Here are some phases of my life which made me a happy craftsman!
Hammer and nails
I made my first drums in the third or fourth grade of elementary school, as my ‘own project’ during the woodworking class. I nailed ordinary boards together, forming rectangular boxes without a bottom. Then, I used thumbtacks to pin suitably hard pieces of cardboard to them, to work as the drumheads. As far as I can remember, there were three different sizes of drums and the drumsticks were whittled from birch. At home, I set up this kit into a closet and the first striking rhythm I learned was the snazzy drum track for the song ‘Chirpy chirpy cheep cheep’. After that nothing has sounded so great. As the cardboard drumheads quickly wore out, I also added traditional kettle lids into the set, along with the “hi-hats” cut out of cans.
Around those times I noticed a bright red electric guitar on display at a local music store. In a small boy’s eyes it looked incredibly fine in the lights, and I had never seen anything like that before. Instruments and the world of music started to attract me and I recorded the hits of the day from the radio with a small battery-operated Dux cassette recorder. There were hours and hours of music in my big brother’s fine reel-to-reel tape recorder and I also invested in real headphones. Then I properly realized the meaning of stereo image and heard things in the music, which were “almost inaudible while listening in mono.”
There was a training room for bands in the downstairs of an old elementary school and I sneaked behind the windows to listen and peep in what the big boys were up to. The drums interested me so much that I had to get real ones myself. I got the money from somewhere and with the kind additional help of my mother, I bought my first Lefima set from a guy that I knew, for the price of 150 mk (about 25 euros). It consisted of a snare drum, a small tom-tom and a calf-skinned bass drum, one cymbal and a hi-hat with its stand. What a lucky day, I’d got real drums! We started to practise drum rhythms immediately and the ensemble with Timo Lehto got some kick into it. Until then we had been playing Status Quo, Black Sabbath and Hendrix in the washroom of the Lehtos’ sauna. Timo had an acoustic guitar with a razorblade-looking microphone inside of it, and it was attached to a tube radio. Man, what a great sound! I, on the other hand, had already destroyed a few washbowls with the ‘drum sticks’ I snatched from the wood shed.
The attraction of my interest in playing is well-reflected by the fact that I built a box on my bike rack, where I could fit the whole Lefima set and then regularly cycled to the training sessions on the other side of the town. The worn-out pearl surface of the Lefimas didn’t quite seem to fit the spirit of the times, so I took them to pieces and covered the kit with matt black adhesive film. I think I succeeded quite well and the set looked stylish.
Our band activities developed and the Lefimas became hopelessly insufficient. In addition, the lack of a floor tom was a rather big drawback, when thinking of drum fills and tom beats. I found used black-and-red Yamahas in the music store, so now I had a good set: a 14″ snare drum, a 12″ tom and a 14″ floor tom, as well as a 20″ bass drum. We used them in our first gigs – the year was 1974 and I was 13 years old.
After the Yamahas I got used Premiers (the same sizes), which I had been craving for a long time. Soon afterwards I suddenly found another set of Premiers of the same kind, and I bought it at a really good price. Even the floor tom was 16″. Now I had my first double bass set and I also managed to get an additional 8″ tom. I added bongos to the set and then I was able to play great prog-style drum fills! I had always been a huge fan of Carl Palmer of ELP, so there had to be lots of drums. I recoated this set with white adhesive film and it looked pretty good. After the Premiers I had a second-hand Ludwig set with Black Oyster finish. It had the first 22″ bass drum and two mounted toms; I think the snare drum was an Acrolite. Our daily rehearsals were pretty much based on things adopted from different albums. In addition to this, the gigs were usually very instructive, as we all know.
Playing in the band had become the number one thing in my life and each one of us had ambitious goals. Now the time had become for the first new set of drums. And for what kind! I still get shivers thinking of my coup in those days. The local music store ordered the biggest Tama double kit, a platinum-covered Imperialstar Saturn 12+1 set with concert toms. There were ten toms: 6″ – 18″ and two 22″ bass drums, as well as a great-looking King Beat steel snare. The cymbals were all by Paiste (Formula 602 and 2002). I will be forever grateful to my late mother, as without her I would never have been able to pay for the set.
At the time, our show included a drum solo, in which I played melodies with the precisely-tuned concert toms. I even got an honorable mention for that in a youth event band contest. Years later I also fulfilled one of my dreams and performed a part of Finlandia (composed by Sibelius) with two percussionists using tuned concert toms in the Independence Day gala! I have to say that later on my playing style has changed into being considerably scantier and the same has happened to the set, too!
At some point I had had enough of concert toms. For example, I often had problems in fitting the set into the van, for obvious reasons. MS-Audiotron in Helsinki had a seven-piece Remo Rototom set, and I was able to switch the concert toms to Rototoms. Their easy and fast tunability provided new things to my drum solos. They also fit into a smaller place and they looked pretty cool with the two Tama kicks. All this happened in the late 1970s…
Becoming a craftsman
Starting a family in 1980 cooled down the band activities and gigging. I changed the drums to a new Saito’s marimba and I also bought better stringed instruments: an acoustic guitar, an acoustic bass and a mandolin. I started to practise Finnish and Irish folk music and soon we had an active band in which I played the mandolin and bass. We lived in the country and had a small farm. At its best, we also had six milking she-goats. I went and milked them every morning and evening! I turned one of the rooms in our house into my workshop and I started to do joinery; toys, furniture and simple instruments. The banjo player of our band moved to Kaustinen to study how to make instruments and I also got more interested in making instruments myself. I made my first 5-string traditional Finnish harps (kantele), tuned old drums and, at the same time, started to think about the processes of making drums.
