The NAMM Foundation and Collings Guitars Announce The Bill Collings Memorial Fund
The NAMM Foundation and Collings Guitars have announced a memorial fund in honor of legendary luthier and longtime NAMM member, Bill Collings. Collings was the founder and leader of Collings Guitars, a maker of acoustic, electric, and archtop guitars, and mandolins; instruments that are world-renowned for their quality craftsmanship, elegance and sonic personalities, inspired legions of professional and amateur musicians, as well as emerging luthiers. The memorial fund aims to both honor Collings’ legacy, as well as to foster the next generation of guitar players and teachers through The NAMM Foundation’s beneficiary organizations.
Steve McCreary, general manager of Collings Guitars, first met Collings in 1980 after he moved to Austin from Houston where he had been repairing and building guitars. He reflects: “Bill had an engineer’s mind, a machinist’s hands, a designer’s eye and an artist’s heart. He even had his own math, we called it ‘Billgebra.’ When he had a concept brewing in his head or a tool near at hand, whether it was a chisel or a CNC mill, he was a creative machine and loved the marriage of art and industry. He had an innate understanding of how things worked and he tirelessly pursued ways to make things work ‘better.’ He always pushed the envelope to offer the most he could to a customer, a friend or someone he was mentoring. He helped a number of high school students build instruments for school projects and got deeply involved in a long-term project with a group of fourth year architecture students to design and build twelve extremely custom guitars. He was brilliant, funny, demanding and generous. He was also a bit insecure, and I think he would be very embarrassed but humbly honored by this memorial as a way to preserve and promote the ‘art’ of guitar. I sincerely thank NAMM and Chris Martin for making the decision to do this. It is a very fitting tribute for a very deserving cause.”
The Fund is led by the efforts of Chris Martin, chairman of The NAMM Foundation board of directors, and CEO of C.F. Martin & Co., Inc. Martin fondly recalls his first meeting with Collings: “I noticed a small booth diagonally across from the Martin booth. There was one guitar on display. I was curious because it looked like a new Martin Dreadnought. I walked over and a scruffy looking character popped up from behind the guitar and gave me a quizzical look. He said, ‘Chris Martin.’ I smiled and said ‘yes,’ and complimented him on the quality of the guitar he had on display… Bill was a master luthier, a somewhat reluctant business man and a real character. Every time Bill and I talked was a memorable discussion; I miss that wise guy.”
Since its inception in 1994, The NAMM Foundation has donated more than $16 million in support to domestic and international music education programs, scientific research, advocacy and public service programs related to music making. The grants are funded in part by donations from the National Association of Music Merchants (NAMM) and its 10,300 member companies worldwide.
“When the NAMM Foundation was established, it was our earnest hope that it could be a means to honor people like Bill who was a beloved and inspiring member of NAMM,” said Mary Luehrsen, executive director of the NAMM Foundation. “We are honored to establish this fund in Bill’s memory that will be part of his legacy in the music products industry.”
Industry members who would like to honor the life and legacy of Bill Collings may find additional information or make a donation on The NAMM Foundation website: https://www.nammfoundation.org/donate
About Bill Collings/Collings Guitars
Bill Collings moved from Ohio to Houston, Texas in the mid-1970s. More interested in guitars and engineering than in his pre-med program, he took a job at a machine shop and began building guitars on his kitchen table with just a few hand tools. Coming from a family of engineers, Bill’s experience as a craftsman and his natural curiosity equipped him to experiment and quickly improve his craft. Before long his instruments were in the hands of local talents Rick Gordon and Lyle Lovett, which led more Texas players to seek out Bill for custom guitars.
After building about fifty guitars and a few banjos in Houston, he headed west to pursue lutherie in Southern California. While on a detour in Austin, he befriended Austin luthiers Tom Ellis and Mike Stevens. Having found like-minded instrument makers, Bill decided to stay and share space in Tom’s shop. By the mid-1980s, Bill was building flattop and archtop acoustic guitars in his own small shop. His reputation for outstanding quality and meticulous attention to detail quickly spread. In 1989, he rented a 1,000-square-foot space and hired two helpers.
That same year, George Gruhn, the acclaimed collector and purveyor of vintage fretted instruments and owner of Gruhn Guitars in Nashville, asked Bill to make 24 custom “Gruhn” guitars, giving the Austin luthier national exposure. In the spring of 1992, Bill moved his guitar-making operation into a 3,200-square-foot feed store he purchased on the outskirts of Austin. Soon, musicians such as Pete Townshend, Joni Mitchell and Brian May were playing Collings instruments and demand continued to grow. The existing shop tripled in size and its staff increased to 50 full-time employees. By 2005, Bill broke ground for a new 27,000-square-foot shop featuring CNC technology that modernized machining processes and made parts production more consistent, accurate and safe. As the business grew and processes were refined, one thing remained the same: Bill Collings’ commitment to build the finest stringed instruments available.
Fueled by his fascination with the construction and design of a variety of instruments, Bill soon began crafting more than just acoustic guitars. In 1999, he introduced the first Collings mandolins, which like his guitars, quickly set new standards for the industry. In 2006 his interest in carved top instruments led him to introduce a line of electric guitars that players quickly embraced because of the instruments’ exceptional craftsmanship and tone. In 2009, with a nod to the tradition of some other high-end acoustic guitar makers, Bill created a line of concert and tenor ukuleles that were hugely popular with professional and hobbyist players alike. Due to a sheer lack of “small shop bandwidth,” these were later discontinued after Collings started production of Waterloo Guitars, a stand-alone line of vintage-inspired guitars designed to capture the tone and character of some of the best depression era instruments. In that same “vintage” vein, in 2016, and after years of development, Collings began to sell their own acoustic guitar and mandolin cases, designed and fabricated in their Austin shop, built to match the quality of their instruments. Today, the mission is to continue Bill Collings’ legacy following his death from cancer in July 2017. To learn more about Collings Guitars, please visit www.collingsguitars.com
About The NAMM Foundation
The NAMM Foundation is a non-profit supported in part by the National Association of Music Merchants and its 10,300 members around the world. The NAMM Foundation works to advance active participation in music making across the lifespan by supporting scientific research, philanthropic giving and public service programs. For more information about The NAMM Foundation, please visit www.nammfoundation.org
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The National Association of Music Merchants (NAMM) is the not-for-profit association with a mission to strengthen the $17 billion music products industry. NAMM is comprised of approximately 10,300 members located in 104 countries and regions. NAMM events and members fund The NAMM Foundation's efforts to promote the pleasures and benefits of music, and advance active participation in music making across the lifespan. For more information about NAMM, please visit www.namm.org, call 800.767.NAMM (6266) or follow the organization on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.