Russell Collins isn’t more comfortable, or at home, than when he’s sitting at his woodworking desk in his workshop at Collins Music on Strickland Street crafting guitars.
“This is me at home, in the workshop,” he said as he applies a shellac finish to his latest guitar project – a classical acoustic guitar he’s been working up for a customer.
“This customer wants this one quite plain looking, and he wanted it made of spruce with quite specific measurements for the frets” he said.
“I’m just applying the finish to the headstock.”
As he works, Russell is surrounded by shaping tools, spare pieces of wood and some expensive laser cutting machiney, all of it covered in a fine layer of wood dust.
Vangelis’ synth soundtrack to Blade Runner plays in the background, a subtle hint towards Russell’s passion for analogue synthesizers.
“I’ve been making and selling Collins guitars in Bunbury for about five years now, but I come from a family of piano tuners and technicians. My father is in his 78th year in the trade and my brothers and myself are tuner-technicians also,” he said.
“I used to live in Perth before I moved to Bunbury, but my father would come down to the South West to work on pianos for customers down here when I was younger.”
Although Russell makes it look easy, he insists there is a strict discipline to luthiering.
“So much can go wrong during the task that can ruin a guitar, especially at the end of the process. It’s the most important time,” he said as he picks up a half finished acoustic body and taps the soundboard with his fingers, listening.
“It’s the soundboard which is really the key, it is the speaker and it’s basically an air pump, when the strings on the saddle make the soundboard flex it pumps the air and it resonates.”
“The secret to a great sounding guitar is tuning the bracing to the instrument,” he said.
“Some people get really specific and use electronic devices to tune, but what happens is you’re tuning the guitar to something that isn’t itself.”
Russell explains the second most important step is the finish, for which he uses a shellac that creates an iconic sound.
The woods he uses are soured from places as far flung as Africa and Canada but where possible he uses recycled timbers.
He proudly shows off a piece of 100-year-old Alaskan Spruce which he plans to fashion into an instrument in the near future.
Once complete the guitar could be worth $10,000 or more.
“The hat I wear is to keep musicians going in what ever capacity I can, building guitars, tuning pianos, repairing oboes, whatever I’m needed for I will do. It’s a passion.”
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