Have you ever felt the need to choose between an LP and a 335? Collings might have solved that particular conundrum for you. Alex Wilson investigates.

Full review and independent analysis of the Collings SoCo LC Iced Tea Archtop by Australian Guitar Magazine.

PRICE: $7,795 AUD


Bill Collings moved from the Midwest to Texas in the 1970s. After trying a few different locations, he eventually set up shop in Austin. By the mid‑'80s, Collings was building flattop and archtop acoustic guitars on his own. His reputation for outstanding quality and meticulous attention to detail quickly spread, and by the '90s, the business was flourishing, Collings building his own designs based on American guitar standards. Indeed, The “SoCo” in this guitar’s name refers to the vibrant and bustling South Congress area of Austin. The "Iced Tea" might also be a cheeky reference not only to the guitar’s finish, but also a favoured beverage of Texans when they’re sitting down to a big meal of brisket and pecan pie.

Collings sadly died of cancer in mid-2017, but his guitar-building philosophy, founded on classic designs and immaculate workmanship, lives on in the company he founded. And there is no other way to say it: the Collings SoCo Iced Tea is a superlative instrument. It’s not even the very finest in its company's line, with the SoCo Deluxe another step above in terms of finery and accessories.

I can’t bear to think about how great that guitar must be, given how fantastic the first strums and plucks on the SoCo Iced Tea feel. There’s a familiar immediacy and comfort to how the neck feels, and the fingerboard feels played‑in despite being obviously new. Intonation and action out of the case were excellent as well.

The guitar sounds compelling even when unplugged. There’s a good amount of volume, meaning it will be as nice for idle and impulsive noodling as much as a proper plugged-in practise session. All the natural resonances of the body are pleasing – warm, not muddy, and responsive, silky brightness.

The guitar was tested through Marshall, Vox and Fender amps, and the sounds it made paid homage to classic tones but with its own pleasing spin. For example, the bridge pickup had that archetypal Les Paul snarl, but with less of the harsher midrange. It specifically had less of the low-mid honkiness that can sometimes plague the back-end of a semi-hollow, but it still retained those nice upper-mids that helps a guitar push through a mix or a live band. Of course, the neck pickup sounds bigger and rounder, but the airiness of the body cavities is conveyed strongly through this position.

Push the neck pickup through a driven pedal or amp, and you’ll have that really thick, buttery distortion under your fingertips – the kind that’s found on so many classic rock and pop records from the late ‘60s through to the late ‘70s.

The tone knob also really comes into its own on the neck pickup. Not only is it generally smooth and responsive, but it also allows for the guitar to undergo a stylistic transformation. Roll those tops off and you’ll have a guitar that would be wonderful in a jazz or easy listening context. Find the right position on this thing and you’ll be able to land anywhere between Wes Montgomery and Pat Metheny.

The SoCo Iced Tea is an unassumingly classy guitar that packs a lot of quality under the hood. The first thing one will note is the semi-hollowbody shape, which splits the difference between a ES-335 and a classic Les Paul shape. It’s slimmer than a Les Paul as it lays against the body, but also has more width down the bottom. It’s a little novel, but pleasingly familiar. Collings has developed their own bespoke maple wood products to construct the body, and there's a maple block in the centre as well. Although the top is a glossy nitrocellulose lacquer, a lot of the wood’s character still comes through, giving the guitar a depth of colour that is much richer in person than photographed.

The neck is mahogany, with a medium-fat C-shape and an adjustable truss rod. A rosewood fingerboard with mother-of-pear inlays sits on top with 12-inch radius. The 22 frets are 18 percent nickel-silver, comprising a scale of 24 7/8-inches. There’s a nice cutaway for high access as well. Pickups are Lollar Alnico humbuckers, and hardware and electronics are by Gotoh, Switchcraft and Tonepros.

A serious vintage purist, both in guitar and music tastes. This guitar will be able to handle more classic styles than most players could master in a lifetime – AOR, straight jazz, pretty much anything that isn’t modern rock and where lacking a single-coil isn’t a deal-breaker.

There’s a decent price tag, but more than that, this is a guitar that deserves the right player. So much thought and craftmanship has gone into blending the best of a Les Paul and a 335, that this Collings could easily justify its pricetag by becoming your new number one.

It’s a crowd-pleasing, classy and excellent sounding guitar – the kind that people will ask you about and give your gear-appreciating friends pangs of envy. 

Ultimately, you need to play this guitar and see if it feels right under your hands. You need to think about whether the old-school orientation of the SoCo Iced Tea is going to fit with your musical bread and butter. At almost $8,000, this is a long‑term investment and a damn good one.

Gladesville Guitar Factory

Ph: (02) 9817 2173