Photocopier by day, luthier by night

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When Matt Sturgess tinkers in his shed, time and grief are washed away by the clouds of sawdust his work often creates.

The New Plymouth musician works as a photocopier technician by day and builds guitars and banjos after hours.

The hobby started about four years ago, after I rewired and repaired a guitar a friend had just bought from a stand in Womad, and realized he could make one out of zero.

His first guitar had a cutlery box body and four strings, and he was hooked.

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Matt Sturgess has been playing guitar and bass for nearly 50 years, ever since he got his first guitar at age 7.  He makes them too.

TAYNE CASSIDY / Stuff

Matt Sturgess has been playing guitar and bass for nearly 50 years, ever since he got his first guitar at age 7. He makes them too.

“Afterwards I didn’t stop, as soon as I finished a guitar, I start the next one.”

It’s an engrossing hobby, one he’s immersed himself in to strengthen himself in the months since the death of his wife, Leonie Whalen, who was also a musician, last August.

Her final gift to him was a tattoo on his arm, a stylized treble clef, musical notes, and a heartbeat monitor line. He sees it when he plays.

“Being in the shed is my relief. I go there and focus on work. The pain goes away, it’s my therapy.

Surgess will be at Mōkau Market with some of its wares on Saturday.

TAYNE CASSIDY / Stuff

Surgess will be at Mōkau Market with some of its wares on Saturday.

Sturgess describes himself as a handyman and has always had a shed to do things with.

Since he started making guitars, he’s built himself a bench and fitted the garage with an industrial heater and a good fan, because it’s there in all seasons.

He finds cigar boxes, lengths of wood, and other items in mining stores and dumpsters, and crafts them into musical instruments, using skills he has learned himself.

“I have been playing, repairing and mending guitars for a long time.”

He plans to turn a piece of swamp kauri he received into a slide lap steel guitar.

A drum he found sitting on the side of the road turned into two banjos.

One has a wooden roller supporting its neck – he saved it from a dumpster when the Black Harp pub was closing.

“I buy the parts I need, tuners and strings, but if I can I will. I am an upcycler,” he said.

Sturgess has been playing guitar and bass for nearly 50 years, ever since he got his first guitar at age 12.

Over the years he has played bass in various bands including Quadrophonic, Dr Woo’s Blues Band, Boxcar Brown and Candles.

Surgess only buys the parts it needs, saying

TAYNE CASSIDY / Stuff

Surgess only buys the parts it needs, saying “if I can, I will”.

His guitars are each unique. Some have names – there’s one called “Chicken Neck” and another called “Rimu Rescue”.

He sells them under the Sinjin brand, which is the Gaelic pronunciation of his middle name, St John, and on social media as String Studios.

On Saturday, he’ll spend the day at Mōkau Market, with a selection of his arty guitars for sale.

“I sit out front and play all day and people keep bringing me cups of tea and cake, it works,” he said.

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