290 DC S
BY CHARLES SAUFLEY
Gather a gaggle of tone nerds around a great guitar long enough and inevitably the talk turns to magic, mojo, and
other strains of pseudoscience—almost as
if there were some robed and gray-bearded
sorcerer behind it all. Yes, sometimes there
is something beautiful about the sound and
feel of a 50-year-old Telecaster that you
can’t quite put into words. More often than
not, though, an extraordinary guitar is the
product of a luthier’s uncompromising standards, and hands and minds that consider
anything less than perfection an affront to
Bill Collings would probably be the first
to admit that striving for absolute perfection in luthiery is a little like tilting at
windmills. But his refusal to make anything
but the best guitar he and his staff can
build is what makes the instruments that
bear his name among the most revered in
the business. And though Collings’ acoustic guitars, which are treasured by players
from Pete Townshend to Lyle Lovett and
David Grisman, remain the company’s
focus, Collings electrics are equally amazing
instruments—and they’re still subject to Bill
Collings eagle-eyed scrutiny.
The 290 DC S is one of the newest
members of the Collings electric family.
But don’t let the dead simple Les Paul Jr.
lines and bare bones visage fool you into
thinking this is some kind of exercise in
mass-market efficiency. This is a Collings
through-and-through—a guitar that significantly refines one of the most elegantly
simple templates in electric-guitar history.
More Than Meets the Eye
There’s no disguising that Bill Collings
looked to the double-cutaway Gibson Les
Paul Jr. as inspiration for the 290 DC S.
And just as he saw the simplicity of mid-century Martins as a perfect place of departure for his first acoustic designs, Gibson’s
once-budget-branded Les Paul Jr. is the
ideal vehicle for Collings design optimization talents.
The gorgeous cherry-hued, nitrocellulose
lacquer-finished body is a single piece of
beautiful mahogany—a formula for sweet
resonance if there ever was one. But where
the Les Paul Jr. is primarily a slab of right
angles, the 290 DC S is contoured more
like a Stratocaster—with a subtle body
contour on the upper bass bout and a more
severe taper on the back of the upper bass
bout where an old Junior would leave your
ribs bruised after a few Saturday night sets.
There’s also a deep cutaway at the waist on
the back of the guitar, as well as a gentle
taper on the treble side of the neck heel
that gives you a little extra access to the
upper frets. This is a comfortable and well-balanced guitar.
The mahogany neck itself, which is
topped by an East Indian rosewood fretboard and ebony peghead cap, is a remarkable piece of work by itself. Collings insists
that a fairly substantial mass in the neck is
Lollar P- 90
essential to making an electric guitar work
harmonically. But the balance Collings
strikes between heft and comfort on the
290 DC S is remarkable. There’s a lot to
hold onto for big blues bends, and the extra
substance offers an ideal resistance to gentle
neck flexing that’s great for subtle vibrato
effects. The 12" fretboard radius has a sweet
Gibson-style contour that’s good for chording or bending, though Collings deviates
from tradition just a little by using a 24
Collings’ custom wraparound bridge
is beautifully milled and pre-intonated at
the factory, though players who use gauges
lighter than .010s (the company recommends .011s) may encounter some intonation issues. Elsewhere on the guitar, the
minimal hardware is similarly top-shelf.
Tuners are Gotoh SG301s, while the lone
pickup on the 290 DC S is a Lollar P- 90
with Collings-made Bakelite covers.