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This article was originally published in issue #50
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We've looked at the some of the superb guitars produced by British luthier James Collins in the past, so when he called to ask if we'd like to try something a bit special, how could we resist?
Great variety of tones
Solid tuning stability
5 way rotor switch
We've looked at the some of the superb guitars produced by British luthier James Collins in the past, so when he called to ask if we'd like to try something a bit special, how could we resist? Lewis Turner got to the box first....
Many fine guitars pass through GI's doors but every now and then we get something a little bit special that everyone wants to play. This time it was the Redwood GTO made by Sussex-based James Collins. We all know about custom shop guitars available from the big brands but having a guitar hand built from scratch is a whole different ball game and this is every inch a craftsman made instrument.
Regular GI readers will recall that we have reviewed Collins guitars before (GI issues 37 and 41) so you will already know that James is one of the very few authorised Gibson repairers in the UK, and you don’t just get that from doing a few good set-ups here and there - you need to be the very best. The two guitars that we have seen in the past, plus the work on our editor's ancient and very worn Les Paul, which was when we first encountered James's skills, have convinced us that he is one of the finest luthiers currently at work in the UK, so we were certainly keen to see what he had come up with this time!
Straight out of the case let's just say that this guitar looks amazing - somehow familiar yet unique. The body shape has a classic feel with interesting alterations such as the crescent F hole and a cool maple line pattern that snakes down the fretboard. The high gloss finish with matching headstock gives it an extra classy look. Finish and attention to detail throughout were above and beyond. Even if you don’t play guitar you could be forgiven for just buying it to hang on your wall as a piece of art!
This GTO is constructed with a two piece hollowed-out Honduras mahogany body, meaning it started out as a solid piece, and is not just a hollow guitar with a centre block. To make matters even more luxurious, this sample came with a beautiful curly redwood carved top. The mahogany neck uses a mortise and tenon joint with a contoured heel making upper fret access a total breeze. On first glance you would be forgiven for thinking the fretboard is rosewood, but is in fact the little used wood cocobolo, once again underpinning the use of the finest materials. If you look at our Tech Spec section, you will see that cocobolo has been used a fair bit on this guitar, which is a good choice as this wood creates a solid tone platform, a natural voice, with great tonal consistency throughout.
As you would expect, the GTO had fantastic natural resonance and sustain when unplugged, qualities that were helped by the hollow body and overall light weight. Again, as you would expect, the guitar also felt very well balanced.
Grover Keystone 18-1 tuners and Nashville Tune-o-Matic bridge, plus a bone nut provided fantastic tuning stability and the guitar has a 24 3/4” scale with a comfy profile neck. Naturally, the action was set perfectly and there were no intonation or fret buzz issues anywhere. In fact I have to say that I was blown away by the intonation on this guitar, no matter how good a guitar is you normally find a point where the tuning is a bit dodgy within a chord, it's just the nature of the instrument, but on the GTO I really couldn’t hear anywhere where it sounded out.
The pickups James had chosen were a pair of Bare Knuckle Calibrated Mules, which, as you might expect are a high end choice mated with two CTS 500K Push-Push Pots, along with Jensen Capacitors.
Controlling the GTO's output comes courtesy of a push function on the tone pot that splits the bridge pickup, and a push volume pot that splits the neck pickup. This is further controlled by a five way rotary selector, which gives you a variety of different settings to experiment with, all of which are demonstrated in the video.
This guitar really can do it all when it comes to tone. Warm Jazz, out of phase 'quack', shimmery clean, Country twang, classic Rock, biting lead are all at your finger tips. Sure it's probably not going to be a Metal shredtastic guitar but that's not down to sound or playability - more to the styling, but there are plenty of pointy ugly guitars out there to cover that.... (now, now! - Ed).
So was there anything I didn't like about the GTO? In fact my only issue was the five way rotary switch. Yes it looks in place with everything else, and it works, but making quick/seamless pickup changes on the fly is not easy. It's of course doable, but nowhere near as slick and quick as just flicking a blade switch. I'm sure it’s something you could learn to live with and get used to though. And, of course, this being a handmade guitar, I'm sure it's something you could discuss with the builder.
The Collins Redwood GTO was an absolute pleasure and joy to play it has the potential to be used in a variety of situations, making it an ideal all rounder. It was light, well balanced with a mighty amount of tonal options. Fit and finish were top notch throughout as was the playability and set-up. The pickups sounded fantastic and as I mentioned above, the intonation was out of this world. I've no doubt that your first question when seeing the hand built part, was 'So how much is this thing?'. Well, OK, it's not cheap, but we are talking about a hand built from scratch instrument with the finest materials all put together by an expert builder and for that you are going to expect to have to pay some serious money and this is as good as it gets.
Who is it for? I think this guitar is probably going to appeal to two different types of people. The serious player who demands such high build quality/tone/playability but wants something a little different, or a rich dude who can hang it on his wall purely to appreciate its beauty! That may sound sacrilegious but we have to face facts and a lot of the best guitars in the world end-up hanging on walls just being admired by people. That first group of potential buyers, though, is going to include the sort of owners who realise that however good a top of the line factory-made product may be, there is always something even better, something handmade by a great craftsman. That's a rarefied world where the world's most demanding customers are willing to go that bit further to get the absolute best. It's the world this guitar comfortably inhabits and if you ever get the chance you really have to try one to fully appreciate its brilliance.