Nelson man, John Dixon, with one of his slide guitars, made out of an old ceiling fan. John makes his guitars out of hub caps and cigar boxes as well. Photo: Andrew Board.

Hub cap guitars a hit with music fans

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A Nelson man has found the coolest way to make “the world’s coolest music” come to life – through old hub caps and cigar boxes.

John Dixon has always loved listening to blues music, and about 20 years ago he learnt how to play the slide guitar, central to many of the blues’ best songs. Six months ago he took passion to the next level when he started making his own slide guitars out of hub caps and cigar boxes, and their unique look and sound has captured audiences around the world.

John says his new hobby started when he was at a friend’s house and they were looking at someone playing a hub cap slide guitar on You Tube. His friend said “we could do that”, and challenged John to give it a go. “The rest is history really. I started to get all sorts of different hub caps and you can tune them up the same but they all sound a little different.”

John makes his slide guitars out of old hub caps, cigar boxes and even old ceiling fans, most of which are either given to John from mates or he sources from the recycle centre. He adds wood for the neck and adds bits of “bling” from old food processors, cutlery, hinges and keys, before adding the strings and tuning them up.

“I can get a piece of old wood, cut it out and sand it down and put it together, chuck some strings on it, twang it up and have a play. People say ‘I’ve never seen anything like it’ and they get pretty excited about it,” he says.

John has made around 30 of the guitars and given most away, but has recently started selling them at markets and Begg’s Musicworks. He says he’d love to make a “wee business” out of it for himself but is content to make them for pleasure at the moment.

He says the slide guitar has a deep history in blues music and that the cigar box guitars were made around the 1920s by those who couldn’t afford a real guitar. “I love slide guitars, it’s a passion of mine. I’ve seen a lot of the blues players. I lived in Australia for 12 years and I’d go and see a lot of them. And seeing these guys started the passion in me. I always loved my music, and about 20 years I decided ‘bugger it, I’m going to buy a guitar’.”

John’s guitars have sold around Nelson, but also overseas from people visiting here and sending videos of John playing back to friends and family. He’s also been invited by the band Boulder Bank to join them on stage every Friday night at the Honest Lawyer to play his guitars. “I really enjoy it and I’ve had lots of comments.”