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Jouhikko

This has to be one of the most mysterious instruments I’ve come across. A medieval instrument that nearly disappeared, only a few players existed a hundred years ago but luckily it has made a bit of a comeback in recent decades. Belonging to the family of bowed lyres (like the crwth in Wales) it was once common all over Europe, but with the exception this north-eastern corner, has given way to other instruments. They were usually used for playing “dance music” and improvisation was a big part of the repertoire.

Feodor Pratšu © Museovirasto

Feodor Pratšu © Museovirasto

The construction looks pretty simple at first. It’s just an alder body with a soundboard made of spruce. But then you realize that it really is that simple, there is no separate neck nor headstock, it’s all in one piece. And that means the body has to carefully be gouged out to a very specific thickness without going to far. After the body is hollow you do the cutouts to the neck and drill the holes for the pegs. At this stage you also round off the other end and add the other shapes you wanted to include.

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Next up is the soundboard, which of course is made out of a solid piece of spruce. It needs to be roughly cut out to shape and thinned down to 3 mm, after which I chop it to the exact length and add the f-holes (in this case c-holes, I suppose).

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Once that is done, you glue on the bass-bar and let it dry. Then you have to fit the body and the soundboard together and move on to make all the other bits and pieces.

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The missing parts are the pegs, bridge and tailpiece, all made from maple. Being such a strong wood stops them from braking under pressure, but makes them more difficult to make.

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You also need a sound post, a small pin connecting the front to the back of the instrument. A very tricky part to install.

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The bow is made from rowan, very elastic and fairly easy to bend into shape. The bow also needs a fair amount of horsehair to be stretched from one end to the other.

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Lastly the Jouhikko needs to get a finish that protects it against humidity and why not make it pretty at the same time. For this one I first applied boiled linseed oil, waited 24 hours for it to be absorbed far into the grain, and then gave it a good wipe off. After that I stained it with a darkish brown tint and finally applied wax to give it a slight sheen.

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