Waterloo WL-AT Guitars

Collings Waterloo WL-AT Guitars and a bit about the history of the Waterloo name and its guitars

A bit about the impact of Collings and Waterloo guitars on some of the top guitar building names

Since the 70’s fans of guitars, based on classic American designs, have fallen in love with the instruments this highly regarded guitar builder has been creating. The incredibly influential and exacting guitar building technology Bill Collings and his crew developed has been admired and copied by many of the established mass produced giants in the business. Last year I was at an event with some of the head guys from the USA Martin workshop and I found it particularly interesting that they spent a lot of time talking, throughout the 2-day seminar in London, about Collings guitars. A private conversation I had, during the event, involved a confession from one key members of the Martin design team who revealed that without the Collings guitar company pushing Martin so hard the authentic family of Martin guitars may have not been developed or needed.

Such is the impact that Collings Guitars have been having on the higher end of the quality American guitar building market. At the seminar an entire room of top UK Martin dealers were told a story about how the Martin Guitars company head design team were invited to spend some time at Bill Collings workshop, where he helped them by sharing some tips on producing the finish options on the latest Martin 17 series of guitars. In fact, take a quick look at any Collings Waterloo model and then compare this with any Martin 17 series guitar and you will quickly come to the conclusion that Martin produces the entire range as a reaction to the overwhelming success of the rather incredible Waterloo instruments that were dreamt up and lovingly recreated by Bill and his team.

From the moment Collings Waterloo guitars were announced demand in our store was hard to keep up with and we found ourselves selling out before guitars were arriving. For much of the last few years it has been hard to keep many of the Waterloo range in stock. They take a while to build and we were selling them as fast as we could order them. Supply has been limited by a maximum production, so it is not just a case of placing an order for 10 guitars and all 10 turning up when expected. As a result whenever we receive a fresh Collings or Waterloo delivery it has become a something of an event in the store!

It is not just Martin that have benefited from Bill Collings’s tips and expertise. In 2014, while Bill was on holiday in Europe, he flew to Exeter to spend the day with us. We got to enjoy Bill’s company in our store for a whole day and the staff at Project Music and many regular customers had an opportunity to engage and ask questions. In the evening Bill told me a story about how he had helped Bob Taylor with a neck problem he was experiencing on some of his latest Taylor guitar models. Bill Collings and Bob Taylor were in regular contact with other and despite being competitors, were always good friends.

It is probably fair to say that every major guitar building company of fine guitars has, in some way, been influenced by the outstanding Collings range of instruments and their individual approach to new ideas and craftsmanship that Bill aimed for. Essentially, the Collings name has raised the bar for every other company making guitars; built to excite and impress experienced players looking for ultimate tone and performance.

So what is a Waterloo guitar and why are they so popular

The Waterloo guitar range has its own identity, but it is very firmly still part of the Collings family and benefits from the same skilled approach and high standards. As with Collings Guitars, the Waterloo models are made in the Austin Texas workshop. The Waterloo concept is to reissue modern interpretations of what was back in the day “budget brand” guitars of yesteryear. This leads to a modern interpretation of the understated, incredible sounding instruments of the classic 1930 period. This less-is-more approach preserves both sound and playability but strips away most decorative trim and the time-consuming efforts that go into achieving a perfect, glossy finish. Waterloo guitars are designed to be fully functional but are much lighter in weight. The tuners, for instance, are openback gears with celluloid buttons that are simple but work effectively. The satin finish on Waterloo models will often highlight the intricate pores in the wood and the wood grain itself because the lacquer is so thin. Instead of expensive pearl inlays, you get a neat painted stencil on the headstock along with other modern played down details. The Waterloo brand itself pays homage to Gibson’s Kalamazoo models of the 1930s as “Waterloo” was the original name given to Austin in 1839 when the site was chosen as the capital of the new Republic of Texas.

How do Waterloo guitars play and sound and feel

Carefully re-created and based on depression era models, the entire Waterloo range has a similar theme and design ideal running through it. The understated basic models of the period are these days highly prised for their responsive tonal performance and a build that ensures a certain character. All are built with meticulous attention to detail and with the goal of providing an ultimate understated classic 1930 tool. The guitars really feel like a vintage instrument. The necks and finish and every touch of the strings and the guitars body would have you believe you were picking up a very old instrument. The tone on offer has that classic slightly direct and dry performance that many players find produce an especially creative and musical sound. Each model has its own unique characteristics yet consistently offer the player an understated build packed with clear and direct tone that takes you right back in time.

Why all the fuss about the latest all new Waterloo WL-AT Guitars

In Collings’ own words read on to hear a little bit about the back story to the AT guitars:

With Bill’s untimely passing in July 2017, his plans for this guitar were sadly cut short. However, it was known among the people who worked closely with him that the Waterloo WL-AT project was something he had always wanted to do. Thus, as a tribute to our friend and mentor, we present to you the WL-AT – an instrument that not only embodies the spirit of the Waterloo line, but takes the concept of a small-bodied archtop guitar to a new level of tone and playability.

The WL-AT is a stunning looking very authentic arch top model that, as with all other Waterloo guitars, draws its inspiration from a much converted guitar building period and matches this with a sought after look and feel. Well-crafted archtop guitars have long been coveted for their projection, expressive articulation, and unique midrange growl. From the swinging big bands of the 1920s to roots music icons such as Mother Maybelle Carter, the archtop sound is deeply entrenched in American music history and has maintained its foothold into the modern era. Bill Collings had a passion for archtop guitars, one that stemmed back to his earliest days as a luthier, and would eventually become entwined with his identity as one of the world’s most respected purveyors of the craft.

Bill’s original Waterloo Guitar line up actually included plans to offer an archtop guitar from the outset. He told me he had a few 1930s flat-backed archtops in his at workshop and he found them to be especially wonderful instruments. He took them apart and painstakingly worked out why they sounded so good and what he had to do to re-create them using modern day high performance and highly stable guitar building techniques. He was especially intrigued by the flat mahogany back, which is an integral part of the sound that runs consistently through the Waterloo line.

The Waterloo WL AT guitars are already being talked about and searched for. We have many on order and expect to be the very first in Europe to receive the instruments. Please email us to let us know you are interested. We will then keep you updated on the build process and let you know when we expect to receive the first models.

The WL AT offer players the following specifications
Body Width: 14 13/16″
Body Length: 19 1/4″
Body Depth: 4″
Overall Length: 40 1/8″
Scale Length: 24 7/8″
Nut Width: 1 3/4″
Saddle Spacing: 2 5/16″
Recommended Strings: D’Addario NB1253 (.012″-.053″)

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