You would think someone who spends every waking minute building guitars would be able to play the instrument.
Not Eric Shepherd.
The Oamaru man has spent the past six years creating cigar box guitars, but is still none the wiser how to play.
“There’s a list of names on the wall of people to make for – and my name’s on that list, but I haven’t got to it yet,” Mr Shepherd said.
His passion for blues music and making things led him to start building the guitars, and he had even made one for Chicago blues musician Steve Arvey.
His latest creation – under his brand Stinking Fish Guitars – would be used by Christchurch musician Ryan Neville at this weekend’s Harbour Street Jazz and Blues Festival.
The mellow tone produced by the guitar was beautiful, and it was different from anything he had made before, Mr Shepherd said.
“If you’re a factory and you’re churning them out, you know how each one’s going to sound. But if you make every one different … you never know what it’s going to sound like until you plug it in and strum it. You might get a sound that you had no idea was going to come out.”
Making the guitars by hand was a slow process – and he spent a long time thinking of the concepts to make something different each time.
A silver fern was moulded into the guitar’s headstock to represent Mr Shepherd’s pride in being a New Zealander.
Seeing his guitars used live, and hearing their different tones, filled him with pride every time.
“I can’t play – I don’t know how to – [but] I get a lot of satisfaction from watching somebody else play and an audience enjoying the playing. I can stand there and watch those two things happening and I get a lot of pleasure from that, plus I just like making things.”
Six years ago he decided to make a cigar box guitar as a present for a friend, and admitted it turned out to be “rubbish”.
“I thought ‘I can do better than that’. So I just made another one, and thought, ‘that’s OK, but I can do better than that’ and it just kept going. I look at each one thinking ‘yep, I can do better’ – it’s just become a passion.”
The origin of cigar box guitars can be traced back to 1840. There had been a big resurgence in the United States in recent years, but they were not so well known in New Zealand. Mr Shepherd was determined to raise their profile.