The Interviews - An INTERVIEW with Pat Skrovan of Quincy's Guitars and Kevin Drew Davis of Hill Country Guitars
By Ace Batacan (a.k.a. Eiko)
05/30/07
The Collings Forum Home

May, 2007, Information Highway
Question and Answer session conducted by Ace Batacan (a.k.a. Eiko)

Ace: How long have you been in the business and what got you started?

Pat: 34 years. I played in bands in High School and College in the Houston area. When I graduated from the University of Houston, I made a bee line to Austin to continue my rock and roll pursuits. I went to work at the music store that my drummer worked at to supplement my playing income (or lack thereof).

Kevin: These first two questions are inter-related for me. I’ve been a guitar player almost all of my life. Being from Central Texas, it’s a requirement – there may even be a law somewhere. From college graduation on, I worked in advertising. The last 6 of which was as a global Creative Director for Wieden + Kennedy (Nike, ESPN, etc.) In 2001, I was living in NYC, but spending most of my life on planes. I’d become the typical “collector” customer. I didn’t have time to play guitar, but had plenty of money to buy them. There were even times that I chose flights with long layovers so I could visit guitar shops in various places around the US and the world.

At one point, I had 32 vintage guitars in my Manhattan apartment. If you’ve ever paid NYC rent, you’ll realize how ridiculous that was. It was my way of staying in touch with my roots in Central Texas. So, I totally understand the emotion pull they can have.

My wife and I had begun a 5-year-plan to “retire” back to Texas. I was going to open a guitar shop and she could do whatever. It was really one of those “someday” daydreams.

Then 9/11 happened. Our apartment in Battery Park was pretty much directly across the street from WTC1. Because of the mess down there in the aftermath, we weren’t allowed back in our apartment for almost 3 months. And when we did get back, it wasn’t the kind of place you’d want to live – asbestos and mercury levels were through the roof. So, we moved all our stuff up to our country house in the Catskills to figure out what we were going to do. (Because people hear “New York country house” and think of Puff Daddy in the Hamptons, I always feel compelled to note that it was an 1100 sq. ft. log cabin in the woods). From that vantage point, a guitar shop in the Hill Country of Texas seemed awfully tempting. We couldn’t do it anything like we’d imagined, but we could do it. So, we did. And in early 2002, Hill Country Guitars was born.

Ace: What acoustic guitars do you personally own?

Pat: Strangely, I don’t currently own an acoustic guitar. I have always been a bass player. I am currently working on the specs for my Quincy Model Collings.

Kevin:

1999 Collings D3 Mh A
2004 Collings Baby (EIR/Sitka, Western shaded top, rope purfling) – this is the “Cowbaby” I had built for my son
1938 Martin 00-17 – an absolute sweetheart
1949 Gibson L50 archtop
2006 Collings I-35 Deluxe – quilt/tobacco burst
2006 Collings City Limits Deluxe Prototype – amber SB
2006 Collings 290 Prototype – Tobacco SB

And a bunch of misc. vintage electrics


Ace: Do you have a favorite one?

Pat: Again, being a bass player my main bass is a black 1971 Fender Jazz with maple neck, black fingerboard binding, and black block inlays.


Kevin: My D3 MhA is my go to guitar. Has been for years, and probably will be for most of my life. To my ears, that’s as good as it gets. It was very tight new and took years to open up, now that it has, I can’t imagine another guitar doing what that one does though Allen White’s D2HA is pretty close. One day he’s going to lose his mind and trade it in – and yes, I’d keep it if he did. My ’38 00-17 is a microphone’s dream. It records better than any guitar I’ve ever owned.

Ace: What kind of music do you like to play?

Pat: I’ve been a rock guy all my life, but my taste in acoustic music leans more to Americana.

