Sunday, July 16, 2017

Collings Guitars - The Passing of Bill Collings

Bill Collings
Collings guitars got its start in Houston Texas, when Bill Collings began working in a machine shop back in 1970. He began building his first guitar in 1973.

Bill Collings in the 1970's

By 1975 he was working as an engineer with a pipeline
and oil field company. At night he continued building guitars.

Lyle Lovett with a Collings Guitar
He developed a reputation among local musicians and caught the attention of Lyle Lovett, who asked Collings to build a guitar for him



By the early 1980’s Bill decided to move to California, but he never got farther than Austin Texas.

It was there he met fellow luthiers, Mike Stevens, and Tom Ellis. Ellis built handcrafted mandolins. Collings began working with them, but after a few years before he moved into his own shop which was in his garage.

Bill Collings in his shop

It was in 1987 when Nashville based vintage guitar collector/seller George Gruhn hired Bill Collings to make 25 guitars for his shop. This had a wonderful impact on Collings reputation.


1989 Collings made for Gruhn
Shortly after his products were soon requested by music stores and featured in magazines.

By 1989 Bill Collings was able to hire his first employee. Since then Collings guitars have become one of the most recognized and respected instrument manufacturers in the business.




Collings Acoustics

Their forte is acoustic guitars, but they also build  archtop guitars, mandolins, and ukuleles.



2006 Collings City Limit



In 2006 the company moved into the electric guitar market and were featured at that years Summer NAMM, National Association of Music Merchants convention.




2006 Collings OM


As of 2012 the company employees 85 people and manufactures six acoustic guitar, three electric guitars, two mandolins, and two ukuleles per day. In fact Collings Mandolins are highly regarded in the Bluegrass community.





2014 Waterloo WL-14L

By 2014 it was announced that the company would be making a guitar based on a currently popular Depression-era design and resemble Kalamazoo guitars of that era.  These guitars are sold under the "Waterloo" brand and are based on an old guitar that Collings had sitting in his office.




Colling WL -14 -  Kalamazoo Sport

He decided to repair the instrument by removing the back and put new bracing in it. After reassembling it, he realized these old guitars had a much different sound than that of today’s instruments due to their construction and size. The brand has become a success with Blues and Country players looking for that old tyme sound.


Bill Collings 1948-2017
Sadly the following statement was just issued on the Waterloo Guitars website:

”We lost our dear friend and mentor Bill Collings yesterday. He was the amazingly creative force behind Collings Guitars for over 40 years. Through his unique and innate understanding of how things work, and how to make things work better, he set the bar in our industry and touched many lives in the process. His skill and incredible sense of design were not just limited to working with wood, but were also obvious in his passion for building hot rods. 

To Bill, the design and execution of elegant form and function were what mattered most. Perhaps even more exceptional than his ability to craft some of the finest instruments in the world, was his ability to teach and inspire. He created a quality-centered culture that will carry on to honor his life's work and legacy. He was loved by many and will be sadly missed. Our hearts are with his family.”

William R. Collings  8/9/1948 – 7/14/2017.

Click the links under the pictures for the sources. Click the links in the text for further information.
©UniqueGuitar Publications (text only)





Saturday, July 15, 2017

Eastman Guitars

The Seldom Scene on Jubilee
One of the best quality Chinese made guitar are now being used by some major industry guitarists. I’m referring to Eastwood guitars. I don’t watch a lot of television, but when I do I find myself gravitating to music shows. And in my part of the world, there are a lot of shows about Bluegrass music.

'53 Martin D-28 - '23 Gibson F5


Traditionally Bluegrass music is played on an old Gibson F-5 mandolin and a Martin guitar, preferably a D-28 or a D-18. But in the past few years I’ve noticed a change. Players are now using Asian made guitars and mandolins.




Perhaps it is because the price of Martin and Gibson instruments are beyond the reach of many working class players, or possibly it is because the value of a well made instrument is not worth the risk of taking on the road only to have it stolen. In any event the quality of some of these guitars currently being made in Asia is excellent.

1957 Guyatone LG-50H

Going back historically we know Japanese musical instrument builders that began building guitars back in the 1920’s and 1930’s for domestic use. In the late 1950’s some of these companies started building electric guitars, not just for domestic use but for import.


