Matchstick guitar

In Victorian times matchsticks were used as a sort of wooden Lego. Using small pieces as building blocks elaborate structures can be assembled, without the need for specialised woodworking tools. Using this technique Englishman Jack Hall make a guitar, mandolins, ukulele, banjo and other instruments out of matchsticks. The acoustic guitar, made in 1937, used 25,000 matchsticks.

The whole thing started in the late 1930s when Jack was working as a deck hand on a steamer. During his spare time he collected used matches from the other sailors and began to make his first instrument, a violin. He used carpenter's glue to form two ply sheets of matches, laid at right angles to each other. Jack formed the curved backs of some of the instruments by bending the individual matchsticks or using improvised weights. Decorative touches were added by aligning the burnt ends with each other.

Final carving was done using knives, files and cut-throat razors, before a finish of varnish was applied. The achievement was made all the more remarkable by the fact that Jack was not a musician and had to work from pencil sketches made during shore leave.

At the end of world war II, Jack left the merchant navy and the instruments remained in storage until 1976, still untouched and un-played by a musician. A local reporter, in Jack's home town of Brighton, heard about the collection. This guy could play a few instruments and out of curiosity went to interview Jack and see whether he could actually play them. Not only did the banjo, the mandolins, and the guitar play well, the sound was fantastic. Since then they have featured on TV programs where a quintet of musicians have performed using only the matchstick instruments.

Although Jack has sadly died, his instruments continue to be displayed for the public and played at music venues, festivals, and museums.

Click here for Tony Hall's matchstick-music Flickr photos of Jack Hall and his instruments, including a video of Glen Campbell playing one of the guitars for Ripley's Believe It or Not.

Youtube footage of the matchstick instruments:

article type: