Jayson Bowerman is one of Bend's favorite native sons, a world-class kayaker and surfer who exudes a brilliant smile and "hang loose" grace seldom seen outside any island resort. His new line of glass lap and tenor guitars is the stuff drool was made for, instruments of distinction highly sought after by musicians for their resonant tone and natural beauty. His career began at Breedlove Guitars back in 1995 when the company was starting to build a name for itself. After a 15-year run at Breedlove Guitars as head of research and development in charge of their American guitar line, the 80-hour work weeks were starting to wear his spirit down.
Bowerman became a free agent this spring and founded his own custom guitar company, Bowerman Guitars, ramping up production and infusing each exotic-wood mandolin, guitar and ukulele with his own signature style and exquisite finish. Out in his elf-sized workshop, past a colorful collage of surfboards, freestyle kayaks and whitewater canoes, Bowerman's enviable talents are on full display. Shapely guitar bodies in various states of assembly lie on benches and stands. Standard woodworking implements adorn the walls. The rich aroma of rare hardwoods perfumes the air.
"We're getting pretty close on this one," he declared, cradling a gorgeous tenor guitar whose Oregon myrtle wood shined with a golden iridescence that he's making for well-known local violinist, Julie Southwell.
Bowerman gives the wood shell a quick blast from a high-pressure air hose, then returns to the bench to polish the wood grain, showcasing its satin sheen.
The tenor guitar is a four-string instrument, tuned in fifths like a viola or mandolin. With its narrower neck and smaller body, they're ideal for female singer-songwriters as an accompanying instrument, and much more comfortable to play. They were popular during the 1920s and '30s with Dixieland jazz banjo players because the instrument provided a smooth, intuitive transition into guitar and added that sweet sound to express the musical personality of the new jazz.
The creation of his glass lap guitars began two years ago as an art project to benefit the Sisters-area music education program, the Americana Project.
"Artist Susie Zeitner was the real inspiration for these glass guitars. We teamed up for the initial art piece then attached a neck and a bridge, then installed the tuners and pickups for last year's fully functional red-tailed hawk guitar," said Bowerman, "We were all blown away by how unique it was and the resonance was insane. With the weight involved, a lap guitar seemed the most appropriate style."
Each cast glass guitar goes through five separate firings at 1,550 degrees for a total kiln time of more than 70 hours. Powdered glass of different colors is sprinkled through all eight layers to create depth for the bird's impression and the luster of the sky. It's a process in the glass world called painting with light and involves building imagery through the glass so, when fired, renders the entire image with clear saturation throughout the piece. These creations don't come cheap, with each guitar running for around $8,000 each.
"We're calling the series Soaring Sound and it will be limited to a run of ten, themed with the images of a certain bird of prey," said Bowerman. "The eagle guitar is in Nashville right now with a session musician tracking with Willie Nelson. It's really a distraction every time he brings it into the studio. Nobody's ever seen one cast in glass."
Presently, Bowerman's main interests are the old-fashioned tenor guitars, the Hawaiian lap steel and glass lap guitars and other custom six-string strummers for lucky musicians of all persuasions. While creating guitars takes up plenty of his free time, Bowerman has also returned to playing music, gigging around town with his band Pitchfork Revolution.
"It's more of a function of how small my shop is," he said, jogging upstairs to the finishing room. "This gives me a fairly diverse range of guitars to offer. One of the nice things about being independent is that I've gotten back to playing my own music."
To get a look at some of Bowerman's creations, visit bowermanguitars.com or call 541-460-2424. Bowerman's band, Pitchfork Revolution plays on Thursday December 23 at Silver Moon Brewery
Local Guitar Maker Breedlove Sells
Breedlove, the guitar and mandolin maker where Bowerman was a longtime employee, announced last week that it had been purchased by a company out of Iowa called Two Old Hippies. That company is best known for its line of Bedell Guitars, named after owner Tom Bedell, who said that he had no interest in moving the company, and the relatively new Breedlove facility near Summit High School would remain open. Breedlove Guitars has operated out of Central Oregon for nearly 20 years, with the new warehouse-sized manufacturing facility opening two years ago. Bedell told The Bulletin that he is interested in growing the company, but said no official plans for expansion are in the works.