David Mead examines a new Collings with a modern take on a bygone era…
This is a new model in the Collings CJ Range, representing a return to some of the characteristics of pre-war building technique. The “CJ” stands for “Collings Jumbo” and the company tells me that it’s their take on the classic slope shouldered dreadnought design. I must admit to being slightly confused by this because, at first sight anyway, this guitar definitely has more of a dreadnought look to it than the established jumbo profile I have in mind; but heck, I’m open to anything and so let’s move in for a close-up appraisal.
It was a fascination for the golden era of acoustic guitar building from the 1930s and 40s that inspired Collings to add this model to their already established CJ Range. There’s a mystique that has been built around that particular period and it has become acknowledged as something of a tonal haven for many. Alas, vintage acoustics fetch very high prices on the notorious collector market and so the idea of buying a brand new instrument that offers the same sort of tonal virtues has got to be a winner.
The CJ’s story begins with a select Sitka spruce top which lay beneath the finely applied sunburst finish. Apparently the top here is thinner than usual in order to work with the bracing underneath and produce more volume. In keeping with the pre-war build ethic, Collings tell me that they are using non-scalloped Adirondack bracing with three tone bars and an abbreviated tongue brace which will act together with the shorter scale length to provide an extremely broad tonal palette.
Other furnishings in this area include a simple ivoroid rosette and celluloid tiger stripe pick guard. The general appearance here has a distinct vintage chic to it to the extant that the guitar actually has the look of something from that bygone era. Spot on target with the classic look, then!
The CJ’s back and sides are mahogany, offset with ivoroid bindings and a thin walnut back strip, and the body is finished in high gloss nitrocellulose.
It’s mahogany once again for the CJ’s neck with, I’m told, a 15 degree headstock angle and a vintage profile. In any case, the headstock is festooned with open back Waverly tuners and a shape that Collings refer to as “haircut” – and, you know, I can see exactly what they mean! If you look carefully, you’ll see an offset groove at the very top of the headstock which gives the impression of a side parting.
There’s a 44.5mm bone nut sitting at this end of the string length which has been cut perfectly to suit the .013 – .056 string gauge that Collings recommend for this model. Whereas this might seem a tad too heavy for some, you have to remember that the shorter scale in play here will give a slacker string tension and so I’m anticipating the feel of a set of .012s but with the additional tonal weight that can be achieved with heavier strings.
On to the African rosewood fretboard which has a compound radius that moves from 14″ – 26″ in order that the string height remains consistent all over the fretboard. This translates to a similar feel to the playing surface irrespective of actual fretboard position; it’s a subtle nuance, but one that has positive benefits to the player.
Twenty nickel silver frets later, we arrive at the bone string saddle, rosewood bridge and ivoroid string pegs. The quality of workmanship is, as you might expect, very high and well up to Collings’ usual standards – but let’s see what sort of noise the beast can create…
The neck profile feels just the right side of chunky in the hand and the 58.7mm string spacing – another vintage inspired feature here – feels slightly wide under the fingers until you get used to it. But after a few minutes of exploratory settling in, you hardly notice it and realise how it can contribute to a comfortable fingerstyle experience and so all’s well.
As you might expect from a larger body size, there’s a very full sound available from the CJ, but without any of the midrange woolliness sometimes associated with dreads. Instead, there’s an amazing clarity – a hallmark of the Collings brand, I’ve found – and great separation. There’s also volume to spare and a very good degree of projection. I had the opportunity to stand on the other side of the room whilst the guitar was being played and there’s certainly nothing lacking once the guitar’s sound mingles with open space!
Tonally speaking, the bass is rich without being domineering, the midrange is as clean as a whistle and the trebles sparkle, making for a great listening experience. There seems to be a more than adequate dynamic range available, too, as everything from super quiet to enthusiastic fortissimo is well represented. Furthermore, I found the instrument to be a bit of a stylistic chameleon – virtually everything you play is ably accommodated, whether it be fingerstyle blues, experimental drop tunings, strummed singer-songwriter orientated chordal accompaniment and more, making the CJ an excellent all-rounder.
If a sunburst finish isn’t your thing, it’s worth mentioning that it’s presence on our review sample is an optional extra – in fact it puts £515 on the price. If the look of plain spruce is more your cup of tea then it would reduce the retail price to £4100.
In any case, from what I’ve heard, the combination of a slightly thinner top, vintage style pre-war bracing and all the other golden era features that play a part in this guitar’s construction have paid off. There’s certainly a sound to the instrument that you would normally associate with that bygone era, but with a definite contemporary edge at the same time. It’s a guitar that not only looks the part but one that fits the bill nicely when it comes to that much sought-after vintage tone.
Pros: Vintage chic in a contemporary instrument
Cons: Old world accoutrements might not suit everyone…
Overall: There’s more than just a hint of yesteryear charm in this brand new model!
Sound Quality 4.5 stars
Build Quality 4.5 stars
Value For Money 4.5 stars
Retail Price: £4,614
Body Size: Collings Jumbo
Made In: USA
Top: Sitka spruce
Back and Sides: Mahogany
Fingerboard: African rosewood
Tuners: Nickel Waverly
Nut Width: 44.5mm
Scale Length: 632mm
Strings Fitted: D’Addario EJ-17 .013 – .056
Gig Bag/Case Included: Hardshell TKL Case