Take a hunk of wood and an empty Coke can and what do you have? Most people would say a hunk of wood and an empty Coke can.
Gary Hewett plays a "can joe," a
one-stringed instrument he makes. The can joe is crated out of a piece of wood, a soft drink can and a guitar string.
Photo by Jim Blaylock
But for Harlem resident Kenneth Hewett, take the wood and the can throw in a string and you've got yourself a canjoe.
"My wife and daughter were looking for something to make for Bible school at our church and I saw this little canjoe thing in a woodworking magazine and I thought it would be perfect," said Hewett, 65, who is retired from the military and Augusta State Medical Prison.
In essence, a canjoe is a homemade string instrument made from a 27-inch strip of wood with an empty soda can, with the top cut out, nailed to the wood. Then a single string is threaded from the top of the wood through the can. Hewett also installs frets and a tuner screw.
"An 81-year-old man from North Carolina came up with the idea and I thought they would make great Christmas presents for children, especially ones interested in music," Hewett said. "I got a hold to him, told him want I wanted to do and he gave me his blessing. So, my plan is to make some to give to the kids at church during the Christmas supper."
Hewett, who attends Antioch Baptist Church in Harlem, either completes the work himself and gives out a fully assembled canjoe, or he creates a kit, including directions, and allows the children to put them together themselves.
He also numbers the frets and gives children songbooks with numbers in the place of notes making it easier for a child to play. The songbook consists of 19 classics including Jingle Bells, Oh Susannah, Tom Dooley" and Three Blind Mice.
Kenneth isn't the only one in the Hewett household adept at creating handmade presents. His wife, Ann, also makes special Christmas gifts.
"She uses several strands of thread, some ribbon and some hot glue to make angels," Hewett said. "What she'll do is glue a safety pin on it and give them away to women in her missionary group and women she volunteers with at the Fort Gordon Thrift Shop as lapel pins."
Hewett, who also makes dulcimers out of hollow-core wood doors, hopes to expand his canjoe gift giving beyond the confines of his church.
"I'd like to try and get these into elementary schools," he said. "There is a such a sense of joy kids get out of getting one of these kits and going home to their parents and say, 'Look. I put this together."'
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