We first met Saku Vuori at the 2017 Fuzz Show in Gothenberg, Sweden. He’d already been taking orders for his Vuorensaku brand custom guitars on Reverb for a while and insisted we come play some of his guitars while we could.
Saku builds about 10–15 guitars a year by hand in his native Finland, and playing one, you can immediately feel the passion that he puts into each and every instrument. We wanted to know more about how he got started building guitars and the future of lutherie in the internet age, so we sat down with him to get his take.
What inspired you to start building guitars?
As a school kid, I started out playing guitar. One day, I saw a DIY guitar in our crafts class and thought, “I want to try to make one myself.” A few years later, I visited an art gallery that was dedicated to wooden arts and crafts. There, I saw some awesome guitars which were made at IKATA, the College of Crafts and Design. That moment was the spark. I realised you can actually study the subject [lutherie] in Finland and even make a living from it.
As well as lutherie, IKATA teaches things like gunsmithing and glass–blowing. Did you find that the creative diversity helped you to escape from some of the cliches of guitar design?
IKATA is a very special college. Even the exams included some crossover subjects, so it was very much up to you how well you made use of all the opportunities out there. But as for learning the basics of guitar–making, it’s kind of nice to learn to make those “cliches” before you try to create something new. And because the course was only three years, there wasn’t really enough time to learn more than basics — especially considering it was covering both electric and acoustic instruments.
Finland has a strong community of luthiers. Is there a distinctive attribute that defines the Finnishness of a guitar?
Finnish standards of lutherie are very high in general — we’d say world–class — so for sure it’s a privilege to belong to that community. But in my opinion, I’d say the diversity of styles and genres is surprisingly wide. We have luthiers focusing deeply [on] clones, as well as [original] models and designs — even Maccaferri replicas, mandolins, classicals, etc. Of course, there might be some kind of Finnish touch, but I can’t see that from my point of view.
All of your current designs have a really coherent style — the unique bevel, the worn finish, etc. How did you arrive at that style? What influenced you to make those decisions?
When I started to sketch and plan my own models, I was drawing inspiration from offsets like the Jazzmaster/Jaguar, Mosrite, and Teisco. But from the beginning, it was clear to me that I shouldn’t be building copies, but rather doing something that was my own.
There was probably a bit of luck involved in inventing my own body and headstock shapes. The bevel became a trademark feature, but it’s actually optional. You don’t have to have it.
My passion for relics and worn finishing comes from my perspective on what’s beautiful. Whether it’s old cars and motorcycles, furniture, or guitars, I’ve always been excited by rusty metal, crackled lacquer, worn out paint, and dented wood. The more I delve into methods and techniques to create that beauty, the more inspired I get. Relicing is definitely a more inspiring process than just buffing a polyurethane finish!
But all that being said, I’m a custom builder, so I’ll serve up whatever the customer wants. Not all of my guitars are beat up and worn. There are a few models out there with clean finished, too.
What’s the most important element of a guitar to you?
I had to think about this for a while, but my answer is the feel. It doesn’t matter how the guitar looks, how much it costs, or how old is it. If it doesn’t feel right, if it doesn’t fit into players’ hands, if it makes your fingers or back hurt, or doesn’t inspire you to play for some other reason, it’s the wrong instrument for you.
Is there any element that you think people place too much importance on?
I feel sad when people choose their instruments and spend their money on the logo and resale price.
How important has the internet been in connecting you with people looking for custom–built guitars?
The internet is a very important tool for me. Especially as a Finnish builder, when the local markets for premium custom instruments are very limited, the internet is the way to build your own global contacts and networks, communicate, and make contact with your customers on the other side of the world.
Who is the one artist you would love to see playing one of your guitars?
Actually, one of my biggest dreams was already fulfilled when Billy Gibbons accepted and played one of my guitars last summer. But if I have to choose one more, it would be Josh Homme. I think he is one of the most stylish and inspiring characters out there — both musically and as a person.
You spent a lot of time as an apprentice builder. Then, after striking out on your own, you went back to teach lutherie part time. How important is it for you to keep passing down the tradition of hand–built instruments?
Teaching at the folk school is a nice balance to my own lutherie work. I’ve also visited music colleges, giving short courses about guitar maintenance, for example. It’s important to pass some knowledge to the next generation and keep it flowing.
How do you see the future of Vuorensaku guitars and lutherie generally looking in the next few years?
I see myself as a busy and inspired luthier in the future. My vision is to keep up this level of work. I’m producing 10–15 instruments per year and selling them for a reasonable price. That’s enough work for one man! I’m not aiming to expand my business. It’s more important to me to keep improving the quality of my guitars and the other services I offer.
In general, custom lutherie is in some kind of renaissance, I think. People are more aware of the quality of custom–built instruments and want to have it. Especially with how easy it is to order a handmade, custom instrument from the other side of the world nowadays.
Official Vuorensaku Reverb Shop