1960 Teisco


By the 1960’s, due to the popularity of Folk music, then the music of the British Invasion, importation of cheaply made, Asian imported guitars skyrocketed. In doing so they gained a negative reputation, since the quality of those instruments were inferior to the Fender, Gibson, Gretsch, Guild guitars, and even Harmony and Kay guitars that were produced at the time.




1978 Ibanez Iceman JC 210
But by the mid 1970’s the quality of Japanese and Korean made guitars had greatly improved. Some of these companies, such as Ibanez and Takamine were building acoustic and electric guitars of superior quality that rivaled the USA made instruments that these guitars copied.

In 1977 a lawsuit ensued that was instigated by Gibson guitars against a company called Elger Music, who was the US agent of Ibanez guitars. The suit was brought about partly due to the much improved quality of these copy guitars. The parties settled the suit before it went to trial and the results caused a great change in the way Asian made guitars were to be made in the future. Though these instruments now had similar features to Martin, Gibson, and/or Fender guitars, there needed to be some originality added.

Gibson v Elger Co.
At first the results of the lawsuit may have meant just a change to the headstock design.  However through the years Asian engineers and designers have come up with original ideas and improvements to their guitars.

The results have ostensibly put their instruments on par with guitars made in Western countries.

Qian Ni
Founder Easman Music Company

As stated at the onset Eastman Musical Instruments are building high quality musical instruments. The company is a relative newcomer to the musical instrument manufacturing business. They began in 1992, when a man named Qian Ni visited to the United States to study violin making. At that time, the Chinese were using the factory line way method of manufacturing musical instruments. Ni discovered that a different approach was needed to build violins.

He implemented a handcrafting method of building violins and bows in a manner similar to that of 19th century European violin workshops. This change resulted in a much improved tonal quality.

After this Mr. Ni established workshops to further this art. He states that early on, “I would load up his car with instruments that his workers made and drive from city to city selling them to violin shops and music stores. Those shops that did not buy his instruments gave me excellent advice.” This is almost verbatim the same story I have read about Robert Godin during his early days of building his instruments.

Eastman Strings
Now Eastman Strings is a world class company building stringed and bowed instrument for players of all ranges and abilities.

By the early 2000’s, Mr. Ni applied similar principles to crafting the guitar, and by 2004 his company, Eastman, had started a line of archtop electric guitars.


Eastman E20D guitar
and MD515 mandolin
A few years later his craftsmen applied this same approach to building flat top guitars and mandolins. I have seen several Bluegrass and Country player using an Eastman acoustic guitar. Like the Eastman Strings bowed instrument line, their acoustic flat top models come in models for intermediate players and pro's.




Eastman Guitars
Most of the wood used on Eastman guitars is grown in the United States. This has lead to a controversy since the State of California does not require guitars assembled offshore to be labeled with the country of origin, as long as the wood used is domestically grown.

Eastman guitars and other Eastman musical instruments are made in China.

Eastman AC-DR1
Unlike most guitar companies the wood used on even Eastman's less expensive models is solid. Though there are several models with a suggested retail price of $250 to $350 that have laminate back and sides.

Some of the intermediate models with a suggested price in the $650 ranges are made using a solid Sitka spruce top and solid sapele back and sides, while others have laminated rosewood back and sides. I find that outstanding since most

These models come in Dreadnought, Orchestra, Grand Auditorium, Grand Concert, Double O, and Parlor guitar sizes.

Where Eastman Guitars really excels is in their Archtop Jazz line of guitars.

Eastman solid carved archtop guitars

There fifteen electric models to choose from and one acoustic archtop guitar. They all have a solid hand carved top and back. Most feature a Kent Armstrong floating pickup. These guitars have a suggested retail price of $2050 to $3750 USD which includes a hard shell case.



Eastman solid carved top archtop guitars

There is also a line of six "Solid Carved Top" guitars, that have laminate back and sides that sell in the range of $1450 to $2300 USD. Most come with Kent Armstrong pickups, however two models have TV Jones Filtertron pickups.

Eastman Guitars also makes ten all laminate models. All laminate sounds bad, but consider the Gibson ES-175 has always been a guitar made of maple/poplar/maple laminate.