Kevin: Americana/Alt-Country is pretty much all I ever do on my acoustics. That’s pretty broad though, everything from R.E.M. to Ryan Adams to Wilco. Of course, there are all kinds of other things thrown in there – The Beatles, Pink Floyd, Radiohead, Crowded House, The Counting Crows, etc.

Ace: How long has your store been around?

Pat: I’ve been a rock guy all my life, but my taste in acoustic music leans more to Americana.

Kevin: Since 2002, see questions 1 & 2.

Ace: How would you describe the guitar community in Texas, especially in Austin?

Pat: I would describe both the Texas and Austin guitar community as eclectic. You name it, and we’ve got it (bluegrass, finger style, Americana, folk, blues, rock, etc). Austin has so many great players and entertainers. Perhaps that’s why Austin is touted as the "Live Music Capital of the World".

Kevin: Like I said earlier, it’s almost as if there’s a law around here that you have to play guitar. Seems like everybody you meet has a gig coming up somewhere. And the community is very supportive. In some cities you have that competitive thing going on, but here, there are so many venues that musicians seem to support each other a lot more. I haven’t played out in years, but virtually every event – birthday parties, July 4th, or just a nice Friday evening – eventually four or five guys will gather on a back porch with some beer and start playing songs.

Ace: What is the percentage of acoustic guitars in your business?

Pat: 99%

Kevin: It’s about 60/40 with acoustics having a slight edge over electrics. Oddly enough, the Collings electrics, which seem to sell as soon as, if not before, I get them seem to be narrowing that gap.

Ace: Outside of Collings guitars, what other builders do you carry?

Pat: Goodall, Bourgeois, David Webber, National, and Rockbridge (Coming Soon).

Kevin: Froggy Bottom, Huss & Dalton, Kinscherff, Fender Custom Shop and G&L.

Ace: What aspects (woods/model/build/etc.) would you say make these builders build wonderful instruments?

Pat: My concept is to carry small shop builders that build incredible instruments, and I think I have succeeded at this. I think at the level of these guitars, each is a piece of art, as well as amazing musical instruments. All the builders I work with are at the top of their games. I enjoy the opportunity of combining my input with the amazing craftsmanship of these builders. I must have the best job in the world! I get to surround myself with amazing instruments, and interact with truly gifted builders and interesting clients.

Kevin: Froggy’s are a completely different animal than Collings. From my experience, Collings like to be driven. Their personality really comes out when you push them. Froggy’s prefer a much lighter touch and give you a whole lot back from simple input. But I can’t imagine ever taking a Froggy to a bluegrass jam. I tend to prefer guitars with a personality/attitude. And Froggy’s have a ton of personality/attitude. It’s a very different personality/attitude than Collings, but just as strong.

Ace: With these builders, was there a particular guitar that stood out that you remember?

Pat: There is always an occasional guitar that stands out for a particular style of play or a particular reason, but I would say in general that at this level of build quality, they are all exceptional guitars. Each is tailor made for someone, and my job is to match the right player with the right guitar.

Kevin: My favorite Froggy models are their P12 (12-fret parlor) and their F. The F is like an OM but with a dread-sized bout. It’s one of those amazing guitars that give you most of the bottom of a dread, but the comfort of an OM. The Huss & Dalton TDM with an Adi top (compare to a D1A) is my favorite model they make. It’s every bit as good as a D1A, just different. Jamie Kinscherff’s Troubador is an astounding little fingerstyle guitar. Again, very different than Collings, but it has a distinct personality/attitude.

Ace: How big a fan are you of Collings guitars?

Pat: As I stated on my website "Collings Guitars are in my opinion the finest guitars being built today".

Kevin: I’m a huge fan. I own two acoustics and three electrics. Personally, I think they’re the most consistently well-built guitars out there.

Ace: What do you think makes them special?

