Bill Collings Passes Away at 68
Over the weekend, Austin lost two amazing figures in its cultural infrastructure. Yesterday we remembered activist, radio host, and our colleague Stephen Rice, who championed this city through his voice and dedication to social justice for the local LGBT community. But today we remember another man whose lifework contributed heartily to Austin’s lifeblood, luthier Bill Collings.
Bill Collings was a born craftsman. Hailing from a family of engineers, Collings moved from Ohio to Houston in 1975, seeking work on a pipeline as an engineer. At night, he built guitars. His first creation was based on a combination of a Gibson Dove, a Martin D28, and a Guild D25. By his assessment, “it was okay, but the sound didn’t take off.”
His first guitar made for another musician was for Rick Gordon, whom Collings had seen perform and was so enamored by the set that he offered to make Gordon a guitar for the cost of the wood. That creation was seen and heard by Lyle Lovett, a then-college student writing for the school’s paper. During an interview with Collings, he handed Lovett a guitar, and he fell in love, and as Collings recalled, “he bought number 29.” Lovett was a chosen spokesperson and loyal customer of Collings from that moment on.
After several years in Houston, Collings decided to leave the Lone Star state for San Diego, but along the way, he stopped in Austin, and well, never left. Mandolin maker Tom Ellis opened his shop to Collings, and thus he spent some number of years making repairs and indulging in Austin’s party scene of the early-to-mid-eighties before having a revelation that set him on track to fully dedicate his time and resources to crafting guitars. It was that change in mindset that changed the trajectory of Collings’s career.
Since then, his business has grown from five employees in the mid-eighties to about 90 in 2017. In a profile on Bill Collings from a 2012 issue of Texas Monthly Magazine, each day his shop was crafting “six or seven acoustics, three electrics, two mandolins, and two ukuleles.” He made guitars for Paul Simon, Keith Richards, Joni Mitchell, Eddie Van Halen, Alejandro Escovedo, Pete Townshend, and Patti Smith, and Charlie Sexton…just to name a few.
Collings was diagnosed with bile duct cancer last year, and lost his brave battle over the weekend. He was 68.
Of the numerous accolades that make Collings Guitars top of the craft, one that most sets it apart is Collings’s refusal to undermine the eminent quality of their brand by making bargain versions. Nay, each Collings guitar is a handcrafted piece of world-renowned art. Those in Colling’s employ said in a statement on the company’s website that they spent many years learning from and being inspired by Bill Collings, and will carry on that quality-centered work and legacy. Bill Collings was 68.