The new Collings is a sight to behold with its streamlined silhouette, gracefully arched top, and vintage-looking hardware.
But that’s just the hardshell case—one of Collings’ latest offerings, made in house to Bill Collings’ exact specifications.
The guitar inside the case—the OM1A T—is a force to be reckoned with. It’s beautifully crafted and, though newly built, has a mature sound and a phenomenal responsiveness. It’s highly inspiring to play, and it rewards well-articulated ideas with a brilliant, singing tone. On the other hand, it amplifies your technical deficiencies. Whether you’re playing at your best or at your worst, it’s not easy to put down this excellent guitar.
In a sense all Collings guitars are traditional, in that their primary sources of inspiration are vintage Gibson and Martin designs. But unlike other models in the Collings lineup, those in the new Traditional or T series—which includes OMs and dreadnoughts—are built using certain techniques and specs
that contribute to the greatness of the best prewar instruments.
Like its T-series counterparts, the OM1A T has prewar-style scalloped X bracing with no tongue brace—the horizontal strip that reinforces the area where the fingerboard extension meets the soundboard. The removal of this brace lends openness to the sound, at least theoretically. The guitars are assembled with animal-protein glue, which is thought to better transfer sound than modern adhesives. And an ultra-light nitrocellulose lacquer finish, thinner than on Collings’ standard instruments, allows the woods to vibrate optimally.
The OM1A T has an authoritative voice with plentiful projection and sustain, owing in part to its Adirondack spruce soundboard.
Some builders stick strictly to prewar designs, but Collings brings some contemporary techniques to the mix in the Traditional series. The OM1A T’s neck joint is the company’s standard hybrid mortise and tenon/bolt assembly. This allows for much easier neck-angle adjustments than does the time-honored glued-in dovetail joint. And the frets have been precisely leveled via a PLEK machine.
About that case: It’s a new Traditional series case that pairs 1930s-inspired design with modern durability. Made from a three-ply poplar frame laminated at the Collings shop, it’s much sleeker and lighter than most. Its crushed velvet lining looks vintage-correct but conceals an injection-molded neck rest and fretboard cushion. The nickel-plated latches and hinges also look old-school but feel robust.
Impeccable All Around
When I first remove the OM1A T from the case, I take a moment to admire its unimpeachably good build and handsome aesthetics. The guitar is lightweight and refined, absolutely flawless from stem to stern. Its gloss finish is rubbed to perfection and feels incredibly smooth. The design is spartan but teeming with beautiful details, like a delicate wooden rosette and purfling, not to mention faux tortoise binding, bridge pins, and endpin. And the guitar smells wonderful, redolent of red spruce.
The OM1A T plays beautifully well. Its medium-sized neck with a subtle V profile splits the difference between dozens of prewar guitars that Collings scrutinized in the shop; the nut is 1 ¾ inches wide. The ebony fingerboard’s edges are rolled, giving them a soft and broken-in feel. Combined with low action on medium-sized frets, the neck feels accommodating of any technique or playing style.
Overall, the OM1A T has an authoritative voice with plentiful projection and sustain, owing in part to its Adirondack spruce soundboard. (The base model of the guitar includes Sitka spruce.) I first play some single-note runs on the instrument and am as impressed by the thickness of the trebles as the firmness of the bass notes. All of the notes leave delicate trails behind them, not unlike the optical effects of a fireworks display.
I use the OM1A T in preparing the notation for this issue of AG. It’s a very comfortable guitar to sit at a desk with, given its lightness. And it sounds stunning in a range of styles. On “Lion’s Share,” playing through both Julian Lage’s lines and Chris Eldridge’s chord work reveals that the guitar has an impressive gravity and depth of sound.
The guitar barks heartily when I work through Eric Bibb’s “Turner Station” (See p. 58) and it sounds beautifully resonant when I play it fingerstyle and with a capo, as in Gabriel Kahane’s “LA.” (See p. 52) In an entirely different direction, I tune to open C to work through Adam Levy’s lesson feature on Robbie Basho (See p. 26 of the May 2017 issue). The OM1A T is magnificent in this lowered tuning, with an almost symphonic range of timbral colors available through shifts of picking-hand placement and velocity.
Like all the Collings guitars I’ve known, the OM1A T is a splendid instrument in all aspects. A guitar of this caliber doesn’t come cheap, but it does go for a fraction of the price of a comparable prewar OM in good condition. And it’s one of the finest mahogany production models available at any price point: perhaps the platonic ideal of a modern OM.
BODY 14-fret OM size; Adirondack spruce top (as reviewed) with prewar scalloped X bracing (no tongue brace); Honduran mahogany back and sides; ebony bridge; high-gloss nitrocellulose lacquer finish
NECK Honduran mahogany neck; ebony fretboard;
25 1/2-inch scale length;
1 3/4-inch nut; nickel Waverly tuners; high-gloss nitrocellulose lacquer finish
EXTRAS D’Addario EJ16 strings (.012–.053); Collings Traditional handcrafted case
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This article originally appeared in the May 2017 issue of Acoustic Guitar magazine.