necks.

“At this point,” Althans concluded, “we don’t currently have any nut width or saddle spacing options, but we intend to add at least one neck option, hopefully this year.”

Let Collings Be Collings

While all that is said and appreciated about traditional guitars from bygone days, these Traditional Series instruments retain the usual Collings internal neck construction and engineering that play an integral part in creating the unique Collings tone.

They have the same modern truss rod of other Collings guitars, reinforced with four spring steel strips, which add mass while reducing vibration in the neck. And they have the usual Collings neck joint. It is a hybrid of a dovetail and bolt-on neck design. Like a traditional dovetail, the mortise and tenon are flared wider than many bolt-on necks, increasing the area where the body and neck come into contact.

Unlike traditional Gibsons and Martins, where the tenon is craved out of the solid mahogany, the Collings tenon is a separate piece attached to the neck heel, with a solid birch dowel inserted in its center for extra strength. And the whole thing is held in place by two bolts, rather than being glued into a solid wood neck block, like the nineteenth-century dovetail joinery still used at Gibson and Martin.

This modern design allows future neck adjustments without having to deal with un-gluing, and even without removing the neck from the body in many cases. But it also further reduces the exchange of potential energy from body to the neck and back again. In Collings’ own words, their unique neck engineering “redirects string vibration back to the body for enhanced tone.”

In fact the actual voices of these guitars, as heard from the videos, say to my ear that the Traditional Series guitars sound more like traditional Collings guitars than anything else. They have very fat, strong, and yet very pure fundamental notes, and that very low to no undertone/overtone influence. Most any sympathetic tone from the back and sides reflects and enhances that top voice of fundamental notes with their lengthy, straight-as-an-arrow sustain. When sympathetic harmonics arise, they bloom late and hover in their own strata. One might say the T Series instruments sound like the very best Collings guitars, only more so.

Here is a video of Julian Lage performing on an OM-2H T, which gives a stellar demonstration of the strong yet ultra-pure Collings tone of these new finely-crafted T Series guitars.

 

In a word, AWESOME.

I am looking very forward to getting a Collings T Series guitar in my hands soon, and see how it compares to their other instruments, and how they compare to other maker’s vintage-like guitars.

And that is one man’s word on…

Collings T Series – How Traditional Can You Get?

Further Reading:

Collings Beauties at Winter NAMM

Collings Honors the Late Pete Huttlinger with new Signature Model

Collings Official Website

Mark Althan’s YouTube Channel

Julian Lage’s Official Website

Why “Fingerstyle Guitars” Have Wider Necks

A Reader inquires as to why there are wider necks on “fingerstyle” guitars.

On the Martin site the phrase, “wider hand-fit dovetail neck to accommodate fingerstyle players.” is used. As a fingerstyle player for over 20 years and a person with small hands, I can’t think of a worse thing to say to me about this guitar. Why would I want a wider neck? What does that have to do with finger style guitar?

          – Fergus from Australia

Spoon Replies:

Thank you for your query, Fergus. The simplest answer is, most fingerstylists want wider string spacing for the picking hand, while players with larger hands are most comfortable with a larger neck.

Wider string spacing allows for all that alternate-bass-note thumbpicking and fingerpicking without unintended contact with strings not meant to be played. This is particularly true for those just learning how to play fingerstyle guitar. And often, once a player gets used to wider spacing they prefer it.

But then, allowing the picking hand extra space means the fretting hand is required to take on more extensive stretches to reach those spread-out strings on the wider fretboard.

In other words, it is a trade-off for those of us with hands of average size or smaller.

However, many accomplished guitarists have longer than average bones in their fingers and thumbs, and the string spacing on a narrower neck feels much more cramped and confining for them. While there will always be exceptions, I believe a greater number of professional guitarists fall into this category. Advanced guitar playing comes easier to those with longer fingers, but they prefer wider spacing, while those with larger hands want beefier necks.

