A luthier passionate about bikes From issue 83 • Words/images by James Startt

Tucked away in Willoughby Hills, Ohio, just south of Lake Erie on the outskirts of Cleveland, Pawar Guitars has been producing custom instruments for the past 30 years. Principal Jay Pawar, an experienced luthier with an eye to the future, even managed to build a guitar that produced no less than 20 classic electric guitar sounds in 1999, fittingly called the Turn of the Century. Pawar is also an avid cyclist, enamored with building and finishing bike frames as much as he is with crafting fine guitars. PELOTON caught up with him to compare guitar and frame building, not to mention what he considers masterpieces in the history of both.

Jay, you are a seasoned guitar builder with your own brand of custom guitars but you’re also a passionate cyclist, frame builder and painter.

Well, I have been making guitars for 30 years now and founded Pawar Guitars. I went to the Vermont School of Lutherie and so that is where I am trained and where most of my experience lies. But, just out of pure passion for cycling and the bike, I work with local frame builders in Ohio like Matt Biscotti and Brian Jenks, where I help finish some of the brazing and do some of the painting, both of which I just love.

When I look at your guitars they are obviously all very original and yet they nod to the great American guitar tradition. While you don’t make a Telecaster- or Stratocaster-style guitar, elements of Fender and Gibson, not to mention Rickenbacker or Gretsch, can be found in your styling it seems.

That is true, but I would say that it has been and still is a constant evolution. There is a sort-of theme and variation to my style. I may start with a certain concept or idea for a model and then, as the model evolves, it is like you just keep pushing the envelope outwards. I start out with a certain idea in my head, but as you are building a guitar you come up against things and you realize things—perhaps the guitar is a bit bottom heavy or neck heavy, or perhaps the guitar could just be lighter.

You build electric, solid-body guitars as well as hollow-body guitars and acoustic guitars. Do you have a preference?

Well, I like building electric guitars because they are quick and fun. You get an idea, or if a client has an idea with an electric guitar, it can come to fruition within six to eight weeks. With an acoustic, the thought process is much more complicated. There are a lot of steps involved and you are at the speed of what it takes to build what is needed in each step. That said, it is satisfying. There are often surprises. Often you start with an idea and choose woods accordingly, only to find out that when the guitar is finished and you strum it, well, it sounds very different than you imagined. It’s a very organic process.

Do you find any similarities between the process of building bikes and guitars? 

Well, yeah, especially in the custom world, because you are talking about experienced practitioners that have specific desires. When someone comes to me to build a guitar, they may be looking for a guitar that has more snap or to have a darker sound or to resonate more. And that is like when a cyclist comes to a frame builder with specific ideas in mind regarding stiffness, comfort, responsiveness, etcetera. A guitar or a bike is very linked to the person playing it or riding it. Some people want super-stiff bikes. And you know what? Some guitars are stiffer than others.

When it comes to guitars, you are working mostly with wood and, with bikes, you are working mostly with steel. Are there any similarities between these two materials that the average person might not think of?

Hmm, well, yeah. You know when you are working on fillet-brazing joints on a bike, you are smoothing things out. You are trying to make a smooth transition from one place to another. And that is pretty close to joining the neck of a guitar to the body, for example, because you are trying to join two different pieces of wood together in a set form and you are looking for ways to do it smoothly and elegantly. That said, wood smells better!

Another area where I see similarities is in colors. I do a lot of the painting of the bikes and that of course is an important part of the guitar. Sometimes, I think of a color scheme for a guitar even before I build it. Every color has so many nuances and you can go from more vintage tones to more modern ones. It is the same with the bikes, but it is a wonderful exercise. But I will say that painting a bicycle is often more challenging than painting a guitar. A bike frame may appear simple but there are really of lot of hidden little parts. A bike frame is a lot more intricate than it may first appear.

You’ve had a long history between bikes and guitars. What for you was the summit of guitar building, just the coolest, best-sounding guitar ever built? 

Oh boy. That changes from year to year, but I always just loved the Gibson Flying V, especially with Korina wood, in the late 1950s. The guitar had an amazing look, just space age. Obviously, they were trying to respond to the space-age design of the legendary Fender Stratocaster. But beyond the look, the wood that they used, that Korina, just had an amazing sound. The wood just really crossed between the best of the Fender and Gibson sounds. It’s got the spank of a Fender and the “sustain” of a Gibson.

And the best-looking bike?

Oh boy, I don’t know. They just get more and more beautiful as time goes on! I mean, you’ve got the Pegorettis today and Firefly. Both brands just make gorgeous bikes. There are just a lot of gorgeous bikes being made today. If I had the money, I’d have one of each!

Visit Jay’s Instagram (@jcpguitars) account where many guitars are on display. He says he responds quickly to any inquiries.