When you think of the Collings guitar company, one of the things that stands out is nonpareil workmanship. The new C100 is certainly no exception. Although it’s not a fancy guitar by any means, everything about it shouts “quality.” The mahogany back, sides, and neck and Sitka spruce top are woods that traditionally are found on midline instruments, but in recent years players have come to realize that you can make fine guitars out of many woods, and that mahogany has its own tonal personality, which many players find to be their favorite.
In terms of size and shape, the C100 seems like an amalgam of the Collings C10 and SJ models, larger than the former and a bit smaller than the latter (though even deeper, at 4-3/4 inches). In trim, the C100 also falls between those two models. The reviewed example features a very tastefully shaded top, set off by a half-herringbone trim, with both the top and back bound in ivoroid plastic. Restrained design is seen in the simple dots of the pearl position markers, as well as in the unbound peghead, which sports no decoration other than the Collings logo in mother-of-pearl.
Quite narrow and even grains run throughout the Sitka top, and the ample cross-grain silking is a sign of perfectly cut wood with no runout. The tuners are open-geared Waverlys, which are as good as you can get, and nicely complement the traditional look of the instrument. The frets are on the small side, and perfectly finished, as one might expect. An interesting detail is that while the finish on the body is traditional nitrocellulose lacquer, the neck has a more durable polyester finish, thus combining the sonic superiority of lacquer with the longer lasting polyester where sound isn’t an issue. My only (and very small) cavil would be that the nut slots (particularly the B and high-E strings) could have been a tiny bit lower, though of course that’s easily accomplished later should a player prefer it.
Now, all that is very nice, but that’s not why people tend to buy a guitar. How does it play and sound? As with the perfection of the fit and finish, the playability of Collings instruments is legendary, and the C100 delivers as expected. The 1-11/16-inch nut and 2-3/16-inch string-spacing at the saddle would seem to indicate that this guitar is primarily aimed at flatpickers, and it does function very well indeed with a plectrum, delivering a wide range of tonal choices and a breadth of headroom. (Collings responds that the C100 is also available with 1-3/4-inch string spacing at the nut.)
You can draw a lot of volume out of the box, with unscalloped top braces keeping the sound from getting too boomy. There is still plenty of fundamental in the low E of the sixth string, which may be a function of the depth of the body. The body resonance is centered around a low G, but that doesn’t make that fretted note stand out. In fact, the response of all notes is remarkably even. I noticed that the second harmonic (the one you get if you lightly touch a string over the seventh fret while playing it open) is particularly lively, giving a warmth to the tone that I appreciate a great deal.
The narrower string-spacing makes fingerstyle playing a bit trickier, at least for my large hands, but the guitar does respond nicely to the light touch of bare fingers. The string action on the instrument provided was also more designed for the heavier attack of a flatpick, as are the medium-gauge strings provided, but of course there’s plenty of saddle to lower if a player is looking for the ultimate ease of playing with just fingers, and my impression is that the guitar’s voice would still be very strong with light-gauge strings.
This is a long-scale guitar (the same as most dreadnoughts and OM models), and the combination of a fairly wide lower bout (15-7/8 inches) and quite a deep body (4-3/4 inches) might strike some smaller players as less than comfortable, but the relatively narrow waist (9-1/2 inches) compensates some for this. When I arpeggiate a chord, each note rings nicely and separately, yet the chord itself also blends together most appealingly.
Collings suggests this guitar would suit a singer-songwriter, and I can see its versatility shining in that role. As the body shape isn’t an exact reproduction of a classic vintage instrument, it won’t immediately have a built-in customer base, but will have to earn one by its suitability to many playing styles. And, while it’s hard to imagine a bluegrass guitarist, for example, choosing such a non-traditional shape, the C100 does have a sonic profile that should make it appealing to players of diverse kinds of music. As the slightly less-wide lower bout (when compared with the Collings SJ) is made up for by a slightly deeper body, I can’t say if a player who finds the SJ a touch big will find the C100 a better match for them. Certainly the mahogany body of the latter will give a different sound—and a very pleasing one it is.
The price for the Collings C100 is $4,680. In a day when there are some pretty impressive imported instruments available for under $1,000, a buyer has to be willing to spring for the craftsmanship, high-quality materials, and attention to detail that are the hallmark of Collings instruments. The C100 is short on flash, but long on sound and playability. As with any new model, the jury is out on whether it will find a substantial market, but it is most definitely worthy of one.
BODY 15-7/8″-wide C100 body; Sitka spruce top with prewar-style non-scalloped X-braces; Honduran mahogany back and sides; tortoise pickguard; high-gloss nitrocellulose lacquer finish
NECK 25-1/2″-scale mahogany neck with C-shape profile; adjustable truss rod; mortise-and-tenon hybrid neck joint; ebony fingerboard with mother-of-pearl dots; 1-11/16″ nut; nickel Waverly 16:1 tuners; high-gloss polyester resin finish
OTHER Bone nut and saddle; ebony bridge with 2-3/16″ spacing; ebony bridge pins with mother-of-pearl dots; D’Addario EJ17 strings (.013–.056); deluxe TKL hardshell case
MADE IN USA
PRICE $4,140 retail; $4,680 (as tested with Western Shaded sunburst top)
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This article originally appeared in the March/April 2019 issue of Acoustic Guitar magazine.
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