A custom Collings that promises unearthly tonal virtues – David Mead hears choirs of angels…
Collings acoustics have been very high on the wish list of many guitarists since the early 1990s – although Bill Collings actually started building instruments at least a decade earlier. His curiosity regarding how the various physical components of an instrument add up to superior tone led him to study many instruments from the pre-war era in order to see exactly what made them tick. Factor in an infinite capacity for taking pains to ensure that every single aspect of building is done at optimum levels and you have acoustic guitars that put many in a swoon of delight. Our review model is a custom variant on the Collings OM 2H and I’ll tell you straight away – it’s an absolute cracker!
Opening the Collings’ case brought forth a strong aroma of vanilla – I don’t know if this is the nitrocellulose lacquer or the buffing compound used in the finishing process but it’s heady stuff and a great way for a guitar to introduce itself. Beyond that, the guitar itself looks to be a very subtle affair; an understated OM with clean lines and the absolute bare minimum of ornamentation.
As I’ve said, this is a custom model and so the woods have been upgraded from the standard version. For instance, whereas the rank and file OM 2H has a Sitka spruce top, this instrument has an Adirondack soundboard. I’m told that current supplies of this wood are very limited and this is reflected in the cost of the upgrade as it adds a whopping £860 to the price. Found on a lot of golden era acoustics, Adirondack was known for its clarity and richness of tone, but unfortunately it was over harvested which led to the opening up of logging in Alaska, home of Sitka spruce. Adirondack has a much broader grain pattern than either Sitka or Engelmann, but Collings say that the important thing is that the grain is vertical through the guitar’s top and that actual surface patterning is more of an aesthetic issue, rather than a tonal one.
Indeed, the grain of the adirondack on this OM follows suit as it isn’t as closely spaced as other varieties of spruce that I’ve seen in the past, but it’s easy on the eye and superbly bookmatched into the bargain.
The choice of wood for the back and sides is another upgraded feature; whereas the standard model has East Indian rosewood, this guitar has Sacha – a relative newcomer to the guitar building market. Sacha’s other name (one of many, in fact) is Higuerilla or Peruvian Rosewood – confusing, because it’s not actually a rosewood at all! Tonally, Higuerilla falls somewhere between koa and mahogany and some say that its figuring also has something of the quality of the much sought after but highly controversial Brazilian rosewood. In any case, it has a lovely toffee colouring with some fine, beautifully ornate markings in the grain. As an upgrade it adds another £775 to the price tag, but I’m assured that the combination of adirondack and Higuerilla is something very special indeed and so we’ll have to wait and see if its presence here is worth the price hike. There are other, less obvious, upgrades on the guitar, too: the headstock and fretboard are both bound, which has upped the price by another £300 or so.
The OM’s neck is mahogany with a soft V profile which has been graduated along its length so that it’s quite pronounced down at the nut, but far softer up at the body joint.
Waverly tuners adorn the ebony fronted headstock and it’s ebony that we find for the fingerboard, too, with some very subtle snowflake inlays around the fifth, seventh and ninth frets.
The fingerboard has a compound radius that starts at 14″ down at the nut end, graduating to 26″ by the time you reach the top. In general, this means a potentially more comfortable playing experience as, perversely, things like vibrato and string bending feel consistent all over the fretboard.
Other accoutrements include ebony bridge pins with a bone saddle and nut – but what sort of tone do you get for £5.3k?
One of the first things that hits you when you strike your first chord on this guitar is its exceptional clarity. All of the notes in a fingerpicked arpeggio have a space of their own with virtually none of that intermodulation where the different frequencies appear to battle each other as the notes decay. Whereas some instruments boast a form of natural compression in their sound, the Collings is sonically very clean with a quite surprising amount of headroom.
There is a consistency of sound across the entire fretboard, too, with no dropouts or dead spots in evidence at all. This is incredibly rare and I can honestly say that I’ve played very, very few instruments where the tone has been this consistent over the entire range in the past.
As far as the balance between trebles, mids and basses is concerned we have a “Goldilocks” situation where it’s not too bassy or too harsh in the treble range, but it’s just right with oodles of that much sought after “piano bass”.
The last Collings I played was while I was on holiday in France a few years ago and it must have left quite a mark because I remember the exact time and place I played it! So when I received this guitar I was interested to see if the famous Collings consistency was really a fact or if I had just picked a winner in my previous encounter. I think this guitar is even better –possibly due to the upgraded top, back and sides. But whatever the reason, it’s definitely one of the best instruments that I’ve played.
The standard OM 2H is £3,425 and so we’re looking at nearly £2,000 worth of upgrades and quite a hefty price tag as a result. Beyond engaging in a side-by-side comparison with the standard model, it’s difficult to tell if the upgrades are worth the additional cash, but if you can look past the cost and sum up the instrument on its merits alone, I think it’s worth every penny!
Pros: A prestige instrument with tone to die for!
Cons: The price will cause a sharp intake of breath for many…
Overall: A lovely OM with a great deal of character, superb build and superior tone
SOUND QUALITY 5 stars
BUILD QUALITY 5 stars
VALUE FOR MONEY 4.5 stars
Model: OM 2H Custom
Retail Price: £5370
Body Size: OM
Made In: USA
Top: Adirondack spruce
Back and Sides: Sacha rosewood
Tuners: Waverly 16:1
Nut Width: 43mm
Scale Length: 648mm
Strings Fitted: D’Addario .012 – .053
Gig Bag/Case Included: Collings TKL Hardshell
Guitar XS / Collings Guitars