COLLINGS CJ-35 GSB
MEET A SONICALLY RICH CLASSIC. PETER HODGSON CHECKS THE SPURS.
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. If you’re a fingerpicker, this guitar is a brilliant choice. That evenness of dynamic range means every note will sing loud and clear while still having enough body and beef to support the entire composition. If you’re a guitarist who accompanies a vocalist with no other instrumentation, this instrument will feel like a full-range musical experience, rather than "just a guitar under the vocals". If you’re part of an ensemble, it has enough fullness to find its own place in the mix, instead of getting lost amongst the lows and highs like many full-sized dreadnaughts would. And if you’re a hard strummer, this guitar sounds better and bolder when you really dig into it.