The casual stroller down Stoke Newington Church Street may well find themselves intrigued by a window ledge facing the road with what appear to be biscuit tins with planks of wood sticking out of them. They may then shake their head and make a promise to quit spending so much time in the nearby Old Shillelagh pub. However a return visit will reassure them that they have not been the subject of absinthian visions, for these tins and bits of wood also have strings which enable them to make a sound that their maker Jonathan Free of Tin-Tone proudly describes as an 'uncontrollable noise'. LISTEN HERE tin-tone demo
Jon has been working as a guitar repairer for years but only turned to making custom guitars a year or so ago when, stuck for a present for a friend, he made good use of some discarded table legs thrown outside his house. He had the idea of making a cigar box guitar as favoured by blues musicians of yore such as Eddie 'one string' Jones. However as he quickly discovered, it wasn't so simple. "The English don't really smoke cigars, they prefer to drink tea and biscuits, both of which traditionally were supplied in tins." The antique tins are sourced from collectors' shops, relatives' houses and online auctions. Each one is different and leads to another design idea. Jon picks one up to show us - a must for any hard core rocker as it has 'Dangerous Drugs' written on the vintage tin.
Since then he has concentrated on perfecting his art using the tricks that every guitar repairman has, but also tries to use as many recyclable bits as as he can in his 'sonic fascinators', as Jon says, Oliver Postgate is mentor to his approach of re-using everyday objects. These include old British Pennies, wardrobe rail fittings, suitcases, and the hardwood; he buys only the tuners new. "I want them to look like they were made 100 years ago'" says Jon, "also, I hate throwing things away that work perfectly well." Even his slides are handmade from glass bottle-necks which Jon spends hours smoothing down.
His workshop is a tiny front room, and there's a look of co-ordinated clutter; it's a space of on-going projects, battered tins, a broken double bass in the corner and, of course, the lovely window display of the current stock on offer. Jon explains he has stashes of bits in other spaces, for instance in the coalbunker where he also tests out some of his riskier carpentry skills on the table legs!
Jon became interested in dismantling and rebuilding guitars at an early age when his uncle gave him his battered guitar as a gift. Jon fixed it up and amazingly it is still used today by his old friend Tom Collinan of Th' Faith Healers. Jon himself played guitar in the band Penthouse who disbanded a few years ago. This brought Jon back to tinkering with guitars for a living. He still gets on stage from time to time with Gin Palace, Hackney's foremost hard drivin' Rock and Roll band. At present they are not so active, as his wife is then singer and they have a six-week old baby.
At present he makes one guitar a week, although if pressed can put one together in a matter of hours. The popularity of the guitars means that as soon as he makes one they tend to sell. Jon has also made guitars for a host of musicians including Matt Verta-Ray and Jon Spencer of Heavy Trash, and Lee Renaldo of Sonic Youth, his first with a magnetic steel pick up.
"The best way to approach playing them is just to go your own way..." says Jon, "You can just pick them up and instantly amuse yourself, it's a really amazing thing to do. I think that's the way forward, and that's my main motivation for making them, I suppose."
Find out more at www.tin-tone.com