Eastman laminate models

Six Eastman models are based on the Gibson ES-175. Three models have a similar body shape to the Gibson ES-350, but have a single Kent Armstrong pickup. Two models are similar to the Gibson ES-125 and have a single Kent Armstrong P-90 pickup.



Eastman also offers a line of four unique archtops designed by two of the world's cutting edge luthiers and one series of guitars designed by jazz guitarist John Pisano.

John Pisano Line-up

Pisano's line includes four models ranging in price from $1600 to $3750 USD.



Eastman Pagelli models

Eastman also has two models designed by luthiers Claudio and Claudia Pagelli. The Pagelli's have been building amazing guitars in their own unique style since 1982. Eastman offers two models that were designed by the couple.



Otto D'Ambrosio began working at the Mandolin Brothers music store located on Staten Island New York when he was only 13 years old.  He learned the craft of repairing and restoring fine musical instruments, and then began building his own guitars.

Eastman El Rey models
Around 2004, he designed a new model that he called The El Rey. This was a hollow body electric guitar with no sound holes. A year later he traveled to Beijing, China and licensed the design to Eastman guitars. Two of the Eastman El Rey models do have F-holes. The El Rey models have retail prices range from $1925 to $2350 USD.

Frank Vignola model
The last signature archtop model that Eastman makes in the Fank Vignola signature guitar, This guitar was based on Vignola's guitar that was designed by Utah based luthier, Ryan Thorell and based on Thorell's FV Studio model, which has a base price of $8500. However the Eastman version is about one-third the price, at $2995. The difference between the Eastman Frank Vignola models and the Thorell version is the pickup. The Eastman version includes a Seymour Duncan Johnny Smith floating pickup.

Other features include an ebony fretboard with no position markers, a very unusual sound hole on the lower bout, a sound port on the guitars upper side, and a slotted headstock. This guitar also features a beautiful ebony pickguard.

Ryan Thorell FV Studio guitar
These are all the same features found on the original Thorell verion, but the Eastman guitar is manufactured in China.

You can order the Eastman FV guitar direct from Frank Vignola and Ryan Thorell, for $2495 and Ryan will set it up for free. Click on this link for the phone number.

Most all Eastman guitars come with either a hard-shell case or a gig bag.

There are currently only a handful of stores in the United States that stock Eastman guitars

Click on the links under the pictures for the source. Click on the links in the text for further information.
©UniqueGuitar Publications (text only)






Saturday, July 1, 2017

The Amplifiers Used On Sargent Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band.

Sargent Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band
This year marks the 50th anniversary of The Beatles Sargent Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band LP. There is currently a wonderful television program that goes into great detail about the production and history of each song.

Sargent Pepper recording session
While much of the music was done on keyboard and string instruments, McCartney’s bass, and some guitar is featured on the recordings.  The TV special mentioned said little about the guitars and nothing is noted about the amplifiers used on the album.


Paul McCartney with 1967 Bassman
The television program showed  only one amplifier; the Beatles’ blonde 1964 Fender Bassman. Aside from the Vox AC30, we know this Bassman amplifier was used on many of the Beatles albums.

We know that McCartney first used this amp in 1965 and continue to use it until 1967 in the recording studio.

This also may have been the first album where McCartney plugged his guitar directly into the mixing board for some of the songs.

After that Lennon and Harrison both put that Bassman to use.  Lennon continued to use it in the studio on some of his solo work. This Fender Bassman was the 1964 6C6-B circuit and featured twin Utah 12” speakers. It was a similar circuit to the one used on in the same era Bandmaster.

Beatles with Vox AC30's
The Beatles and many other British groups preferred to use Vox amplifiers since they were readily available and less expensive than imported United States brands, such as Fender. The Vox AC30 was perhaps the most used by the Beatles during their early days.

1964 Vox AC30

The Vox AC30 was a 30 watt class A amplifier, which technically speaking is very inefficient, because the power tubes are operating at full power. However class A is very pleasing to the ear and makes for a great performing amplifier.


The Vox AC30 had cathode biasing and no negative feedback loop. In my opinion the AC30 is one of the best amps ever made.

Despite the popularity of Vox amps in the U.K., the company was facing financial difficulties as early as 1964.

