Bill Collings, Maker of Sought-After Guitars, Dies at 68

Abandoning metal for wood, he began a quest to perfect the kind of fretted musical instrument he had dabbled with since he was 13, in his case a C-1 model Gibson, like the one Elvis Presley played on “The Ed Sullivan Show.”

Self-taught and by then living in Houston, he learned on the job largely by fixing other people’s instruments before venturing to build acoustic guitars on his own in his two-bedroom apartment, making machine parts for them as well.

“The first few guitars I made primarily for the challenge of it,” he recalled, “but I knew that I was doing what I wanted to do.”

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Mr. Collings was self-taught. He learned on the job largely by fixing other people’s instruments before venturing to build acoustic guitars on his own in his two-bedroom apartment, making machine parts for them as well.

Credit
Alex Reub

Mr. Collings, who died July 14 at 68 at his home in suburban Austin, Tex., became one of America’s pre-eminent luthiers, as string instrument makers are called. His company, Collings Guitars, said the cause of death was bile duct cancer.

Beginning in 1979, Mr. Collings’s company produced some 20,000 guitars for many of the world’s most accomplished rock, country, jazz and folk musicians, including Keith Richards, Pete Townshend, Joni Mitchell, Eddie Van Halen, Paul Simon, Lou Reed, Bill Frisell and Emmylou Harris.

His company later branched out into mandolins, electric guitars, concert and tenor ukuleles, and custom guitar cases, becoming a leader in mass-produced musical instruments.

“Every day out here around the world I hold a piece of your excellence and heart and soul in my hands when I pick up your guitars,” the singer, songwriter and guitarist Charlie Sexton wrote in a tribute to Mr. Collings on Facebook.

Business grew at first mostly by word…

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