The Story Behind Collings Tenor Guitars with Steve McCreary

By Mandolin Cafe
June 10, 2014 - 7:30 am

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At this past Winter NAMM Show in Anaheim we had the pleasure of our first hands-on experience with the brand new Collings Tenor Guitar. Since that time we've anxiously awaited its appearance on their web site and can now share that link at the end of this article.

In the process of preparing this piece we had the opportunity to visit with Steve McCreary, General Manager at Collings, allowing him to share the answers to questions we had about this new model and the creative process within Collings.

Pictures don't lie. This is simply a drop dead, beautifully crafted instrument, and as you'll soon have the chance to hear, it has a voice to match. A welcome addition to the family for those of us that prefer our tuning in fifths.

 — Scott Tichenor
     Mandolin Cafe

Mandolin Cafe: The new Collings tenor made a huge splash at this past Winter NAMM Show but we can only recall a few spotted in retail. When will we see more?

Steve McCreary: We like to take our time when introducing a new instrument model into our lineup. We build prototypes, listen and compare them against each other, experiment with different woods, bracing, gathering feedback from players, and go through several rounds of tweaking and fine-tuning. By the time we're satisfied with the instrument, we've usually made quite a few adjustments.

We want to make sure the product we're producing is the best it can be, so we usually trickle them out to make sure we get things right. It's pretty much the same with every new product we release. We're just now getting to the point where we should see more tenors arriving in retail stores and have quite a few in process.

Collings Tenor Guitar

Mandolin Cafe: Where does the inspiration for introducing a new product like a tenor come from? Is is strictly a Bill Collings idea or more of a group of internal builders or a marketing team?

Steve McCreary: We've actually talked about doing a tenor model for years, with the discussion usually prompted by occasional inquiries from our dealers and customers. Bill Collings actually built a few tenor guitars in the early 80s and one back in 1998 for a friend, but we were never set up for regular production.

Collings Tenor Guitar

The decision to make the tenor a standard model offering was prompted by visits from singer-songwriters Carrie Rodriguez and Eleanore Whitmore (The Mastersons), who both regularly perform with tenor guitars and use other Collings instruments in their respective acts. The timing just seemed right to get the project off the ground, and we also had two great pro musicians to work with.

Carrie and Eleanor both played roles in convincing us to introduce a tenor. They have each been to the shop numerous times and tried a number of prototypes. Carrie picked her favorite, from a group, and Eleanor ordered one with a sunburst after determining the wood combination she liked best. They have both been great to work with and gave us lots of valuable feedback during our R&D process.

Collings Tenor Guitar

Mandolin Cafe: Where does the inspiration come from in designing a new Collings model? What changes/updates have been made in the design?

Steve McCreary: I think it's fair to say that most instruments built today, both acoustic and electric, have some ties to instruments of the past. Music evolves out of tradition and it makes sense that customers want instruments with a familiar look and feel. This is true of the majority of the instruments we build. We start with traditional styles and shapes, and look for ways to improve the design and construction to bring the most out of the instrument. We've learned a lot about building acoustic instruments over the past 30 years, and were able to apply many ideas resulting from our trials (and errors) to the tenor.

Mandolin Cafe: The inevitable next step question which will be asked if we don't: has an archtop acoustic or electric version even been discussed?

Steve McCreary: We're focusing on acoustic models for the time being as we continue to experiment with different woods and design options, but you never know what's going to happen next around here. The wheels are always turning in Bill Collings' head.

Kym Warner

Kym Warner of The Greencards plays his original composition The Bell of Great Falls on a Collings Tenor 1A.

Standard Collings Tenor Guitar Features

  • Select sitka spruce top
  • Mahogany back and sides
  • Black/white wood nitrate strip rosette
  • Tortoise-style top/back body binding
  • Black/white wood purfling with 1-style walnut backstrip
  • Pre-war scalloped bracing
  • Tortoise-style celluloid pickguard
  • High gloss nitrocellulose lacquer finish
  • Mahogany neck
  • Square headstock with no volute
  • 15 degree headstock angle
  • Ebony peghead overlay with inlaid Collings logo
  • Ebony fingerboard with ebony belly-style bridge
  • Mortise and tenon hybrid neck joint
  • 20 Frets, neck joins the body at the 14th fret
  • "V" neck profile with 1 11/32" string spacing
  • 14"-21" Compound fingerboard radius
  • 1 9/32" Bone nut and drop-in saddle
  • 23" Scale Length
  • Medium 18% nickel-silver fretwire
  • Mother of pearl dot fingerboard inlays
  • Fully adjustable truss rod
  • Ebony bridge pins and end pin
  • Waverly tuners
  • Recommended string gauge - D'Addario (.012", .016", .024", .035")
  • Collings deluxe hardshell case by TKL

Additional information

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Reader Comments

June 10, 2014 12:27 PM
Wow, does that tenor guitar sound great. Beautiful playing.
June 10, 2014 02:46 PM
Tim May brought one of these to the Tenor Guitar Gathering -- whew! Clear and lively.
June 15, 2014 09:05 PM
Amazing. Crap, now i have to figure out how to tell my wife i need a tenor guitar in my arsenal. Im gonna need some help on this one guys.
Mandolin Cafe
June 10, 2018 08:38 AM
Noting the anniversary of this interview publishing in 2014.
Mandolin Cafe
June 10, 2020 07:40 AM
Another Cafe feature observing an anniversary.