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This article was originally published in issue #41
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Collins Guitars, not to be confused with the US boutique guitar company, Collings, are made by luthier James Collins in East Sussex, UK. James is a highly experienced and skilled builder and guitar tech with a formidable reputation for excellence amongst those in the know.
James’ main model is the GT, a symmetrical, small body, double cutaway guitar available in a series of different specifications from both a hardware and construction perspective. James says ‘The concept for the GT models came from a custom build idea and a commission, with a scope to add a new dimension as well as create more of an identity. From the outset the guitar was to be a double cut and symmetrical design.’ For our review, James sent us one of his GTA Cocobolo guitars to check out.
The GTA Cocobolo is a flat topped variation of the original GT design featuring a one piece mahogany body with a premium cocobolo, book matched top and mahogany neck. The influence for the design is obvious but the smaller profile and less pronounced cutaways add a really cool, unique look to the guitar for a design that is individual enough to be remembered amongst the sea of boutique guitars on the market. Cocobolo is also used for the fretboard that features a gorgeous maple wave inlay across its length and up into the headstock, where a cocobolo veneer is used to further synchronise the design.
This level of detail extends throughout the guitar with the cocobolo/maple binding around the fretboard and body and the beautifully recessed control knobs, giving a design that is quality through and through without ever becoming gaudy or over the top. This is a really beautiful guitar in every aspect. Hardware is of equally high quality thanks to James’ choice of a single Bare Knuckle Black Dog humbucker in the bridge position (other pickup options are available), CTS pots, a Nashville TuneOMatic bridge and a genuine Bigsby USA B5 Trem, all finished in gold, which matches very well with the cocobolo top (nickel is also an option ). James also offers the option of a hardtail bridge and a P90 as a custom order.
Each element of the GTA Cocobolo has been lovingly thought through for the best playability, stability and tone. The 17-degree headstock angle aids sustain and tuning stability from the Grover Keystone 18-1 ratio tuners. The mortice and tenon neck joint with its contoured heel adds to the strength of the build, whilst aiding upper fret access and comfort and the medium C neck with its 12” radius combines beautifully with the choice of medium sized, hard wearing 18% nickel/silver fretwire for playability that should suit a wide variety of players well.
The build quality is amazing from start to finish with exceptional fretwork, finishing and woodwork. All of the guitars in the Collins range are hand-crafted and it shows in the attention to detail that James puts into each guitar. The wave inlay is a particular highlight, demonstrating the level of woodwork that this boutique builder can achieve.
Tonally, the GTA Cocobolo is every bit as good as its looks would suggest thanks to the generous depth of its mahogany body and neck joint adding plenty of sustain to the guitar. It’s hard to know exactly what the cocobolo adds to the tone but it sure sounds great through that bridge humbucker with plenty of bite and punch and more versatility than you might imagine, given that there is no neck pickup here.
The lack of more tonal options is a shame though, since whilst Collins do offer guitars with dual humbucker set-ups and very in depth tonal options, they are quite a bit more expensive and it would have been nice to see a dual pickup option for a small upcharge here, as many will find a single bridge pickup too limiting. However, combined with the excellent tone and volume pots you can get a wider range of tones than one might imagine and the Bare Knuckle Black Dog is a superb performer with highly dynamic clean, crunch and fully distorted tones, offering clarity and plenty of grit when required, but subtler smoothness for cleaner tones too with the tone rolled off a bit. At last we have a guitar here where the tone control is actually useful!
The GTA Cocobolo oozes quality in every respect and considering that we have a fully handmade instrument here, is a superb price, especially for European buyers where there is no import duty to pay, something that heavily increases the price of US made instruments over here. The reduced tonal options may put some off, but Collins' more expensive guitars cover that ground well and it may well be that custom options are available to build a flat top version of this guitar with a second pickup for an extra charge. What we have here is a superb instrument from a builder that deserves a lot more recognition and exposure in the boutique guitar world. Highly recommended!