Pat: I think they are special because of the people that are involved in the build process. Bill doesn’t accept less than perfection in his design. Bruce is such a genius at marrying woods and bracing the guitars. Alex has an amazing sense of detail, and enters orders that are often very intricate and exacting, with patience and understanding. It has to be ordered correctly to be delivered correctly. Steve has the last set of eyes on all Collings guitars, and his desire for finish perfection is second to none. Steve is amazing. He wears so many hats, and is always a true gentleman. I have always admired the way he conducts himself. The craftsmen know that the end user of a Collings guitar expect it to be perfect in all respects, and they perform their tasks to that end. Quite a few of the Collings crew come to my monthly Jam, and it great fun to see them playing and having fun. The beauty of the Collings Team is that they all have a passion for fine guitars.

Kevin: With some bigger builders, 10-30% of their guitars can be great. And I’ve even found that 1 in a 100 the mass produced guitars can be as good, if not better, than a Collings. But the worst Collings will crush the other 99.

Ace: What do you like about working with the Collings staff?

Pat: I think I answered most of this question in the question above, but I would have to say that they all have the desire to build the perfect guitar. When I visit the Collings shop I am treated like a part of the family, and I am honored to be a part of it.

Kevin: The Collings guys are great and they’ve been incredibly supportive of me and my shop.

Ace: Are they receptive to ideas and feedback?

Pat: Absolutely. We often visit at length about concepts, and unique guitars. They are very receptive to ideas. I often order special guitars for client, and they are great about making my clients ideas a reality. They are excited to get feedback from both myself, and my clients. Being in Austin, many of my clients are on a first name basis with the guys at Collings, and take the tour regularly to be close to the action. I would encourage all of the Forum members to make a trip to Austin to take the Collings tour.

Kevin: They’ve always listened to the things that I’ve wanted and often ask my opinion of things they’re doing.

Ace: Do you visit the Collings factory often? What changes have you observed there over the year?

Pat: I am usually out there every week. I personally pick up all my guitars, and check on the progress as they are being built. I also like to be close to the action. The biggest change I have noticed in the last year is that the new shop allows for a better flow in the build process. The old shop was very cramped, and didn’t work very well logistically. I think the new shop has had a big impact on the guys. Nice to have a little elbow room. Also, it is nice to have a lobby and quiet space to discuss ideas. Also I think the addition of Angela (the voice of Collings) has been very positive. Great poise and she knows her stuff. If you haven’t heard her sing and play fiddle you have missed something.

Kevin: The best thing for me is that they’re right down the road – just a 25-30 minute drive. I pick up every guitar they complete for me, which means I’m up there almost every week.

Ace: What added value does it bring to you being in the middle of Collings-land?

Pat: Being in Austin is a great advantage. Like I said earlier, I have the advantage of visiting often, and I can check on my guitars through the build process. In addition it is especially handy in the wood picking process. When ordering Brazilian guitars I am able to sit with Bruce and go through the sets until we find the right set for the client, working within the client’s parameters. It’s also a blast for me. The wood room is my favorite place to hang out when I visit.

Kevin: As much as I’d like to think it’s my marketing genius, proximity has a lot to do with the success of my shop. Guys from all over the country and the world will do special orders through me because I can pick wood, take in-progress pictures, etc. I’m sure Pat gets some of that as well.

Ace: Which Collings model has been selling more for you?

Pat: It is a funny business. I never know what to expect. Often large body guitars sell like crazy, and smaller ones don’t. The next thing you know everyone wants a small body guitar. In general though, my business is 50% large and 50% small.

Kevin: Dreads are bread and butter. Regardless of what you play, I think everyone needs a good dread. Virtually all other models are sold to guys who already have a Collings dread and are looking for a complimentary guitar.

Ace: Any particular wood combination?

Pat: Lately I have ordered several Brazilian/Adi dreadnaughts for clients. Mahogany guitars have also been doing well. I am currently in my Mahogany phase. Just can’t get enough of that sound. Adirondack is very popular, but I have to say I have also had some wonderful Sitka and Englemann guitars recently. I just received a 16" varnish archtop that blows my socks off. I can never keep a CJ sunburst in any wood combination always leave quickly.