Jennings and Denney
Vox' manufacturer was JMI or Jenning’s Musical Instrument and run by Tom Jennings along with musician/guitarist/amplifier designer Dick Denney. In 1964 the partners had sold the company to a conglomerate called The Royston Company. Both men maintained posts in the organization through 1967 at which time they left the company. Perhaps the two men saw the writing on the wall, as the following year Royston filed for bankruptcy.

Some of the former JMI employees cut a deal with the bank that held the assets and they were able to procure the Vox name. Vox equipment was then produced under the name Vox Sound Equipment until 1969 when yet another bankruptcy ensued.

Vox Birch Stolec AC30
A company called Birch Stolec Industries purchased Vox from the holding company. One of the sales managers for this company was none other than Rick Huxley, the bass player for the Dave Clark Five. This firm built Vox amplifiers which included printed circuit boards and also produced some solid state versions of Vox amplifiers.

But let’s back up to before 1967 when Sargent Pepper was being made. Even before that date, when the Beatles and other bands were touring, as early as 1964, the folks at Vox realized the AC30 at full volume was not going to cut through the screams of the female fans. So they investigated producing a larger version.

Vox AC50 MKII


They had already come up with the AC50 MKII that McCartney can be seen using in concerts. (He still uses this amp today.)




Vox AC100


What they came up with was the Vox AC100 aka the Vox Super Deluxe. This was a a one channel amplifier that came with a large speaker unit, which contained four 12" Celestion speakers. It was Vox' answer to the Fender Dual Showman amplifier. The Beatles can be seen using this amp in concert footage.



Later in 1964 JMI reached an agreement with the Thomas Organ Company of the United State that they would be the sole US distributor for Vox. This may sound like an odd arrangement, if not for the fact the JMI was once known as the Jennings Organ Company. It may have been short-sighted of the former Jennings Organ Company to believe a US organ manufacturer would be a great vehicle to distribute Vox amplifiers. But during the guitar boon era, many companies were trying to get a piece of the pie.

US made Vox Super Beatle
Once Thomas Organ inked the deal they realized that JMI/Vox was not capable of manufacturing an adequate number of amplifiers to make the deal profitable. Thomas Organ, not at all happy about the situation and proposed a deal that they become licensed manufacturers of Vox amplifiers in the United States and Canada. Probably due to the financial situation at JMI, they agreed.

This is how the US Vox Super Beatle and other US amplifiers came to be made by the Thomas Organ Company aka Vox US.

Dick Denney traveled to the USA in 1965 to visit the Thomas Organ/VOX US manufacturing facility to see their products first hand. He was impressed with their solid state amplifiers. This lead him to come up with his own solid state/tube hybrid versions.

The guitar amps that Denney designed were called the UL7 series and the bass versions were the UL4 series.  UL was suggestive of Underwriters Laboratories, a group the put its approval on electronic merchandise.

Vox UL705




The UL705 was a 5 watt amplifier,while the UL710, and UL715 produced 15 watts. Both had solid state preamps, with tube based power amplifier sections.




Vox UL730
In 1966 a Vox UL730 was delivered to Abbey Road Recording studios for The Beatles use.

The power tube (or valve) selection of the UL730 included one ECC83 and a quartet of EL84 tubes. The ECC83 is actually a preamp tube, but was used as a phase inverter.



Vox UL730


The UL730 was a two channel amplifier with two inputs per channel, a boost switch for each channel. Channel One featured volume, treble, middle, and bass potentiometers, and controls for tremolo speed and depth.


Vox UL730 front panel
A distortion control was included in this channel. Channel Two included the volume, treble, middle, and bass controls, and added a reverb control.

The separate speaker cabinet was loaded with twin 12” Celestion speakers. Of course the amplifier featured the trolley.

The Beatles session
with the UL730


Vox manufactured only 100 units. This was not a popular amplifier since out of the 100 units sold, 76 units were returned. Some may have been defective, while others were exchanged for another amp of the era. The 76 units that were returned were said to have been destroyed.




Harrison's UL730

The amplifier that was delivered to the Beatles included a promotional sticker inside of it that stated it was “Promotional Stock - Model No. 760 Amp A/C Current - Serial # 3020 - Artist The Beatles”.


It is said to have been in George Harrison's procession and was to be auctioned on 12/15/2011, but the seller withdrew the offer prior to the sale date.