Eric Schoenberg was the influential Ragtime and Blues guitarist who convinced Martin to resurrect their OM design in 1969, with the 1-3/4″ width at nut and 2-1/4″ width at the 12th fret. And his guitar shop went on to commission many other guitars made with even wider necks. Otherwise, all those Folkies from the ’50s and ’60s who played the 12-fret Martins with 1-7/8″ necks were simply used to the wider spacing.

After all, Classical guitars have a 2″ width at the nut, which makes the neck feel a mile wide for those used to steel string acoustic and electric guitars.

The original Martin guitars were intended for professional musicians who played the Classical repertoire, but they had a slightly narrower neck of 1-7/8″ at the nut, and 2-5/16″ at the 12th fret. All 12-fret Martins came with that measurement until the modern era, when they were narrowed slightly to 1-13/16″ for the Standard and Vintage Series. Some others have a 1-3/4″ neck.

The first 14-fret guitar invented by Martin in 1929 was a special order for a famous banjoist who wanted a steel string guitar with a longer neck and a narrower fingerboard than Martin was making at that time. This design was used for the first Martin OM models and had a 1-3/4″ width at the nut and 2-1/4″ at the 12th fret, and 2-3/8″ or 2-5/16″ string spacing. They have been considered the quintessential fingerstyle guitar ever since, in terms of 14-fret instruments.

When Martin converted all their body sizes to a 14-fret “Orchestra Model” design in 1934, they got a 1-3/4″ neck and the string spacing was standardized at 2-5/16″.

They moved to the 1-11/16″ neck in 1939, which is 2-1/8″ wide at the 12th fret and has 2-1/8″ string spacing.  But the necks in those days were a lot thicker, to account for the tension of steel strings without an adjustable truss rod, which Martin did not start using until 1985, when they introduced their Low Profile neck shape.

A fatter neck requires the fingers to travel farther out and around to reach their destination. So players with longer fingers and thumbs find modern narrow necks feel even more cramped than older guitars with the same fingerboard width.

This is why Martin’s new High Performance neck has a 1-3/4″ width, even though it otherwise retained the 2-1/8″ measurement at the 12th fret. The area down by the nut felt too cramped for most players when the neck had a shallow profile and 1-11/16″ width, so they made it a little wider down in the “cowboy chord” area to compensate for their shallow Modified Low Oval profile. And the wider nut allowed them to increase the string spacing a little bit as well.

But while Martin was once the trendsetter when it came to things like guitar necks, they were quite late coming to this adjustment, as Taylor and many other guitar makers had been doing this for years. The idea is to have a compromise that will hopefully appeal to the widest population of players who want comfort and just enough space for fingerpicking.

The Martins with traditionally neck widths are there for those who want or need all that extra room and girth. And their Custom Shop will make most any model with any neck size and shape.

I certainly relate to your concerns. I was one of the players who converted from the low, narrow modern guitar necks of the 1970s when I began to develop my fingerstyle technique in the 1990s. The wider string spacing on traditional OMs gave my picking hand the room it wanted, even if the fretting hand faced a greater degree of difficulty, particularly with a vintage-style V neck.

Only in recent years have I returned to the 1-11/16″ Low Profile neck, due to some injury issues and the fact I often have to do all sorts of thumb-fretted Jazz chords. I discovered my fingerstyle technique is disciplined enough these days that I barely notice the lack of space over the sound hole. But my fretting hand is much happier.

While most of my guitars have the traditional OM width, I could never get on with the 1-13/16″ width at nut, and 1-7/8″ is out of the question. I probably should have been playing the narrower 1-11/16″ neck all these many years.

But I am the exception rather than the rule.

There is some irony in the fact that modern alternate-thumb style fingerpicking is named for Merle Travis, who wanted as narrow a neck as possible, because he had short digits and did so much thumb-fretting. But he was exceptional in all regards, including the fact he did all his fancy picking with only his thumb and index finger.