I think certain guitars and wood combinations get “press” and a “buzz” is created. A lot of my clients are players/collectors and they want to experience as many different body sizes, wood combinations, and sounds as much as possible. Remember, no one guitar can do everything and you can never have too many guitars. I think experiencing many different guitars is a wonderful thing. We are fortunate to be able to do this. Collings guitars are a high art form.

I think certain guitars and wood combinations get “press” and a “buzz” is created. A lot of my clients are players/collectors and they want to experience as many different body sizes, wood combinations, and sounds as much as possible. Remember, no one guitar can do everything and you can never have too many guitars. I think experiencing many different guitars is a wonderful thing. We are fortunate to be able to do this. Collings guitars are a high art form.

Kevin: The dreads are about an even split – Mahogany/East Indian Rosewood, with Adi tops going on about half of them.

Ace: What is your favorite Collings model and in what wood combination?

Pat: At present I am fascinated with the sound of the D1A. Like I said, I’m in my Mahogany phase.

Kevin: My D3 Mh A, just a dressed up D1A, is it for me. But I have to admit that a DS2H or CJ is probably in my future. I don’t have a big rosewood guitar, so every time I get one in the shop, I think about building one for myself.

Ace: What is the most interesting order you have placed with Collings?

Pat: They are all interesting. I just love the process. Each one is like having a baby. I place the order, and nine months later I have a guitar. Maybe it’s the dog lover in me, but each is very special to me, and I have a hard time seeing them leave. Owning Quincy’s Guitars is much like running an adoption agency in that respect.

Kevin: I think Dale’s (DailyAcousticMusic) guitars are going to win here – the D2H Baaa A SB Varnish was not only the first sunburst varnish, but the first Brazilian varnish. That one was definitely in the top 10 acoustic guitars I’ve ever played.

Ace: After all these years, do you still get excited with new guitars arriving to your store?

Pat: Absolutely. They each have their own personality and presence. It is fun to watch as clients match themselves to guitars. It’s an interesting process.

Kevin: Absolutely! It’s like Christmas morning every week.

Ace: What do you think of their new electric line?

Pat: I love them. I just wish I had a few on my wall.

Kevin: LOVE the electrics. I personally have one of each.

Ace: How do they compare to more common popular models that have been out there?

Pat: Truly, I have been out of the electric market for a couple of years, and I would think Kevin would be the expert in this area, so I would defer to his reply on this one.

Kevin: The 290s are just outstanding. The mail-order price of the LP Special reissue is $1,995, and I think the 290 just crushes them for effectively the same price. Why wouldn’t you buy one?

The City Limits is in a crowded space, there are a lot of companies making LP-style guitars. I personally, think the City Limits is the best one by far. But for the average guy, he’ll find 50 PRS Single-cuts and 200 Gibsons for every City Limits in his town. So, it’s a bit of an uphill battle. But, if I can get that guitar in your hands, the CL wins.

The I-35 is going to put Bill in the history books. No one has ever built that guitar at that level. I don’t think there’s anything on the market even close. A carved top by Collings with Lollar pickups, that’s enough to sell it right there. I absolutely LOVE mine.

Ace: I know you drop by the Forum once in a while. How do you like the interaction within the Forum?

Pat: I think the interaction is a hoot. Always lively, and some interesting ideas discussed. It keeps me abreast of what is of interest to the Forum members. I am pushing for the Collings coffee cups along with you guys.

Kevin: I think the Collings Forum is by far the most civilized guitar forum. I occasionally check in on some of the others, only to get disgusted by flame wars. Virtually everyone on this forum owns guitars from other makers. Just because we love Collings, doesn’t mean that there aren’t other great guitars out there. The Collings Forum seems to be a lot more accepting/encouraging of tastes, styles, abilities, etc.

Ace: How varied is your clientele?

