Although still known primarily for their amazing acoustic guitars, Collings is continuing to make a glorious noise in the electric market, and this beauty is sure to take that up a notch or two. Picking up where the venerable Les Paul Special left off, the 290 DC is, as the name intimates, a double-cutaway slab of gorgeous mahogany with a pair of P-90s. Collings gussies things up with the cool tortoiseshell pickguard and sexy ebony headstock veneer, and caps it all in a righteous high-gloss nitro finish.

Right out of the case (a sweet, deluxe Ameritage model), the 290 DC rang with a huge acoustic resonance. You really feel the sustain through the body and the substantial-but-comfy neck. The guitar ships with .011s but they feel like .010s–the mark of a supremely well-built guitar. The frets are perfectly level and beautifully rounded, and, although the bridge can’t be adjusted, it does have an intonation contour milled into the top bearing edge, and as a result it intonates like a dream.

We plugged the Collings into a variety of amps and the best delay pedal and it sounded awesome through each one. The Lollar pickups have great output, but it’s the detail that really knocks me out. They sound balanced and rich with a clanging bottom end and a silky, musical treble response. On a recording session, I ran both pickups with the bridge rolled back to 7 into a mildly dirty amp and the tone was big, open, and very dynamic. I was especially impressed with how responsive the 290 was to where I picked on the string. Even a difference of an inch or two toward or away from the bridge produced noticeable, useable changes in timbre. And on the subject of the Volume controls, these are some of the best voiced pots I’ve ever experienced, with every part of the taper bringing out great new colors.

I seriously can’t find a single fault with the 290 DC. It’s all too easy for guitarists to say, “If I’m going to spend that kind of money, I’d just buy a (fill in the blank).” Nope. Not anymore. This guitar is not cheap, but it is worth every penny. We’ve long been impressed with this company’s acoustic offerings, but I have no choice but to view Collings as a serious player in the electric game from this day forward. Reasonable people can disagree on things like scale length, body wood, electronics, etc., but for what it is, the 290 DC might just be the perfect guitar. Well done.

Introduced in 1959, The Gibson ES-330 is one of many jewels in the Gibson ES line. Often overshadowed by the ES-335 and its brother from another mother, the Epiphone Casino, the ES-330 has been pressed into service by players such as Grant Green, Brian Jones, and B.B. King. Gibson’s Memphis, Tennessee, Custom Shop has brought this beauty back to life with an eye-catching “aged” reissue that gives this classic instrument the props it deserves. Sporting a VOS (vintage original specification) sunburst lacquer finish, the ES-330 pops visually, but it also exudes a satiny, worn-in quality that is easy on the eyes. The binding on the body and neck are aged to the point that they look like they have spent the past 40-plus years drinking coffee and smoking cigarettes, and the scatter-wound “dog ear” P-90s sport rusty polepieces that further add to the ES-330’s half-century-old vibe. These elements contrast with the nut and tuner buttons, both of which are pure white.

The minute I picked up the ES-330, I knew I was cradling a winner. It plays beautifully and exudes the ultimate in vintage cool. The classic neck shape is inviting to play, and, quite frankly, makes the ES-330 tough to put down. Everyone who came in contact with the guitar gushed about its playability and its tasty worn-in looks. Sonically, the ES-330 doesn’t miss a beat. The hollow body in conjunction with the trapeze tailpiece make for a lively sounding guitar–both plugged in and acoustic–and the tones leap out of the body and the speaker as the guitar bursts with sonic energy. Running through a ’52 tweed Fender Deluxe or a late-’60s Princeton Reverb, the ES-330’s tones are pure vibe, with a beautiful amalgam of chime, barky midrange complexity, and a lush burnished texture that can work in a variety of musical contexts. Hell, you can even mic the ES-330 acoustically and use it on a track–it’s that loud.

The ES-330 yearns to be plugged into a cranked tube amp where it can respond beautifully to every nuance of your playing. Some players may be bugged by the neck joining the body at the 16th fret, as it limits high-position access, but I found it refreshing as you get coaxed into a different way of thinking when you’re playing, urging you to respond to what the instrument is willing to give. From jangle to rockabilly to badass blues, the ES-330 can deliver. It features a unique sonic signature that is a boon for anyone searching for a tone tool that isn’t the garden variety Strat, Tele, or Les Paul thing. The ES-330 is lovingly crafted and it shows in both its outstanding cosmetics and wonderful playability and tones. Most excellent!

When is an indie not an indie? As major record companies become more involved with the independent label and distribution marketplace, it becomes increasingly difficult to draw the line between independent and major.

But each year, when Billboard compiles charts for this issue, we make the call. The determining criterion: The product must be sold exclusively through independent distribution.

A few factors to keep in mind:

Ownership by a major does not disqualify a label from consideration. As two examples, Tommy Boy is owned by Warner Bros., and PolyGram is the parent company of Island’s independent labels (i.e. 4th & B’way, Mango). But, the titles from such labels that appear on these charts were sold through indie channels.

Conversely, more and more indie labels–like Critique and Radikal–have worked out distribution deals with majors. In the cases where indie titles were sold by a major, those titles were excluded from these lists.

There are some arrangements by which a conventional single is sold through majors, while the maxisingle formats are sold through indies. In order to appear on the independent label singles charts, all configurations of a title must be sold through independents.

An act that qualifies for one independent chart might not be eligible for another. On the singles charts, K.W.S.’s “Please Don’t Go” is included, because it was sold through indies. But, the group’s album was sold by PolyGram Group Distribution, and thus is ineligible for the other charts.

The involvement of a major label’s promotion staff does not disqualify a single, so long as the title in question is sold through independents. This is the case with Dr. Dre‘s single. Similarly, Interscope‘s involvement with this project does not remove Dre from the independent album charts, because his album is sold by Priority.

These charts represent a 52-week span, from the issue dated Feb. 22, 1992, to the one dated Feb. 13, 1993. In addition to the charts included in last year’s Indie Spotlight, we have added a Top R&B Singles chart.

The lists are based on the same methodologies used to compile the year-end charts. With the exception of the charts that are based on The Billboard 200 and Hot 100 Singles, the results are based on a point system created by a complex inverse relationship to each week’s chart position.

For the Top Albums list, ranks are determined by the sales these titles registered during the time they appeared on The Billboard 200. The Pop Singles list is based on each title’s accumulated weekly point totals on The Hot 100, which factors in sales and airplay.

Sales data for The Billboard 200 is provided by SoundScan, which also supplies the sales information used in the formulation of Hot 100 Singles. Major-market airplay data on Hot 100 Singles is provided by Broadcast Data Systems.

For the last two-and-a-half months of the tracking year, BDS and SoundScan provided data to the R&B charts.