But when you watch Jimi Hendrix play, it is obvious just how long are his fingers and especially his thumb. All the way up the neck he can barre four or five strings with his thumb and still make chord shapes and play lead riffs with his fingers. Richie Havens had one of those thumbs too.

Stephen Stills plays fat Martin necks from the 1930s and makes the basic open C chord with his thumb coming around to fret both the E and A strings at the third position, while his fingers do all sorts of things upon the strings. Leo Kottke’s scimitar-shaped thumbs are so long they look like they have extra bones in them, and we all know how capable is his playing.

I can’t do any of that stuff on even the lowest, narrowest necks made for acoustic guitars.

But once I realized all these guys were actually mutants, I no longer felt bad that I could not play everything they could play as easy as pie. And I also figured out that I need not play wider necks for fingerstyle just because the “rule of thumb” says to.

I just needed to find the neck and string spacing my own hands could play, with the most comfort and facility.

Fortunately, Martin continues to make guitars with necks and string spacing that allow almost everyone to find something that works for them. And most other guitar makers will have some custom shop parameters that can accommodate most of their potential customers as well.

And that is one man’s word on…

Why “Fingerstyle Guitars” Have Wider Necks

 

 

 

Transatlantic Sessions Guitars Shine

I attended the final show of the Transatlantic Sessions Tour, which featured Jerry Douglas and a host of UK, Irish, and American musicians, including several A List special guests.

There were acoustic guitars there by multiple Martins, as well as single representatives from Beard (Jerry’s Dobro style resonator guitar,) Collings, Gibson, Greven, Huss & Dalton, Lowden, Martin as well as John Doyle’s hybrid bouzouki-guitar by Kevin Muiderman, and Sarah Jaroz’s archtop octave mandolin by Fletcher Brock.

And all of them were put to excellent use.

You can see some video excerpts of the show HERE.

transatlantic sessions

Scalloped Bracing vs. Non-Scalloped? – Reader Q & A

A reader asks about scalloped bracing and the tonal differences compared to straight (non-scalloped)  bracing.

I always wonder about straight vs scalloped bracing over time/aging, especially on Martin dreadnoughts made of Indian rosewood and Sitka Spruce.

I read some people saying that over time straight braced guitars will open up and have bigger bass, and it’s just right, not too big, not too tight. (Thinking, for instance, of the D-28). Is this right? What about the scalloped bracing will turn over time? Thank you!

Silanto, in TBA

Spoon Replies:

All such guitars will open up. And the inherent tonal properties of each will increase as time goes by.

I have often been around a 2000 D-28 and a 1990s HD-28, and often in the same room at the same time. It makes for an obvious and enjoyable comparison.

The HD has a much more echoing cavern kind of tone under more precise spider web trebles and a bass E string that has a lot of thunk to it, which seems directly connected to the undertone.

The D-28 had string notes that are more solid and sit up on top of the undertone with a lot of clarity, like each note is a well-shaped log laid out on top of a thick slab with only the underside of each log resting upon that thick undertone cushion.  The undertone presence comes up to them, but does not swamp them. The trebles are thicker relative to the HD spider webs, and the bottom bass string stays very well defined, There is a discernible edge to bass end of the voice, and it does not thunk in the same fat unfocused way the HD does. The HD does not have an edge to the bass end of the voice, but is more diffuse with no clear horizon.

I used to like the straight braced sound, but found the scalloped bracing dread sound too reverby, with notes that did not stand out with the same strength and were embraced too much by the undertone. In fact, I was the original owner of the D-28 mentioned above.

I have come to love the scalloped dread sound a lot. But I really like it best as a solo instrument. I love how the straight braced D-28 has such a uncluttered clarity in ensemble playing, the individual notes are like little pen lights in all that sound of guitar, accordion, bouzouki, etc. The HD sounds more like each note has a warmer halo around it and meshes more into the mix and the low E sounds more bass player throbbing and not as cut and defined.

