After a battle with Cancer, luthier and founder of Collings Guitars, Bill Collings passed away on Friday, July 14. Bill leaves behind a company and legacy that touched decades of guitar players, music and fellow guitar builders.
Below is an excerpt of the tribute in Premier Guitar by Steve Grimes of Grimes Guitars:
July 15, 2017 started as another typically beautiful day on Maui. Then the weather changed dramatically. A friend called with the sad news that our friend Bill Collings had lost his brief but fierce battle with his terminal illness, and suddenly a dark cloud formed over the mountain. It extended far beyond the confines of this island state and out across the entire guitar world.
Bill’s legacy lies not only in the fact that he was such an intuitive, perceptive engineer of great guitars, mandolins, and ukuleles, but in his dedication and passion for sharing
everything he knew with others.
I called a few friends that were also good pals of Bill’s, and we commiserated over the sudden loss of a dear friend and colleague. But the sadness was repeatedly interrupted by laughter we couldn’t hold back when we traded our best Bill Collings memories. We agreed no one could make us laugh the way Bill could, and the idea that his wry humor and trenchant wit were now taken from us hurt just as much as the thought of losing his mastery of lutherie and his brilliant, technical mind. Mixed emotions for sure—pain and laughter, side by side.
I met Bill in one of his first shops in Houston in the early ’80s, when he was a one-man operation. I knew right out of the gate that I wanted to know him more, to find out how he ticked, and to learn what he knew. Even though we lived 4,000 miles apart, we managed to hang out fairly often at trade shows and lutherie conventions. One of my fondest memories was the way Bill would find my booth on the first day of the NAMM trade show in Anaheim, California, saunter up, say “aloha,” and chat a while. All the time his caliper fingers were inside the soundholes of my archtops, checking top thickness and graduation. “Get your dirty fingers out of my f-holes!” I’d say, eliciting a jackhammer laugh from him. He’d strum a stiff stroke across the strings, listen for things that archtoppers listen for—attack, sustain, decay, overtones—and then ask, “a-hundred-and-sixty-thousandths?” “Four millimeters,” I’d reply, amazed that his thumb and index finger could be that accurate!
Bill would occasionally call me at my Hawaii shop and pick my brain about archtops. Meanwhile, I was gathering golden tidbits of info from him on his building philosophies. We’d talk about finishes, archtop neck joints, and guitar tone. But each time the conversation would quickly expand and we’d talk and laugh about life, loves, wine, relationships, great food, and fast cars.
In this luthier’s humble opinion, Bill’s legacy lies not only in the fact that he was such an intuitive, perceptive engineer of great guitars, mandolins, and ukuleles, but in his dedication and passion for sharing everything he knew with others. I was one of the many lucky builders on the receiving end of his wealth of knowledge about guitar building. And his delivery … that was the icing on this cake of genius! This guy could sprinkle light and levity into dry technical facts better than anyone I’d ever met.
Above this layer of clouds, it’s a beautiful day. This overcast will probably stick around for a while. I’ll miss him dearly, but the sun will break through as soon as I conjure up another Bill Collings story.