I just got home after a sweet 15-minute drive to the Collings factory just outside Austin - autumn hit in a major way today and the quick hill country drive was a fun way to get some of the freshly cooled off air. The sweet folks at Collings offer free tours every Friday afternoon at 3:30 - this one lasted an hour and a half. I am stunned - the level of sophistication, care, and attention to detail at this operation is staggering. The tour took a group of about eight of us through the factory in the order in which the guitars are created - from the warehouse for incoming shipments of wood (stacks of beautiful mahogany, rosewood in burlap sacks, etc.) to the setup room where the final touches are put down. Almost all of the components and processes were explained or demonstrated one way or another and it comes down to this simple fact - every single piece of material, despite it's apparent utility or significance, is fostered through a long process of laborious hand care to a state of absolute excellence. All the binding, purfling, bracing pieces...rosettes, f-holes, gentle curves, or complex carvings...everything is delicately and prodigiously executed by trained hands. The trip through the shop culminated in the new setup room for the recently unveiled electrics. At one point, our tour guide lifted a freshly completed I-35 Deluxe (based on the 335) off the shelf, replete with ivoroid pickup covers and knobs (I can't express how freaking cool this looks), custom wound Lollar humbuckers, and a perfect setup. He held the guitar out to me so I could get an idea about the weight. I asked about the pickups and he asked if I wanted to plug it in - a decisive, perhaps overzealous, "yes" burst from my lips. I plugged it into an old Super and oh my god...these dulcet bell-like tones starting just dripping out of every increasingly confident phrase and chord. This guitar - and I've played my share - is an absolute triumph. Effortless playability and simply glorious guitar tone on a masterfully-executed design... If you find yourself in Austin on a Friday afternoon, give these folks a ring - they will treat you like family and you'll walk away awestruck by the expertise, the choice materials, and most importantly, the magnimonious sound of a nearly perfect instrument.