Wednesday 08 May 2019 – Lunchtime Seminar with Professor Paul Atkinson (Design & Design History) and Professor Virginia Heath (Film)

Title: Hairy Guys in Sheds / Three Chords and the Truth (with ‘work in progress’ film screening and live performance)
Speakers: Professor Paul Atkinson and Professor Virginia Heath


Emerging as a side project from research into a book on the design history of electric guitars, Hairy Guys in Sheds is the title of an article written by Paul Atkinson looking at the phenomenon of the cigar box guitar and the DIY revolution that has accompanied its uptake in the UK. A series of in-depth, semi-structured interviews were used to piece together the history and current state of the cigar box guitar movement. The article describes the design and making processes used, and explores the makers’ motivations for being involved. It is a  particular form of DIY which entails many people (mainly hairy guys) working in isolation in sheds across the country to create their own instruments out of recycled scrap and upcycled components. The instruments and the resulting maker’s music are then shared among virtual communities of practice through extensive use of social media, and among real communities of players and audiences through public performance at concerts and festivals. This raises questions about their self-identity and their perceptions of themselves as being either amateur or professional as makers and players.

As a woman film director, in Three Chords and the Truth, Virginia Heath turns her female gaze on the male world of ‘hairy guys in sheds’, the cigar box guitar makers and players who create a sense of self-identity though making unique instruments from recycled materials. The contemporary UK scene, inspired by American precedents, is largely embedded in northern post-industrial towns. After factory and mine closures, makers like the ex-miner from Barnsley, have finally been able to pursue the creative path they always longed for. As a filmmaker, Heath is intrigued by the way in which the guitar makers see their DIY movement as part of a wider resistance against the way in which our culture has become so mass produced and standardised. There’s an interesting dichotomy between the simplicity and authenticity of hand-made instruments and the use of the internet to exchange ideas and grow the global movement.

The seminar will discuss the quite different methodologies and the approach taken to the research for the article compared with the approach to producing the film and discuss the nature of the collaboration involved.

As part of the seminar, we will be screening as ‘work in progress’ the new film directed by Virginia Heath and written by Paul Atkinson: Three Chords and the Truth. And Paul will be performing live on his cigar box guitar!


Paul Atkinson is Professor of Design and Design History in the Art and Design Research Centre at Sheffield Hallam University. He is the author of various books and articles that have explored the design history of the computer, the design history of the electric guitar, the relationship between amateur and professional design practice and the history of the DIY and Maker Movements.

Virginia Heath is Professor of Film in the Art and Design Research Centre at Sheffield Hallam University. She is a multi-award winning writer/director with New Zealand and UK nationality. She directs documentary and drama films including the acclaimed, BAFTA nominated, From Scotland With Love and Berlinale award winning Relativity.

1.00PM – 2.00PM