The Fan's Perspective
Austin Chronicle: It sounds like you got in on the ground floor of Collings guitars.
Lyle Lovett: I met Bill in 1978. I was looking for somebody to do a fret job on my Martin D35. I saw a singer-songwriter at a small place in Houston called Theodore's, a guy named Rick Gordon. He was playing a 000-shape cutaway acoustic with wood binding. I knew it was unusual. In those days, Collings didn't put his name on the headstocks.
My first Collings, which he built in 1979, has just a plain headstock. So I asked [Gordon] about it, and he told me about Bill Collings. The leap that I took was to ask whether he thought Bill would do a fret-job. So I went over to this little two-bedroom apartment in Spring Branch. He lived there with his wife of the time, and one bedroom was where they lived, and the other was full of wood and table saws busting out the door. I spent seven hours there the first time I went over. He invited me to stay for supper. I remember we ate homemade egg rolls.
AC: You became fast friends?
LL: I was so fascinated by his knowledge and enthusiasm. His compulsion to tell me everything he knew was fascinating to me. I was 19 years old and just loved having access to that. And, of course, I still have the guitar he built for me a year later, in 1979. It's a wonderful guitar. Back in those days, he made the entire guitar all by himself. It would take him three or four months to make a guitar. One at a time.
AC: You've played Collings ever since?
LL: I have some other guitars, but I record with Collings, and I play them onstage. Besides sounding great, they're so well-made. Going on the road is the worst thing you can do to an acoustic instrument; the temperature, humidity, and altitude changes are terrible. Wood responds to all those conditions. Bill's guitars hold up to that. They stay in tune. If the guitar's out of tune, it's my fault, not the guitar's.
AC: You have two Collings right?
LL: I have two [laughs]. I have "several." That's my standard answer. I have two I play as my main stage guitars. One is a 1992 advanced jumbo shape. The other is a 2001 dreadnought shape. I also have a hand-carved archtop that Bill himself did, and that I like a lot. My newest was a gift from a friend here in Houston, a mahogany dreadnought that Bill finished with a varnish finish, like a violin or mandolin, not a lacquer finish like guitars usually have. It's amazing. It has a whole different kind of feel.
AC: Now he's making electrics.
LL: I'm sure they'll be great too. He uses great wood and doesn't cut any corners. He has amazing guys working for him. He has a shop full of people that could be makers on their own. Look at the whole mandolin project. Wow. What made him want to make mandolins? I'm not sure. But he immersed himself in it, studied, and all of a sudden he's making perfect mandolins. He has an amazing ability to do what he wants to do.