We moved to Iittala in 1984, to a former school of Kutila, where I set up my company called Soitinverstas Kunikunda (“Instrument Workshop Kunikunda”). I found the name Kunikunda in Kustaa Vilkuna’s book “First names”, where it existed in a form “Kunigunda”. Later I noticed that there was also a prince or a princess Kunikunda in Topelius’s fairy tales, or was it also called Kunigunda? I was looking for a name that would suit an instrument and would be “me”. I acquired better woodworking machines, and sawdust and chips started to fly. I worked as a subcontractor for Aarikka and manually turned big and small wooden cups on a lathe. We also used a semi-automatic lathe to make lamp parts for a domestic lighting factory. At the same time, I made small traditional Finnish harps and studied independently how to make other acoustical instruments, as well as how to repair and maintain them. I acquired knowledge by consulting various sources related to the field and, of course, sought advice from the experts. In addition to this all, my father – who worked as the organ recorder at the Kangasala organ factory and as a piano tuner – began to teach me piano tuning and their maintenance. We bought old pianos and grand pianos, and dismantled and repaired them to be sold away.
At some point, I had bought an old set of Yamaha drums so I was able to revive my drumming skills, for I hadn’t had a drum set for some years. This set wasn’t very good and I wanted to have a better sound. Then the idea of manufacturing the first real, round drums gained ground. I used a traditional bending technique, where a sheet of plywood (about 4 mm) is bent to a flush with reinforcement in the seam. Furthermore, the reinforcing hoops are necessary in this structure to maintain the roundness of the drum. This technique provides excellent drums, but the wall thickness of the drum cannot be changed. In other words, it is always of the same thickness as the plywood sheet used. I made some sets and snare drums, but the difficulty of the job kept my brains busy. I kept thinking how to make drum shells better and more easily.
In 1986 we moved to Olympiakatu in Hämeenlinna, to the house which we are still living in. This massive stone house was completed around 1960 to be a commercial building and it has also provided premises for a day-care center. In the beginning, there were two families living in the house and my instrument workshop occupied half of the middle storey. There I made, fixed and maintained guitars, basses, mandolins, traditional Finnish harps (kantele), traditional Finnish bowed lyres (jouhikko) and drums. Tuning and repairing pianos was also a part of my line of business. For a couple of years, we even sold new pianos.
In the early 1990s, I started to solve the mystery of how to use molds while making drums. It was impossible to obtain information on making drums, as even the engineers of the VTT (Technical Research Center of Finland) didn’t seem to have the slightest idea of the issue. Piece by piece, and also by trial and error, everything started to click into place. At that time, I played drums in several bands so I was able to test the self-made Kunikunda drums in real acton, and also in the studio. I also played the mandolin and bass in an Irish band, which was gigging actively.
In 1994 I made an appearance on Finnish television in a TV-program called “Soitinrakentaja” (Maker of Instruments). It was followed by a few programs I made for Opetusohjelmat (Educational programs) where I demonstrated the making of instruments together with schoolchildren.
Due to the lack of time, the number of bands I gigged with reduced to only one. On the other hand, I was involved in playing in many musicals at Hämeenlinna Town Theater, as well as in summer theaters. The job of a theater musician is very comfortable, especially the working hours, if compared to eg. playing in a “normal” dance band. I have to take my hat off to them.
The product development proceeded, slowly but surely. In the mid-90s we redeemed the house completely to ourselves and I got the possibility to extend the production premises significantly. There was a need for new machines, but there simply were no machines available for making drums. Since then, I have had to plan and make all the machines myself. The making of the first decent drum molds was a big investment, and the molds for hoops were also made at the same time. Our processes had already become established at the end of the 1990s and the name of the drums was changed to an apt name Kumu. The name contains both the booming sound of the drums and it also tastes good. Additionally, the shortness of the name is a big advantage when thinking of the www-address.
Teemu Järvinen, who had studied at the Ikaalinen College of Crafts and Design, came to do his practical training in 2001, and after his graduation in 2002 he continued with making and repairing stringed instruments. I wouldn’t have had time to do it anymore, so I was able to concentrate completely on making drums. Teemu’s own company, Finlandia Instruments, also operates in the premises of Olympiakatu.
In the 2000s, an increasing number of Kumu drums have been born annually, the right recipe for the “Kumu sound” has been found and both the clients and the engineers have been satisfied. We have already attended the Frankfurt Music Fair four times, having our own stand, and the feedback has been really flattering. There is clearly a strong demand for top-notch handmade drums in the world, but I still keep my feet on the ground. I don’t dream about having a bigger factory where efficiency is prioritized. Individual service, small series and the enjoyable pace of working suit me the best. The love for music and its power form the foundation of this work, which has grown into a way of life. It has been great to notice that there are people who appreciate these things and enable a happy life of a craftsman. Thank you all!
(Translation by Sami Huohvanainen)