COLLINGS CJ-35 GSB
Meet a sonically rich classic. Peter Hodgson checks the spurs
Full review and independent analysis of the Collings Statesman LC Deluxe by Australian Guitar Magazine.
PRICE: $7,995 AUD
It’s no secret that Collings makes beautiful guitars in both the acoustic and electric spheres. Built in Austin, Texas, Collings instruments are highly prized for their build quality, style, sophistication and tone. you’ll find them in the hands of artists like Lyle Lovett, Emily Strayer, Bill Frisell, Zac Brown, Guthrie Trapp and countless more.
The CJ-35 is Collings’ tribute to the pre-war era of American flattop guitar making. During this era, new instruments surfaced which featured bracing, changes to body dimension and new approaches to fret access, which could come to redefine the acoustic guitar from its smaller-bodied parlour era.
The CJ-35 has a non-scalloped bracing configuration, featuring three tone bars and a short 24 7/8” scale length. Collings says that this design – which admittedly diverges a little from the guitars of the era it was inspired by – was chosen because it provides a beautiful balance of deep piano-like bass and powerful, full-bodied highs complimented by a focused dynamic range for exceptionally even note projection.
The back and sides are made of solid mahogany and the top is made of German spruce, with a beautifully subtle grain that is served on a silver platter by the sunburst finish. The neck is mahogany with an African rosewood fingerboard, and Collings hand-selects all of its woods at its shop to make sure the entire instrument is going to ‘sing’ through carefully-matched components.
Part of the construction process involves finishing the body and neck separately before assembling them. This is a traditional Martin technique that diverges from how Gibson does things, and therefore, this construction method serves as somewhat of a bridge between the Martin school of thought and a Gibson-influenced design. It looks neat. Collings meticulously hand-sands between coats, resulting in nitrocellulose lacquer finishes that measure between .005 and .007 inches in final thickness. This maximises the acoustic response while still protecting the wood and keeping your guitar looking beautiful. The neck starts out quite round, but progresses to a slight V shape as you head towards the higher frets. It’s very comfortable, and it naturally guides your hand posture to the most ergonomic position possible depending on where you're placed on the neck.
Sonically, this is a very rich guitar. The shorter 24 7/8" scale length reduces some of the high-end detail, but that doesn’t mean it’s a dark-sounding guitar: the treble rounds off just enough to make it sound sweet rather than overly harsh. There’s also a richness to the upper midrange which really allows single-note lines to sing, and puts some beef behind chord work. The low end is full but not overly boomy, so when you play full six-note chords, you’ll notice that they knit together really naturally, instead of the guitar putting undue emphasis on a particular frequency range.
The Collings CJ-35 GSB is based on the classic, but short-lived Gibson J-35: a model produced between 1936 and 1942 before it was replaced by the J-45. It has a slope shouldered dreadnaught-style body with mahogany back and sides, a German spruce top, a mahogany neck with an unbound African rosewood fingerboard, and Waverly tuners.
BEST IN THE HANDS OF
Professional acoustic guitarists who need an instrument that will sound world-class both on its own or within the context of a full ensemble – and who appreciate the subtleties and sonic idiosyncracies of a shorter-scale dreadnaught, which is a different beast entirely to a standard-sized one.
WHY IT’S ON THE TOP SHELF
From the super-clean internal construction to the smoothness of the finish and the perfection of the fretwork, this is a finely built instrument that says much about the luthiers’ art. Every line, every curve and every design choice speaks of guitar-building history
WHY YOU'RE PROBABLY GOING TO WANT IT
This instrument excels at effortless playability and an ear-pleasing frequency spread. It also comes with a great factory setup: it’s as easy to play at the ninth fret as it is at the third.
WHAT YOU SHOULD CONSIDER FIRST
Some players may prefer an onboard preamp. There are plenty of other Collings guitars out there for those players, and the CJ-35’s natural voice is so perfectly formed that it would be a shame to stick any old preamp in there: it really deserves to be mic’d up properly.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Collings really brings together the best of the old and new with this guitar. It has a definite ‘modern guitar’ feel compared to a vintage instrument, but it doesn’t feel slick and robotic. There’s plenty of heart in its execution, and the entire instrument is a reflection of Collings’ respect for the designs of the '30s and '40s, as well as their respect for the music that folks will be making on these guitars.
Gladesville Guitar Factory
Ph: (02) 9817 2173