Bill Collings dropped out of medical school in the early 1970s, and instead worked in a machine shop for five years. At the same time he built his first guitar. In 1975 he moved to Houston, Texas, where he worked as an engineer with a pipeline and oil field equipment company by day and a guitar builder by night. Three years later he met renowned musician Lyle Lovett and built him a guitar.
In the early 1980s, Collings intended to move to San Diego, California, but never made it further than Austin, Texas. He started out sharing work space with fellow luthiers Tom Ellis, a builder of mandolins, and Mike Stevens. A few years later he continued on his own and took the craft more seriously, moving into a one-stall garage shop.
George Gruhn, a vintage-guitar collector and seller in Nashville hired Collings to make 25 guitars in 1987. Collings soon received considerable attention from other guitar stores as well as magazines for his guitars. Two years later he hired his first employee and the company began to grow.
At the 2006 summer NAMM show, the company moved into the electric guitar market, releasing three models: the I-35, the CL (City Limits), and the 290.
In addition to acoustic and electric guitars, the company makes mandolins and ukuleles. Their mandolins are highly regarded; they "more or less rule in the bluegrass market" in the United States. As of May 2012 the company had about 85 employees and manufactured six to seven acoustic guitars, three electric guitars, two mandolins, and two ukuleles per day.
In 2014, it was announced that the company would be making a guitar based on a currently popular Depression-era design. These guitars are sold under the "Waterloo" brand.
Collings began producing mandolins in 1999, and offers A-style and F-style mandolins as well as mandolas. In addition to making the A and F body shapes, Collings also makes f-hole and oval hole mandolins. Collings mandolins are one of the most highly regarded brands of quality, USA built, mandolins and mandolas.
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