Meet the engineer turned artist crafting art guitars to celebrate rock legends like Jimi Hendrix, Buddy Holly and The Big Bopper

Johnny Young worked his whole life as an engineer, until one day he didn’t and he made art guitars.

He was only 50 when he was told he needed a heart bypass. So with wife Alyson, they sold the Sheffield business they’d built and took a celebratory trip to start their retirement.

But walking through Harrods, he saw a lamp in the shape of a guitar. So he went home, and built a creation of his own, and it turned out looking quite smart.

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Now, at his studio in Van Dyk Village near Clowne, he carves art guitars, featuring murals of rock legends in eclectic style, or lit up in vibrant colours with fibre optic strings.

Artist John Young with some of his art work and guitars decorated to celebrate Salvador Dali and Jimi Hendrix. Picture Bruce Rollinson

It’s quite a turnaround, said the grandfather-of-five, from the life he always imagined.

Mr Young, now 69, said: “I didn’t get up one day and say ‘I’m going to make guitars look artistic and sell them for big bucks’. It would have been a great big failure.

“You’ve got to have a passion. Every day I’m grateful,” he added. “It’s an absolute joy to do what I do and see the finished artwork. It’s just a pleasure doing things.

“I never thought I’d end up an artist.”

Artist John Young with some of his art work and guitars decorated to celebrate Prince, Jim Hendrix and Salvador Dali. Picture Bruce Rollinson

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Engineer

Raised in Sheffield, Mr Young had worked as an engineer for 35 years in the family business he ran with wife Alyson.

The plan had always been to work towards retirement and travel, but the health scare, to someone who had always been quite fit, came as an eye-opener.

Ferrari inspired car shaped guitar. Artist John Young with some of his art work and guitars decorated to celebrate Prince, Jim Hendrix and Salvador Dali. Picture Bruce Rollinson

He said: “All my life I was an engineer. All the certification, the delicate equipment needed, so that something can sit on a seabed and get oil from the ground. That’s what I did.

“I’d always been a fit guy, and they fixed it. But I thought to myself what happens here? I didn’t want to be in this pressured business. We sat down and I said ‘I’ve had enough’.”

After that fateful trip to Harrods, Mr Young asked his joiner son for some space in his factory, and he carved out his first guitar.

There was a photograph that stuck in his mind, of The Who’s Peter Townshend smashing his guitar on stage at Monterey in 1967.

Artist John Young with some of his art work and a guitar decorated to celebrate Salvador Dali . Picture Bruce Rollinson

So he wrote to the photographer, Henry Diltz, who said he could use it. Fibre optic strings completed the look.

Art guitars

Then onwards, to more liberal styles, with Prince’s Yellow Cloud guitar, one on Jimi Hendrix, one featuring Salvador Dali, and finally, travelling in the States with a friend to make a movie on the Big Bopper, one he presented to Buddy Holly’s niece.

“The guitars I make are not to use,” he said. “They’re artwork guitars. I put my take on a particular guitar. I like to create my own thing. Make my own guitars from scratch.

“It just gives another dimension to life. A chance to be someone else maybe. The kids take the mickey out of me all the time. My son is my biggest critic.

“I just enjoy it. I love doing what I do, it’s a passion. If I see things, it comes into my head.”

A lifelong photographer, Mr Young was watching a television show in the States when he saw a piece on Jackson Pollock and thought: “I can throw paint at pictures”.

The show was Big Art Big Skies, with art critic and historian Waldemar Januszczak, and ever since he has also progressed with artworks from his own photographs. He said: “I always take photographs of everything. From the guitars came the artwork.”

Visit johnyoungartworks.com.

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