All-mahogany small-body inspired by prewar budget guitars.
by Teja Gerken
October 08, 2018
Collings Guitars is highly regarded for its refined interpretations of classic American flattop guitar designs. But a few years ago, the company’s founder Bill Collings decided to try something different: simple, high-quality guitars inspired by the lesser-known makers of early steel-strings. These guitars, built by companies like Stella, Oscar Schmidt, and others, were affordable, often sold in catalogs, and were played by many musicians who couldn’t afford a premium guitar like a Gibson or Martin. Today, some of these instruments are prized for their raw tonality that is perfectly suited for playing traditional blues and roots music. However, because many of these guitars weren’t cared for in the same way as more expensive vintage instruments were, finding playable examples has become increasingly difficult. Bill Collings ended up founding a whole new brand for his idea, and the result is Waterloo Guitars. We recently had a chance to check out a Waterloo WL-14 Mh, courtesy of Gryphon Stringed Instruments in Palo Alto, California.
The L-00-size Waterloo WL-14 is available in several varieties, including spruce or mahogany tops, different appointments, and ladder bracing or X-bracing. The guitar we got to demo is the “Mh,” meaning that it has a mahogany body (top, back, and sides). In addition, it is X-braced and has a low-profile neck, rather than Waterloo’s standard vintage-style neck.
Even though Waterloo guitars feature simpler construction than their Collings cousins—appointments are minimal; the finish is a very thin, semi-gloss lacquer that allows the wood’s pores to be felt; and internal elements such as braces may be a little rough in appearance—the instrument’s craftsmanship and materials easily live up to Collings’ usual high standards. The fit and finish of the WL-14 Mh was superb throughout, with excellent fretwork, and I was impressed by its light weight.
Tonally, the WL-14 Mh is an incredibly vibrant guitar with an assertive voice. Its pronounced midrange gives it a rootsy quality that sounds great when playing solo fingerstyle and will help it stand out in an ensemble. The guitar is quite loud, and its excellent setup make it easy and fun to play.
Overall, the Waterloo WL-14 Mh is a very cool guitar, a high-quality contemporary version of a vintage off-brand flattop. Blues players are likely to be instant fans of the instrument, and players of other styles may find that the guitar’s slightly raw, honest quality is a welcome change from the smooth, complex tones that have become the norm for high-end steel-strings.
SPECS: 14-fret L-00-style body. Mahogany top, back, and sides. X-bracing. Mahogany neck. Indian rosewood fingerboard and bridge. 24⅞-inch scale. 1¾-inch nut width. 2⅜-inch string spacing at saddle. Golden Age Restoration tuning machines. Made in USA. $2,250 list. Waterlooguitars.com
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