However, I like them both and love the fact they sound like siblings with different personalities, and they sound best of all when playing together.

Your results may vary.

 

Martin CEO-8.2 and 8.2E Review

A Grand Mahogany Jumbo Indeed is Martin’s CEO-8.2


The CEO-8.2E includes a special Fishman Blackstack sound hole pickup

Specs include: Specs include: All solid wood construction made with Forestry Stewardship Council Certified wood; Grand Jumbo body size; FSC® tropical American Mahogany back and sides, Vintage Tone System torrefied FSC® European spruce top; 5/16″ FSC® European spruce bracing with progressively scalloped tone bars unique to the Grand J size; FSC® select mahogany neck with modified low oval profile and Performing Artist taper, 1-3/4″ at nut, 2-1/18″ at 12th fret; FSC® ebony fingerboard and bridge with liquid metal bridge pins; modern belly bridge with drop-in bone saddle and 2-5/32” string spacing; bone nut; satin finish with unique Bourbon Sunset Burst top shading; unique multi-stripe rosette; mother of pearl skeletal diamond position markers; wide crested headstock with retro nickel tuning machines and large pearloid keystone buttons

“Never woofy nor muddy, there is a firmness from the bottom E string. It is buoyant, yet taught and strong. The fundamentals across the middle register are well balanced in volume and projection, with the note from each string narrowing in timbre as they increase in pitch, but all three have a fullness that extends the general sense of warmth up through midrange. The sound of the unwound trebles is wholly different, yet complimentary, with clear-cut definition and a silvery ring.”

Read the Full Review Here

Martin CEO-8.2 Blackstack fret markers

Gibson USA and C. F. Martin & Co. to Merge

Gibson bid reportedly accepted by Martin CEO C. F. Martin IV

Historic melding of two giants

Gibson USA of Nashville, TN announced a merger with their longtime rival, Martin Guitars of Nazareth, PA.

(According to the Associated Press wire story – 04/01/2017) the two venerable guitar makers started in the nineteenth century and will now combine to create a mega-company with resources that will recapture control of the American acoustic guitar market, which has been increasingly encroached upon by modern companies like Taylor Guitars of El Cajon, CA, and Huss & Dalton of Staunton, Va.

Merger Commemorated in Two Limited Edition Guitars

The new SJ-450 will incorporate Gibson’s iconic SJ-200 with the woods and styling of the Martin D-45, including Indian rosewood back and sides, top grade Sitka spruce, both taken from Martin’s famous acclimation warehouse, and over 900 individual pieces of abalone shell inlay around the enormous top, back, and sides of the Super Jumbo model, including the pre-1939 “snowflake” fingerboard pattern seen on pre-war D-45s. It will retain the equally ginormous J-200 pickguard, with the vines and flowers inlay also done in high-color abalone lament.

The Felix the Cat Les Paul – Stinger electric guitar will be coming out later this year, but details about the actual construction and electronics have yet to be released. But it is rumored to have a “smurf” head stock, and is expected to be the cat’s meow.

Dissent in the Ranks

But while the marketing spin is on a “merger,” insiders of both organizations are expressing concerns that this is in fact a complete takeover by Gibson.

According to recently-dismissed marketing executive at Gibson USA, Lirpa Sloof, Martin CEO Chris Martin has accepted a generous retirement package in exchange for relinquishing all control of and rights to the Martin family brand. He is expected to either move his family into the Moravian monastery at Hecktown, PA, or open a Porsche – Ferrari dealership in Scalp Level, PA, just because he likes the name, and just so he can drive a different car to work every day.

Gibson CEO Henry Juszkiewicz was not available for comment on the merger, claiming the IRS said he cannot release any public statements while he is engaged in current litigation of several lawsuits filed against a number of other entities, expected to last well into the twenty-second century.