Interview: Juha Ruokangas – Project Unicorn Video Diary
Juha Ruokangas is designing a new guitar in his shop located in Finland. The difference with this particular design is that the entire process is being filmed and posted on YouTube for the entire world to see! Every step and thought process is being made public thanks to modern technology and one daring guitar builder. Episode #4 has just been posted but there is still a long way to go before the guitar is complete. The release date of this new model is some time in spring of 2009. Will he deliver the goods by his target date? Well, we can all just watch and see. In this brief interview Juha elaborates on his thoughts about this new model called Unicorn and talks about his influences for this design.
300guitars: Hi there Juha. Please tell us about your new online video diary and Project Unicorn.
Juha Ruokangas: Hey Billy. This is an extremely exciting process for me, I’m overwhelmed by receiving so much encouraging feedback, tons of email and lots of interest from all over the world!
300guitars: What inspired you to make the whole design process open to the public for the world to see?
Juha Ruokangas: Usually a guitar design process such as this one is kept low profile and pretty secret, and I came to think of that why not do it different and share the whole thing wide open since nowadays it’s technically possible even for a small builder like me. I had my doubts though, you know, it’s like taking the leap to the unknown and feels scary in many ways. I’m not used to being in front of a camera, first of all, and what if someone steals my ideas and all that… But now – after the leap – I’m 100% sure this was the right thing to do. No fear!
300guitars: Do you think this will help you or hinder your design process?
Juha Ruokangas: Beforehand I didn’t really realize that I’d get so much feedback during the process, and comments and even ideas for the design. Still, I’ve been able to focus on my intuition pure and fresh, as I always do when designing a guitar. I have to just constantly keep in mind that I’m the one with the vision of what’s to come, and I feel obliged to follow that vision regardless of what opinion there might be. It’s like composing a song – if you listen to opinions you get easily lost. It still can turn out good, but it’s not YOUR song anymore, if you know what I mean… On the other hand, the feedback does most definitely encourage me to continue and keeps the spirits high. So this is a new experience for me, and definitely a positive one!
300guitars: Will this new model you are designing be called the Unicorn?
Juha Ruokangas: Yes I believe so, I’m beginning to like the name a lot.. I’m fascinated by the Unicorn name for it’s complex mythological background – and also one could see it as implying to the single-cut bodyshape. In certain myths the touch by the horn of the Unicorn heals all diseases. There’s a certain Holy Grailish aspect to this that gives me the shivers…
300guitars: We know from watching parts 1, 2 and 3 that this guitar is partially inspired by the Les Paul. What other designs are influencing you on this model?
Juha Ruokangas: I designed my Duke model in mid 90s and that guitar was inspired by Les Paul, and visually it has some echo of the Paul Reed Smith guitar as well. Duke is however quite a unique guitar in many respects, especially concerning the wood materials. Which brings me back to your question – I would say that the new model is influenced strongly not only by the Les Paul, which was my first love of electric guitars – but also by the Duke. I still look at the Duke as a perfect modern carved top electric with a unique tone. With the new design I want to step further back to the roots, but bring in my experience with certain wood species and structural elements I’ve found to improve tone, and challenge the physics – can I improve the playability and balance of this type guitar and still maintain the retroish appearance – and still cook it all up so that one can identify it as being my true original design?
300guitars: Will you be using the same types of materials as on your other models (Duke, VSOP and Mojo)?
Juha Ruokangas: Yes I’ll continue using mostly the same types of materials as I use for the Duke as well as certain versions of the VSOP and Mojo. You’ll learn what’s and why’s by watching the diary…
300guitars: How about pickups? Do you have to wait and get a prototype built to try pickups or do you have a set in mind?
Juha Ruokangas: I’m thinking a lot already of the pickups and I have some interesting ideas. We’ll see when the process flows further… all develops hand in hand.
300guitars: What is your favorite type of music and will this influence the design?
Juha Ruokangas: I listen to wide range of music, but there are a few guitarists that have definitely influenced a lot to how I like the guitar to sound. Jeff Beck is one of my all-time favourites, and I love Jimmy Page’s tone as well. Of the younger generation I’d mention Derek Trucks, he’s absolutely awesome – and I’d love to build him a guitar one day!!! Yes my favorite music and tone is kind of “built-in” and does influence the design.
300guitars: Is there a specific weight you are aiming for with the finished guitar?
Juha Ruokangas: Yes, definitely, this is soundwise one of the crucial elements of the design. But I won’t reveal more yet.. 😉 Just keep watching the diary!
300guitars: When will this new model be available?
Juha Ruokangas: Luthiers are commonly known of their stretching schedules, but I’m aiming at 2009 spring, let’s see. The fact that all is filmed and edited real-time is quite a challenge too and slows me down a bit, but I’ve found this to be very good – I have to stop and be still in every turn, and this only improves the result.
300guitars: Thank you for taking the time for this interview. Good luck with the design. I will be watching along with the rest of the world!
Juha Ruokangas: Thank you so much Billy! I’m proud to be part of the 300guitars.com – keep up the great work!!!
Ruokangas Guitars website click here.
Ruokangas YouTube Channel click here.