Okay, it’s confession time. I am a guitar junkie. I love guitars and have played a whole bunch of ‘em over the years. I am old enough to remember when guitar companies made (basically) one model of each guitar, with maybe an option for vibrato (before we called them whammy bars). And now I feel sad at how many trees die to make junk guitars that will end up as landfill. On the other hand, and happily, today the art of guitar making has come a very long way, and while there is a lot of junk at the bottom, there are some stellar things at the top. This review looks at the top of the heap with the new Collings 360.
A Modern Classic Collings has been a high-quality acoustic guitar maker for some years now, and whether or not you are a fan, nobody can fault the flawless construction of their guitars. Now Collings is making electrics from jazz boxes to rockin’ solidbodies. The new 360 (named for a Texas highway) is at the low end of Collings’ line of solidbodies, but it is far from a low-end guitar. The body is sort of a stretched Les Paul shape, which is pleasing to my eye, though the 360 is thinner and lighter than an LP. The vintage Tobacco Sunburst nitrocellulose lacquer finish is flawless, period. Collings offers some options here, including parallelogram inlays, flame maple neck and quilted maple top. Our sample 360 has a shimmering curly maple carved top on a one-piece mahogany body, with a 24-7/8" scale mahogany neck (with 1-11/16" nut width), Indian rosewood fingerboard with dot inlays and an ebony peghead overlay—it’s a fine looking geetar.
The old-style top hat knobs are inset in the top, which is a classy looking detail, but may make the knob access feel a bit different to some folks. Two standard Gibson-style volumes and two tones with a 3-way switch are all you need to get some great tones from the Jason Lollar mini-humbuckers. Yes, that’s right, mini-humbuckers here and I like ‘em. Minis to my ear have a sound that has more in common with P-90s than full-size humbuckers—rich and open sounding but with plenty of power. The 360 is wired in what Collings calls ‘50s style, which they tell me means that it’s wired so that the volume control doesn’t make the tone bassier, and indeed the 360 has a nice, even response to the controls. Collings explains it like this: “The ‘50s wiring refers to the fact that we attach the tone circuit to the wiper, or output, of the volume pot instead of the input side, where the pickup comes in. This makes the tone circuit less sensitive, so it doesn’t get muddy when the volume decreases. It helps maintain clarity by not bleeding off the highs as the volume decreases.”
The 360 hardware starts with TonePros bridge and tailpiece, which lock in place so they don’t fall off if you take off all the strings, and they look rock solid. Lastly, the guitar is topped off with Sperzel tuners with vintage white buttons. The tuners work well, but personally I am not keen on the look of the buttons (just my personal taste, many will dig ‘em).
So how’s it sound?
Another bit of personal taste here: I love guitars that are resonant, and the 360 is alive. The feel of high quality is obvious as soon as you pick it up. The fretwork is flawless and the setup is right on. The 360 comes strung with .011s, which is an unusual move these days and speaks to the kind of players at whom this guitar is aimed. The neck has a round, old-style LP feel and is very comfy. I plugged it in to my Carr Rambler and got a rich, clean sound with plenty of high overtones and loads of sustain, making this a nice guitar for jazz, roots and blues folks. I am so impressed by how this guitar feels; the body is thinner than a Les Paul, so it’s not too heavy. It feels very lively in your arms and plays perfectly—so I added a distortion box (Baby Blue OD) and tried some rockin’. The Baby Blue is a very transparent box and allows the character of the guitar to come through. The 360 delivers all you would want. For rockin’ some blues, the bridge pickup gives an almost Tele-like sizzle that kicks butt, and I loved the neck pickup for playing some slide. The minis don’t seem to get muddy at all, which can be a problem with full-size humbuckers sometimes. This would be a great roots rock guitar too!
The Final Mojo
So let’s review: the fit and finish are perfect; playability is more of the same—perfectorama; tones are all you might want from this kind of guitar (so again: perfection). Collings guitars are not cheap, but if you are a committed pickerhead this guitar will last a lifetime and reward you every time you play it. Because this is not a standard Les Paul shape, it comes with a nice Armitage fitted hard shell case. Some may be put off by the mini-humbuckers, but you really should give them a try before you just dismiss them. I would like to say something critical, but nothing comes to mind—it’s just that good. So it comes down to whether or not you like the look and feel, and I really do.
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