The art of being a luthier involves having an affinity for stringed instruments and being comfortable enough to work with your hands. It’s a skill Jay Jacobs has honed four-plus decades and is currently plying his trade at the Sam Ash location in Carle Place. When you enter his workshop, there are guitars in various states of repair—necks separated from bodies and myriad fiddles hung on the wall awaiting the Queens native’s attention. Currently, he’s in the middle of shaving down the frets of a blonde Telecaster. It’s where you’ll find him from Monday to Friday and a place he’s gladly come to since he was hired 22 years ago.
“I was there at one particular place for a little over four years and then my wife got pregnant, I didn’t have any benefits and I happened to be talking to the brass repairman over there and he said he heard that Jerry Ash was looking for someone because his longtime luthier was retiring. Werner had been there for 31 years,” he recalled. “So I went in and saw Jerry [Ash] and he told me to go work with Werner for a few hours if it was okay with me to see how it went. I later found out that Werner was pretty well set that I was the guy. He had already auditioned about a half a dozen people. They asked if I would come back the following week and then Werner took me into Jerry’s office at noon and asked when I could start. And that was November 1996. I’ve been here since. I worked for Jerry and Paul [Ash] when Paul was alive. They’re wonderful people. Paul was the heart and soul of the company and of course, he passed away a number of years ago. But I worked very close with him, because the two of us were the first ones here in the morning.”
The soft-spoken Jacobs is unfailingly patient in handling customers, as was the case with an assessment he did on a replica Stradivarius. As he turned the instrument over in his hands, he pointed out parts of the body that needed to be glued, where the neck was improperly glued back to the body, and string options of varying cost and how the fiddle would sound depending on what choices the owner went with. He broke down the various costs involved and came up with a sliding scale estimate that was both thorough and thoughtful. It’s a solid combination of keen experience and personability that seems to be missing in today’s retail environment and a point of pride for Jacobs.
“I like what I’m doing. I like to work and I don’t like to sit around,” he said. “There are routine jobs, but you want to do it nice and you want the customer to say [the instrument] plays well and looks great. So we take our time to not only do the job right, but also make it look pretty.”
Born in the Bronx and raised in Whitestone, Jacobs has been a working musician since he was 14. Although he started out as a drummer, he switched to guitar, playing his first gig at a Sweet 16 where each band member received a tidy $3.50. The mechanically inclined guitarist started out futzing with his own axes before word got around and other neighborhood kids started bringing their instruments to him to work on. Over time, Jacob’s love of music not only had him studying music theory and composition at York College over in Jamaica, but also playing the oldies circuit as a sideman for doo-wop outfit Reparata and the Delrons. He’s also been fronting his own country-rock outfit, Cob’s Cob, and even released albums in 1996 and 2011. But in the end, it’s the craft that continues to fuel Jacobs’ passion. While he’s handled guitars of various vintage along with priceless cellos, violins and violas, he’s also worked on more exotic fare like stiars, bouzoukis, ouds and balalaikas. It’s an itch he’ll continue to scratch, even as he’s looking to retire to his fishing cottage in upstate Ulster County.
“I have done repairs for expensive guitars and even inexpensive guitars, that when I handed them back, customers will ask if it’s the same guitar because they don’t even see where it may have broken,” he said. “That’s worth more than what we get paid for, because man, I love the feeling that I made this customer happy. They walk away feeling really good about the shop and the repair and I feel good about that. I can tell you that in close to 45 years of doing this, I don’t feel like I’ve worked a day in my life.”
Visit www.cobscabin.com to find out more about Jay Jacobs and Cob’s Cob.