“LULU – a free spirit, irresistibly seductive, curious and easily excited. She breathes the 1920’s style light, joyous soul with a touch of the early 1960’s danger of rock music, with her lips skillfully painted in just the right, inappropriate shade of red.”
Those were the first words Antti Pesonen approached me with, regarding this very special project. Lulu… Yes, this one became one of my favourite projects of all time, but also one of the most challenging ones ever. When Antti shared his first ideas about this guitar with me, I knew already then it will be a memorable and fascinating journey. You see, this was not the first time. We’ve built a Duke for Antti many years ago. He named the guitar ‘Lilith‘ – and ‘Lulu’ was to become her little sister.
In addition to the intriguing poetic introduction, Antti also handed over a list of features the guitar had to have. In a nutshell: a lightweight cherry red (a very specific cherry shade, I might add) Unicorn Artisan with a Bigsby trem, three pickups, locking tuners and stainless steel frets. The wiring was to include the StellarTone ToneStyler eleven position tone control, Jimmy Page style 6-way pickup selector and a push/pull blower switch for bridge pickup. A plethora of exciting details..!
Antti had a vague idea about an Art Deco style inlay: A rose on 5th fret – woman’s lips on 12th fret and the name ‘Lulu’ at the end of fretboard. And then we started brainstorming (the most fun part!)… We bounced different inlay ideas back and forth, and then one of us (can’t remember who!) spotted an old artwork called ‘Ivy’ by Alfons Mucha. Antti liked the composition of this painting a lot – but we both agreed that Lulu didn’t quite look like the woman depicted in ‘Ivy’. So off we went, looking for Lulu’s spirit – and after many candidates I stumbled upon a black and white photograph of Brigitte Bardot. A perfect pose for our composition… and yes, it was easy for Antti and me to imagine Brigitte’s lips painted in that “inappropriate red” Antti had earlier described to me.
If someone would have suggested me an inlay project of such level of precision two years earlier, I would have had no other option than to turn the proposition down. Why? This inlay has an overwhelming amount of engraved details, which require superpowers not familiar to more than a handful of inlay artists world wide. Two years earlier I wouldn’t have simply had the skills to deliver such an inlay. But now the situation had miraculously changed. I had coincidentally had the rare opportunity to take a course learning engraved inlay techniques from the very best – William “Grit” Laskin from Canada is the number one shining star in the art of engraved inlay, and one of my personal superheroes among guitar makers of all time.
While the build process of the guitar was progressing in Tomi Nivala’s skillful hands, I continued composing the inlay design – and realized that I was in fact drawing such intricate details, that I had no idea if my novice, newly learned skills of engraved inlay would be sufficient to pull this through…
I ended up using the ‘Ivy’ artwork as the “backdrop” to the main theme – Lulu’s face and the red rose resting on her chest. I framed the scene with Art Nouveau -style ornaments cut out of padauk wood, and drew the ‘Lulu’ text inspired by a classic Art Deco era all-capital typeface.
Later on, when it was time to do the actual engraving, I started from the easier parts and left the most challenging details the last. I thought I would get a nice warmup this way, and be more confident when it was time to engrave those challenging bits. And then, eventually, countless of engraving hours later… when there was nothing more than the facial details left, I heard all of a sudden a voice (Grit’s voice, I might add) inside my head, saying: “Always do the face first, my young padawan”… And I also remembered why Grit had advised so. The face defines the whole artwork. If the face doesn’t look right, it spoils the whole thing! So best to start with that. If you fail, you can always replace that bit of inlay and start again. But if you’ve already engraved the whole thing and do the face last, it means you’ll lose all the engraving (if not the whole inlay) if you screw up the face…
S**t…!!! Remembering Grit’s advise raised my blood pressure to a whole new level. And that’s not exactly a good thing when engraving… you know, sweating, hands trembling… I was literally terrified!
Luckily my Jedi Master was with me in spirits, and guided me through making Lulu look like herself, a beautiful human being, instead of a zombie character from The Living Dead….
The rest of the guitar turned out very cool as well. It is as lightweight as can be, and provides such a versatile array of tones that it’s in fact quite overwhelming! Aesthetically speaking, the inlay is the crown jewel for sure, but the whole instrument did come out in a beautifully balanced way – yet slightly flamboyant and shameless… Just like Antti and I pictured it to be!
Running out of words – but luckily pictures tell more than thousand words – hope you enjoy the photo gallery!