Vox single spring reverb
This was likely the amplifier that the Beatles used on the Sargent Pepper recordings. The UL730, and most Vox amplifiers included the Vox single spring reverb since Tom Jennings did not want to pay Hammond the $1 per unit royalty for use of their 3 spring version.


To avoid this fee he and Denney came up with their own reverb design.

McCartney using UL730

During the albums creation, McCartney played his Rickenbacker 4001S bass through it on most of the songs. Although it is said that he employed the UL430 bass amp on Lucy In The Sky.



Vox UL430
The UL430 was essentially the UL730 with no effects except for the boost switch. Other than that the tube compliment, speakers, and electronic design were similar. These amps look different from the VOX AC design. The UL amps, except for the UL705 feature controls in the front of the amplifier unit. They all still had the signature Vox grill cloth fabric. The UL730 and its companions are a part of our unique guitar history.

In addition to the Bassman and the Vox UL730, The Beatles utilized a 1967 Fender Showman amplifier that was in the studio.

1967 Fender Showman
The 1967 Fender Showman was a black faced and from the final year Fender made black face amplifiers. The amp had an 85 watt  head. The cabinet was loaded with a single 12” JBL speaker. The preamp section was made up of two 7025’s and the power tubes included a quartet of 6L6’s.

It is also written that Paul McCartney used a Selmer Thunderbird Twin 50 MkII on Good Morning, Good Morning, which he may have used early in The Beatles career.

Selmer Thunderbird Twin 50 MKII
The Selmer Thunderbird was finished in what is called “croc-skin”. The preamp and power amp were housed in the cabinet. The amplifier had two inputs, a“Selectortone” push button tone control feature, along with tremolo and reverb contols. This amp came with a stand to raise it off the floor.

1967 Vox Conqueror/Defiant
 Several other sources say that the Beatles used a Vox Conqueror on Sargent Pepper. The Conqueror was the completely solid state amp that replaced the UL730. This 30 watt two channel amp featured germanium transistors. The channel controls were mounted on top of the head and featured a normal and a brilliant channel, while the effects controls were mounted on the amplifiers front panel.

Both channels featured volume, treble, and bass potentiomers and a boost switch. And both had two inputs.

1967 Vox Conqueror
top and front pane
l
The front panel for the effects  had controls for tremolo speed and depth, as well as a reverb section that allowed reverb on channel one, off, or channel two. It also included a MRB switch that selected tone boost frequencies.


The Vox Conqueror came with a modified trolley that contained the speaker unit only. The head stood on top of the speakers.

Vox Defiant
Vox also made a similar amplifier called The Vox Defiant. The Defiants head was slightly larger than the Conqueror. In fact at first look it resembled the Conqueror. However the Defiant pushed 50 watts instead of 30 watts.  The Defiant amp was featured in the background of a promotional photo for Sargent Pepper. But for the promo video I do not know if this amp was used on the record,

The Beatles also used two other Vox amplifiers; the 7120 and the 4120 bass amp, which they had used on the Revolver LP.

Vox 7120

The 7120 was the most powerful amplifier that Vox had produced. This was another hybrid amp, with a solid state preamp section and a tube power amp section, which consisted of four KT88 power tubes and an EL84 and an ECL86 which acted as phase inverters. It was rated at 120 watts. It utilized one ECL86, one EL84, and a quartet of KT88’s. The amplifier had two channels.



Vox 7120
Channel One was the vibrato channel and had two inputs, a boost switch, a volume, treble, middle, and bass control, along with a tremolo section with speed and depth, and a reverb section, and a distortion control.

Channel two featured two inputs, a boost switch, volume, treble, middle, and bass controls, and a reverb control.

Vox 7120

The 7120 speaker cabinet had two 12” Celestion T 1225 speakers and two Goodman midax horns. The controls on the amplifier section were on the bottom of the amplifier head.



Vox 4120
The Vox 4120 bass amplifier was very similar in the amplifier section. However it lacked the effects associated with the 7120. Everything else was the same. The speaker compliment was quite different. The amp had four 12” Alnico Celestion speakers and two Goodman Midax high frequency 17 watt horns. The 4120 also had an output of 120 watts, It was made for only one year; 1966.

McCartney with a Vox UL730, Harrison and Lennon with Vox Defiant amps


This photo is from the Beatles promotional video for Hello, Goodbye.

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©UniqueGuitar Publications (text only)