Bill Collings Divides His Time Between Crafting Guitars and Building Hot Rods

March 12th, 2014

This is an excerpt from the all-new March/April 2014 issue of Guitar Aficionado magazine. For the rest of this story, plus profiles of guitar-playing U.S. Olympians and much more, head to the Guitar Aficionado Online Store.

Flattops and Chop Tops: Bill Collings divides his time between crafting guitars and building hot rods.

By Chris Gill | Photo by Matthew Rainwaters

For the past 10 or so years, Bill Collings has led a double life. During the day he focuses on building some of the industry’s most beloved acoustic, electric, and archtop guitars, but every night from 7 P.M. until midnight he’s quietly worked on hot rods in a garage located inside the Collings Guitars factory in Austin, Texas.

While Collings has made his living as a professional luthier over the past 40 years, his fascination with cars and motorcycles goes back even further, to when young Bill was in his preteens. “I started working on cars way back in 1960,” Collings recalls. “As a kid, I searched the newspapers every week looking for cars. Back then you could buy a 1940 Ford for $200, but it would have been full of rust. I was usually doing more dreaming than driving though.”

Collings eventually bought his first car: a 1957 Studebaker Commander with only 9,000 miles on the odometer. He quickly went from doing his own repairs to doing his own modifications, which was his gateway into the world of hot rods. “From working on my own cars and motorcycles, I couldn’t help but get into hot rodding,” he says. “I’ve owned too many cars to count and probably more than 100 motorcycles during my life. To me, bikes, cars, and guitars are all the same. It’s all good stuff, and you can never have enough of them.”

While Collings will remain focused on producing guitars, this year he’s finally opening his own workshop facility dedicated to building custom hot rods for the public. His primary motivation for this development was providing a place where his good friend, hot-rod artisan Mercury Charlie, could focus on making cars.

“I’ve worked with Charlie on and off over the last 10 years,” Collings says. “He ran a repair business to pay his bills, but he never seemed to have enough time to build hot rods because he was always doing repairs for other people. I asked him why he was burying himself doing something he didn’t really like to do all that much, and I convinced him that it was time to stop repairing cars and just start building them. He came over to my shop I’m building just for making hot rods, and now we’re focused on building cars together.”

One of the first automobiles that Collings and Charlie completed together is a 1931 Model A. That car will be making its public show debut at the Lonestar Round Up in Austin on April 4 and 5. “That’s the first car I’ve ever sent to a show,” Collings says. “We push our designs as far as we can, starting with a drawing of the basic concept and then building upon that. We strive to design the very best cars. When people start seeing what we’re doing, I think we’re going to get a lot of business.”

Collings’ personal car collection includes a 1929 Ford roadster with a flathead motor, a two-door 1934 Ford, a mid-year 1936 Ford five-window coupe (“I converted it to a three-window”), a 1940 Ford convertible with a Chevy LS motor, a 1955 Chevy Nomad, and a 1956 Ford pickup with a supercharger and 351 V-8 motor. His motorcycle collection, which consists primarily of single-cylinder, under-500cc British bikes, includes an impressive variety of rare AJS, Norton, and Velocette bikes as well as the requisite BSAs and Triumphs.

This is an excerpt from the all-new March/April 2014 issue of Guitar Aficionado magazine. For the rest of this story, plus profiles of guitar-playing U.S. Olympians and much more, head to the Guitar Aficionado Online Store.