Defence of Sampo

I built this one in 2003-2004, and during the following years the studio shots of it have spread all over the internet to hundreds of forums, wallpaper sites and what not. The guitar has traveled around the world in various guitar exhibitions. It’s been featured in at least three different coffee table guitar books and it’s been the cover girl of an American wall calendar featuring legendary guitars by the iconic brands. So this guitar kinda grew larger than life, and needless to say I’m honoured of all the attention it has gathered over the years. I feared all the build photos of this guitar were lost, but recently we were able to recover some of them from an old disk, and Emma did the best she could to put this page together using those tiny old digital photos and remainders of our old website. This is a very special guitar with a cool story to it, so I’m really happy we can now show it to you again.

The Finnish national epic ‘Kalevala’ was compiled and edited by Elias Lönnrot in the 1830s and 1840s on basis of the epic folk poems he had collected in Finland and Karelia. This mythic, but also political and religious collection of heroic poetry has inspired artists and writers all over the world – J.R.R. Tolkien, Eino Leino and Akseli Gallen-Kallela to name a few.

The most fascinating mystery of the Kalevala epic is Sampo – the ultimate source of prosperity, a magic mill capable to produce endless supply of gold, salt and grain. In one of the most exciting chapters of the epic the Steady Old Wäinämöinen and his companions are taken into decisive battle with their arch-enemy Louhi, the evil mistress from the North, who claims to steal the Sampo from them to be used into her wicked purposes.

Wäinämöinen plays his harp made of pike jawbone – a magic musical instrument that no-one could win music from but its creator. The epic tells: “When Wäinämöinen touched the strings of his harp and sang, the very trees danced about him, wild animals lay in peace at his feet, and the hearts of men were ravished; as his listeners wept at the strains, Wäinämöinens’ tears rolled down into the ocean and transformed into shining sea-pearls.”

Finally, in the midst of the struggle with Louhi, who had bewitched herself into a giant eagle, the Sampo is broken and its fragments scattered into the ocean. Louhi leaves them, uttering dire threats; and Wäinämöinen, gathering up what fragments of the Sampo he could find, buries them where they would bring prosperity to his people.

So, back to the guitar. My client wanted me to build him a special guitar – a 7-stringed electric harp of the 21st century – celebrating the Kalevala mythology. The theme to follow was to be the Defence of Sampo, one of the most famous Kalevala related paintings by Akseli Gallen-Kallela.

The focus of the theme was to be a massive inlay on the carved top, and additional detailing included handmade bronze bridge and tuner knobs with engraved ‘Kalevala’ theme symbols. I selected the arctic birch top to resemble a storming sea the heroic battle took place at.

The materials used for the inlay include mother-of-pearl, green and red abalone heart, gold mother-of-pearl, black mother-of-pearl, arctic birch, oak, padouk, beech, ebony, bubinga, brazilian rosewood, brass, bronze and moose bone. I made the inlay in collaboration with Tomi Nivala. At that time Tomi was apprenticing for me, and hand cutting essential parts of this huge inlay job was a true trial by fire for him!