To those that play, a guitar is much more than just a stringed instrument – it is a work of art. Bill Paukert, luthier and owner of Unified Guitar Works in Warren, is both a guitar player and maker. It is through playing the guitar, in fact, that Paukert turned a hobby into his fulltime job.
Paukert originally studied industrial design in college and designed toys for Hasbro for 15 years. In his free time, he played in a band and started purchasing, repairing, and refinishing guitars. What started as experimental tinkering – taking them apart, swapping out components – quickly developed into a passion and skillset that motivated him to “take a leap” and go into the business fulltime.
“For me, the first step [in the process] is to establish what the ‘vision’ of the instrument is,” says Paukert. “What is the purpose of this guitar? Is the guitar gonna be a rocker? Is it going to be more traditional? Is it a gift for someone?” The answers to these questions inform the decisions he will make when designing the instrument, which is neither a short nor linear process.
Paukert starts with reclaimed wood from old homes and barns. He rescues pieces destined for the dump and gives them a second life: “It served a purpose once before, there’s no reason it can’t live again and do even more.” Once the wood is selected, it is then a matter of choosing the right tools to cut and shape the guitar: saws, sanders, files, chisels, or even computer-aided design software, depending on what is needed. Six to eight weeks later – or more, if the design is especially unique – it is ready for Paukert’s favorite part: the first strum. “You get to hear its voice for the first time, and in one instant you get an idea of how the guitar feels and what the guitar can do,” he says.
Owning his own business is not without its challenges, especially considering Unified is a one-man business. Paukert does everything from making the guitars to building the website and promoting the business. “It’s a lot of different hats to wear,” he admits. Despite the difficulties of being an artist/business owner, Paukert loves what he does and continues to expand his creative opportunities beyond the shop through freelance toy design and custom-painted shoes. His motivation? “I just enjoy making cool things.”