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In a world where there is almost everything or has ever existed, finding your own identity and handwriting is not easy. This applies to musicians as well as to luthiers alike. Sure, you could do everything radically new and different – but that should be one and certainly costs a lot of courage and assertiveness. The British luthier James Collins opted for the gentle path: He created the design for a symmetrically shaped double-cutaway solid body, which looks noble and traditional, on closer inspection but at the same time refreshingly individual and different.
The 44-year-old Briton seems to be so convinced of his creation that all five different basic models that his manufactory currently offers in East Sussex in the south of the Kingdom have the same body shaping. That makes sense in my eyes. On the one hand, I think the design is completely successful – the design represents a harmonious combination of tradition and modernity, a round synthesis of retrospective and its own contemporary style – and, on the other hand, it is probably a mixture of perseverance and healthy self-confidence which in our time is the only true way to gain recognition and business success in an artistic profession. If any. Anyway, by putting everything on a map, James Collins shows how much he likes his concept beliefs.
The fact that this belief in himself and his abilities is by no means unfounded is already evident when the Hiscox suitcase, which encases the GTB, is opened for the first time – incidentally, a special edition with an inset James Collins logo. The noble woods of the latest Collins model, in particular the wonderfully even-tempered AAA-quality flame maple top, look stunning and come into their own in the light of a perfectly executed high-gloss polyurethane paint finish. I like the fact that all woods have been left in their natural color – with such a high quality of material, the wood can be left to dry in unadulterated beauty. The view of the equally magnificent back of the GTB shows a one- piece mahogany orb, into which the neck, also made of Brazilian mahogany, was glued. The neck consists of three strips, including the top plate, which protrudes backwards at a 17-degree angle in a Gibson manner. The mahogany is placed in the middle of a narrow strip of maple about four millimeters wide. This sandwich construction looks great and adds extra stability to the neck thanks to the additional glue joints.
Classic role models
Just over half a year ago, colleague Christoph Arndt had already tested two models by James Collins, the GTA and the GTO (see grand gtrs 6.2017). At that time, the portfolio of Collins included four different Models, the GTB is in the meantime as fifth and newest Variant added. Basically, one has to say that Collins poaching primarily in the Gibson terrain with his Electrics guitars. The proven combination of a glued neck and a short scale of 628 millimeters is also used in the GTB. The strings are led Gibson-style over a Tune-o-Matic bridge by Gotoh, but here are not anchored in a stop tailpiece, but are pulled from behind through the body. The Tune-o-Matic bridge was lowered by Collins in the top, which is about six millimeters thick, so as not to have to bend his neck in relation to the body. This works great in itself, only the thumbscrews for adjusting the position of the strings are no longer easy to operate. To do this, you have to remove the strings and the top of the bridge – a small extra effort if there really is something to change. On the other hand, once everything has been set correctly, you will no longer want to change anything, and accidental adjustment is at least precluded by this method of construction.
Finally, of course, the body design of the GTB recalls Gibson traditions, because it almost seems as if Collins simply mirrored the lower half of a Les Paul Junior upwards. Incidentally, the symmetrical design offers the advantage that left-handed guitars do not mean much extra work for Collins. The neck-body transition that cuts through the deep cutaway cutaways high up on the 19th fret, reminds me of a Gibson SG, but above all makes a great playability of the highest frest possible.
The fact that the GTB is an excellently processed guitar can already be seen at first glance. In order to recognize the fascinating beauty of certain details, however, it requires a closer look. The Ziricote fingerboard, for example, is not only adorned with the usual mother-of- pearl markings, but is also decorated with a narrow maple serpent line runs lengthwise over the neck. Great: even in the top plate veneer, just if from Ziricote, the line continues. The fingerboard edges are once again set off with a narrow strip of maple, in front as well as on the top and bottom side between the fretboard and the back of the neck. I must confess, at first I did not notice that the back of the GTB has no electrical compartment. All of a sudden, the penny falls, and I realize how cleverly and thoughtfully James Collins has mounted the entire electrical system of the guitar. The two backups are not held by the usual plastic frame, instead they are bolted directly to the top. Collins must therefore at least dispose of parts of the electrical system before the gluing of the ceiling and before painting the guitar at the location of its later have been installed before! Of course, repairs or modifications to the electrics are made extremely difficult, and many may be critical. On the other hand, the Collins design is unequally elegant! Those who like me have a penchant for hidden sophistication will get their money’s worth at the GTB.
As a true custom shop, James Collins offers a variety of options for his basic models, such as the pickup or neckprofile. The present GTB comes with a “medium C “profile, which, however, seems to me to be significantly stronger than one would intuitively derive from the name. For this, the full neck profile guarantees a healthy tone shaping, and after a certain acclimation I find myself with the vintage feel, which is emphasized by the delicate “Medium Small” frets, very well.
The two pickups from GTB come from the British manufacturer Bare Knuckle Pickups. For the instrument being tested, Collins chose a moderately-priced model of tonal samplers that shape the sound of the guitar in a traditional vintage direction – who in this regard.
Of course, Collins offers plenty of other options. At the neck he built a Blue Note P90, which in this case has the full size of a humbucker. There is a Stormy Monday Humbarcker in the bridge, which can be split with the push-push potentiometer. Incidentally, “push / push” is not a spelling error: you must press the volume knob to turn the split option on or off. A tone control and a triple switch for picking the pickups complete the electrical system of the guitar. Surprisingly versatile The GTB delivers a powerful, mid-range and assertive sound with long sustain, once again based on Gibson traditions. I like the fact that the powerful basic sound never seems stiff, immobile or dull, but always remains light-footed and lively. In addition, the GTB is much more versatile than you would expect it at first. Not only in blues and rock context, she gives a good figure, even sparkling funk riffs, they can authentically present. The split bridge humbucker brings out a bright and pleasant fine-grained single-coil sound, which does not sound like a lazy compromise, but can be used just as well on its own. I also like the combination with the P90 on the neck, which sounds nicely smacking and airy on a clearly set amplifier.
As soon as distortion comes into play, the GTB becomes rougher and more impetuous. The bridge humbuckeroffers just enough output to make singing hi-gain sounds possible with a suitably equipped amp. The sound alignment always remains vintage-oriented, with a clear midrange and airy overtone structure. I find the tuning of the heights particularly successful, which are clearly present, nevertheless do not sound scratchy, but pleasantly mild. The Halston customer offers one in volume well-balanced, soft antipole, with which you can celebrate warm, soulful lead sounds.
The GTB by James Collins is a classically crafted stainless steel, made of only the finest materials and fascinating design details as well as a first-class vintage- oriented sound. It’s a great blues and rock guitar, but it’s also great for many other styles of music. The fact that she so elegantly masters the subtle difference between electric guitar tradition and fresh individuality makes her a truly extraordinary piece.
Available at South Shore Guitar Boutique, NY
Hand-crafted with the finest Quilt Maple, Ebony, Redwood or Walnut the GTO is built for tone and playability.
Hand-crafted with the finest Cocobolo, Ebony, Quilt Maple or English Walnut the GTA is built for tone and playability.