The Stones and The Who are clients of this Finnish guitar builder
Kari Nieminen built his first guitar at age 12 and got his first order at 17. Knowing Finland wasn’t big enough he shifted his focus to the international market, successfully. His guitars are now wielded by Rock ‘n roll hall of famers The Rollings Stones, The Who and ZZ Top among others.
the craftsman was raised in the northern Finnish city of Oulu and started carving out wood at the age of three. His early interest in dead trees lead him to a studies in industrial design, while remaining a self-taught guitar builder. His final project was an experimental series of six acoustic steel-string flat top guitars which secured him a degree from the University of Art and Design in Helsinki in 1989.
In 1994 he founded his guitar company Versoul, located in a northern part of Helsinki. A year after that he went to his first National Association for Music Merchants convention, where he impressed Westwood Music in Los Angeles who gave him a deal to stock his guitars. That’s were Versoul took off, ‘cause in the Westwood guitar shop none other than The Who frontman Roger Daltrey picked up one of his guitars and really liked it. “He was a big fan of my sound. He called up people in the industry and said, ‘You have to try these’”, tells Nieminen in an interview with Finland.fi.
Daltrey went out on a limp and even helped put Nieminen in contact with the Rolling Stones and their renowned guitar technician Alan Rogan. Rolling Stones’ notorious axeman Ronnie Wood is now one of Nieminen’s most famous customers and owns about ten Versoul instruments. Later ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons also bought one of his guitars: the Blue Light Special. The inspiration for that one came to the Fin on an intercontinental flight where Nieminen thought up a guitar featuring a blue light that glows when the guitar is amplified. Gibbons saw photos of the Blue Light Special and quickly ordered one for his collection.
Kari has already been building guitars for over thirty years now. For him it’s about the music, that’s what inspires him. But what separates his guitars from other six-strings, is his experimentation with different materials such as fibreglass, which give the instruments their unique, soulful sound. He also uses different types of wood because wood species like rosewood and mahogany are becoming more scarce. Versoul builds instruments using local, ecological wood choices, such as aspen, European alder and maple, all found in his ‘backyard’ in Finland. He also tries to incorporate his Finnish roots in his work. Nieminen’s shamanic designs, featured on some of his guitars, are inspired by Finnish cave paintings.
Nieminen now has over 20 production models ranging from classical acoustic guitars to electric rock ‘n roll beasts to bass guitars. His products are now found in shops from America to Europe and Japan.