All photos by Ben Hopper (http://THEREALBenHopper.com)
I’ve always loved guitars. Even though I can’t play to save my life I just can’t help but stop in front of music shops or any other collection of those beautiful shiny instruments. Imagine my surprise then to find a collection of the strangest and prettiest little guitars I have ever seen in a random window on our very own Church Street.
Here lives and works Jonathan Free of Tin-Tone, who has been a musician with bands like Gin Palace, Penthouse, Country Teasers and The Cesarians for over 23 years, a live sound engineer for 10, and who has been building and repairing guitars for a very long time. The window in question is where you find his workshop, and what I found there was a little guitar magic…
The idea behind Tin-Tone’s “sonic fascinators” is an extension of the movement in the 20s to get guitars to sound louder, as well as the resourcefulness of the even earlier cigar box guitar builders. It’s the idea to build very basic guitars with a raw, earthy, bluesy sound that also fits in perfectly with the recent fascination with the Ukulele. Like the Uke, Tin Tone guitars usually have four strings and are made too be played with an open tuning that makes them perfect for bottleneck style play.
Jon usually works on four guitars at a time. You see, as he had to explain to me after the very long night I’d had, a table usually has four legs, and table legs are, apart from the beautiful re-assigned antique tins, the main ingredient in his creations. To these he adds some lovely personal touches that sometimes only become apparent when you take a deeper look, like the hidden flower in the photo below…
When you talk to Jon about his guitars you can tell how much he enjoys his work, and how much passion he puts into his instruments. And guitar players around the world seem to appreciate it. So far artists as diverse as Seasick Steve, Sonic Youth, Heavy Trash and Dodgy own one, and recently even Roger Glover came by to pick one up.
And it doesn’t stop there. Jon is happy to work on any instrument as long as it fascinates him. He showed me a zither someone brought him recently, and that he is currently working on putting back together, and his grandad’s old 1920 Gretsch Banjolele he’s fixing up as a family heirloom. Jon is more than happy for anyone to bring around obscure string instruments to use as a basis for future work.
I really recommend you go and pop into his workshop at 91 Stoke Newington Church Street yourself to have a chat and a look around, and maybe pick one up for yourself. Acoustic Tin-Tones start at £150, and electric models start from £200. I certainly want one!
All photos by Ben Hopper (http://THEREALBenHopper.com). Many thanks to Jon and Ben for meeting me!