Collings MT2

acoustic vibes music ~2016~

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OVER ONE YEAR HAS PASSED since our seminal article on Acoustic Vibes Music of Tempe AZ.  What has Jeff Looker been up to?  “I need to order more mandolins”, says he, standing in front of the largest selection of high-end mandolins in North American.  Right next to the new Gibson display.  His agenda, to the layman, seems to be Buy Buy! BUY!

Direct from manufacturers, Jeff Looker continues to purchase the finest acoustic instruments made in America.  Supporting smaller shops by giving their product exposure.  A steady turnover of production from the larger players.  First name basis with all the owners.  Familiarity with his competition, which they are not.  Not competitors, but friends, mentors, peers, proteges, fellow enthusiasts in the tradition and innovation of American guitarmaking.

Where else could one find three custom Collings MT2 mandolins?  SIX Martin 000 guitars may be uncommon to stock.  Except FIVE of these are from the Martin Custom Shop, special-ordered by Jeff himself.  Everything is ordered by Jeff.  He’s running the train.  It keeps pulling into the station with more and more inventory from American manufacturers.

A goal without a plan is a dream.  Jeff’s goal is to have the finest acoustic instrument shop in America.  What started as an order for six Santa Cruz guitars almost a decade ago has become the best-stocked high-end acoustic guitar shop in the Western Hemisphere.  Add in mandolins and banjos, and you’ve got the premier Destination Music Shop of The Americas.

Santa Cruz 000 Flamed Mahogany Cedar Kathryn Butler Photographer

Collings MT2

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8 collings mt2 headstock inlay composite In 2003, on February 12th, Collings completed work on an MT2 mandolin.  This particular instrument was shipped to Medley Music in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania, where Hugh bought it to further his career.  This mandolin, #231, made history on the Pork Chop Circuit, as Hugh rose to the top of his genre, playing with great and rising stars of bluegrass.

A dozen years later, while Hugh remains sprightly and twinkling of eye, his MT2 exhibits the years of hard living.  Bright lights, billowing clouds of tobacco, and spilled beer by day.  Juke joint basements, chicken coops, and the occasional horse trailer by night.  A rough life for any instrument, especially for one with pedigree like Collings.

Love, kindness, and sympathy was all the MT2 needed.  It arrived as an instrument loan.  This editor wanted a decent mandolin on which to learn.  Hugh wanted a serious mandolin player in the bluegrass circle.  18 months adoption was arranged.  I got to work.

We tried new strings and a little buffing with Novus.  Decent effort, but frets were still severely potholed.  Major surgery would be required.  Outpatient, true, but invasive none the less.

Strings discarded.  Tuners and peg-head bushings off.  Bridge and tailpiece removed.  Fingerboard taped.  Frets sanded with 220 grit emery paper around a custom oak block.  Again, with 320 grit.  Level, finally!  A concave diamond fret file followed.  More fret attention with 400, 600, 800, then 1,000 grit emery paper.  Finally, nine Micro-Mesh sanding sticks. 1,500 grit up to 12,000!

10 collings mt2 time to reassembleGentle buffing of the spruce top and ebony headstock overlay with Novus.  Tuner bushings made a trip to a bench grinder outfitted with buff and compound.  Bushings and tuners installed back on the headstock.  A new nickel cast tailpiece, direct from Collings, replaced the previous stamped tailpiece.  New strings carefully wound back on.  We allowed them to slowly stretch their length.  Interminable minutes as correct bridge placement was established.

Finally, a simple tune.  What a treat!  Frets no longer catch one’s fingers.  Smoother than the water slide at Hershey Park!  String action lower than I’ve ever seen, with no fret buzzing anywhere on the neck!  And warmth!  What body & fullness of tone.  That cast tailpiece certainly contributes.

She again looks the 20-something.  Happy, playful, energetic, serious.  With a refreshed perspective on the world.  Ready to give us what we want, from buttercups swaying in a breeze to buffalo thundering across the plains.

Novus – Plastic Polish

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novus 2 front  novus 2 backSATURDAY AFTERNOONS IN SUMMER we meet within the Arc Of Delaware at The Creamery.  High octane triple-digit milk fat ice cream, fresh from their cows.  A huge oak tree, where generations of bluegrass musicians have come to flat-pick their favorite guitars.  When lucky, there might be a bass, Dobro, fiddle, & mandolin.  If Doc is there, leave your music stand in your vehicle;  a sight of one in a “Bluegrass Circle” can drive him to sputtering apoplexy.

Hugh had been dissatisfied with mandolin pickers in attendance.  Unaccountably, he preferred my scratching noises on an occasionally borrowed mandolin.  For the last couple of years, he has suggested I buy a mandolin and make it my preferred instrument.

Whether through generosity or impatience, this summer on a Sunday afternoon he invited me over  to pick a few tunes.  His home?  A 1920s farmhouse deep in woods, filled with cats, surrounded by semi-tame woodland creatures who ate from Hugh’s bounty.  His mandolin?  A Collings MT2.  His offer?  Hugh would loan me his mandolin for six months;  give me a chance to know a high end – $3800 – instrument.

“Collings.  It’s not a name, it’s a sound.”

Tychem Coveralls with HoodnBootsIt looked like his MT-2 had sat in a corner for years.  Layers of dirt, dust, cat hair carefully impacted between its double strings.  Nitrocellulose finish, originally gloss, now a hazy matte.  I was surprised the District Attorney had not yet preferred criminal charges.  It was, at minimum, reckless endangerment of an acoustic instrument.  Hugh got lucky.  This would have gone Federal, with EPA in hazmat suits.  Ugg!  The deluxe hardshell case by TKL may have been manger and nursery for kittens.

collings mt2 headstockDecontamination began almost immediately.  Strings, bridge, truss rod cover, and tailpiece were all removed.  Warm soapy water prepared,  a soft cloth, dipped then thoroughly wrung, was gently applied to all surfaces.  The fingerboard was grimiest;  my cleaning solution was replaced twice.  Next, deep cleaning of its nitrocellulose finish.  Acetone?  TOO STRONG!  Naphtha  (lighter fluid)?  Humm . . .  to a point.  But hazing and fine scratches remained.

An email to Collings customer service was promptly answered!  “We use Novus 2 to remove years of dulling and build-up on our nitro finishes.”  A quick hobby store purchase, and in no time, that milky haze buffed right out!  Wow, the red maple sides and back shine like new!   Next time the strings are off, I’ll do its select Adirondack spruce top and ebony peghead overlay.  Can’t wait!