Pat: Quite varied. The common thread with my clients is that they all love guitars and they are all interesting people. Can you tell that I was a Psychology major in college?

Kevin: My shop is in a very small town (~8000). But I’m about halfway between Austin and San Antonio. So there are almost 5 million people within a 70 mile drive. That’s about a third of my business, what I call “local”. Then another third is what I call regional, guys from Abilene, Beaumont, El Paso, etc. who make a trip down here once or twice a year. Because this is one of the prettiest parts of the state, and I’m in the middle of a tourist town known for its shopping, it’s pretty easy for a guy to talk his wife into making a trip here to stay in a B&B and go shopping. The final third are guys all over the country, and the world. Many of those have become regular customers.

Ace: Have any well known artists visited your shop?

Pat: Yes

Kevin: This little town has an out-of-whack famous artist ratio. In this little town of 8,000 people reside Ray Wylie Hubbard, Willis Alan Ramsey, Alejandro Escovedo, Susan Gibson, Sarah Jorosz, Mason Ruffner, and others.

Ace: Who were they and what were they checking out?

Pat: I prefer to provide privacy for my clients.

Kevin: Ray and Al always gravitate to the Gibson-style guitars, CJs and C10s. Al played a CJ SB in my shop and fell in love with it, so I hooked him up with the Collings guys for their artist deal. That’s about the only guitar you’ll ever see him play now. Ray’s pretty hard on guitars with his travel, so he’s reluctant to spend the money on a guitar he knows is going to get beat up. But he’s working with the Collings guys as well. I think he’ll have one in his hands by the end of the year. Sarah Jorosz has a Collings MF5 and it sounds absolutely amazing.

Ace: If you can ask Collings to build something special just for your shop, what will that be?

Pat: I am designing a guitar for myself (The Quincy Model). It will be based on a D1A, have paw print inlays in the fingerboard, and will have a few other tasteful twists.

Kevin: If I could have one thing, it would be a 12-fret 0. Gurf Morlix (produced Lucinda Williams, Ray Wylie Hubbard, etc.) has an early 30s 12-fret 0-18 that I’m madly in love with, though I know he’ll never sell it. I’d love to see Bill’s take on that guitar.

Ace: Any speculations as to what Bill is going to do next after the electric line? Fender style electric? Classical Guitars?

Pat: I haven’t a clue, but if I hear anything, I will tell you guys first.

Kevin: I’ve seen a few things that aren’t even to prototype stage, so I can’t really talk about those. BUT, if you’ve taken the tour, you’ll see that single-cutaway I-35 (I don’t think it has a name yet) that’s reminiscent of a Byrdland.

I’m a big fan of 330s, but they’re useless once a drummer gets in the room because of the feedback problems. So I’ve been hoping/asking for an I-35 with P90s and a Bigsby. Bill looks at me funny when I do, but several of the electric guys at the factory think it’d be cool as well.

There’s also another archtop model sitting on Bill’s bench right now that might see the light of day at Summer NAMM.

And for a year or so, there have been rumblings of an oval-hole A-style mandolin.

We’ll see.



Ace’s notes:

We have been wanting to do this interview with our friends Pat and Kevin. It took a while for various reasons. We were geographically challenged for one thing with Ed being in Hong Kong, myself in California, and Pat/Kevin in Austin. We did not want to wait until my next Austin trip so we did this remotely.

Pat and Kevin do not need introductions here since they are frequent visitors. I know for a fact that they are both respected by the Forum members and we thought this interview would give us a good insight into their creative minds and personalities, especially the folks that have not met them. Both Pat and Kevin have always been very hospitable towards our Forum members during every “Gathering”, going out of their way to accommodate us.

I would like to personally thank Pat Skrovan and Kevin Drew Davis for letting us do this interview and answering our questions as candidly as possible.

* This interview was not conducted as a dealer endorsement nor as an advertising segment on this forum.

 

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