To my knowledge there is currently only one boutique maker in Finland concentrating solely on electric basses – Harjunpää Bass from the small southern town of Nurmijärvi.
Harjunpää Bass is a special case among its peers, because bass builder Jouko Harjunpää isn’t a young luthier schooled at IKATA Institute, but a middle-aged entrepreneur and bassist, who is now fulfilling a lifelong ambition. His drive comes from his love of the instrument, of Finnish wood and of creating something beautiful by hand. Harjunpää’s idiosyncratic instruments are the results of an ongoing development and refinement process, and they can be enjoyed both as musical instruments and works of art.
This review could have just as well been titled “The Sound of Birch”, because Jouko Harjunpää is a great fan of the different species and variants of Finnish birch wood. Both instruments tested – the blonde Violinbirch, as well as the dark Vikingman – have been made completely from birch, with the exception of their wenge top nuts.
The Violinbirch has been crafted in its entirety from curly birch, while the Vikingman sports a plain birch neck with a curly birch fretboard, mated to body made from birch burl and flamed birch.
As we’re talking about a one-man business, where instruments are made by hand, output is naturally limited. Jouko Harjunpää doesn’t like to apply the term ”price” to the amount of money changing hands between maker and customer. In his view the term ”starting value” would be more appropriate. The customer pays for the starting value, and then each bass value will start its own life, just like in the field of fine arts. The starting values for these basses are 2,500 euros for the Violinbirch and 3,500 euros for the Vikingman.
By pure chance both of the Harjunpääs tested are medium scale instruments (32 inches/81.3 cm), which are not all that common these days. A medium scale bass usually tends to sound similar in clarity and sustain to a long scale instrument, but the string action will feel a little more bendy, which suits some virtuosos.
Both basses feature full two-octave fretboards with expertly finished jumbo frets (Jescar 2.0).
In addition to their breathtakingly beautiful woods, and their compact bodies, both Harjunpääs have been built with Jouko Harjunpää’s special bolt-on neck joint. The Tuning Fork -joint uses a tempered steel plate, roughly shaped like a flattened tuning fork, that has been sunk into the neck’s butt end as an anchor for the joint’s six bolts. According to the maker, this steel plate makes the vibrational transfer between the neck and the body much faster than in a traditional bolt-on or set neck joint. The results are a clear and fast attack, a long sustain, and excellent string-to-string separation.
The Vikingman’s headstock is Harjunpää’s older design, based on the shape of the neck joint’s ”tuning fork”. Recently Jouko Harjunpää has come up with a very elegant and practical open headstock, which has been used for the Violinbirch model.
The machine heads are semi-open Wilkinsons.
Both basses sport top quality ABM-type bridges with lock screws for each bridge saddle.
Artesound pickups have been installed on both Harjunpää instruments:
The Violinbirch comes equipped with a Music Man-style large humbucker. The controls are passive and comprise master volume and master tone.
The Vikingman offers a pair of soapbar humbuckers connected to an Artesound active preamp. In addition to a three-way toggle, there are controls for master volume, bass, middle and treble (cut and boost).
The workmanship on both Harjunpää instruments is excellent, and most prominent in the fretwork, finishing and playing feel. These basses are made with the beauty of the woods and the overall design front and centre, which sometimes calls for unusual solutions. Take the Vikingman’s bridge as an example – due to the body’s arching the back of the bridge doesn’t lie flat on the body, but has to be shimmed. At first this may look a little strange, but it doesn’t seem to have any negative impacts on the strength of the installation or on the sound.
Both instruments balance nicely in your lap. The long body horn on the bass side makes strapped on balance outstanding. The Vikingman is a tad heavier than the Violinbirch, but still what I’d consider a light bass.
There are differences in the neck profile and the sound of each bass:
The Violinbirch sports a muscular, slightly flattish profile with a nut width of 43 mm.
Played acoustically the Violinbirch’s sound is all about clarity seasoned with a nice dose of mid-range gnarl.
Through an amp the Violinbirch comes across with a strong voice with plenty of attitude in the middle register.
The Vikingman’s neck profile could be described as chunkier version of a Jazz Bass neck. The neck is very round at its narrow nut (35 mm), but it gets wider and much flatter as you go up towards the body.
The Vikingman’s acoustic voice is very clear, too, but here the general character is rounder, and fuller in the lower mids.
Artesound’s preamp delivers a moderate output, which is good news for clean headroom. Despite its fuller acoustic tone, the Vikingman sounds a little clearer than the more aggressive Violinbirch. Thanks to the excellent preamp you can access a wide range of different sounds on this instrument.
Here is the demo song in audio form:
If your central object of desire is a heavy relic reissue of a Fender Jazz, chances are you won’t fancy on of Harjunpää Bass’ idiosyncratically beautiful instruments.
Based on this review I can say that Harjunpääs are top drawer, modern basses, which offer the perfect balance between bass chunk and top end clarity. In my opinion Harjunpää basses are great-sounding Finnish works of art.
Harjunpää Bass Violinbirch & Vikingman
Violinbirch – starting value 2,500 €
Vikingman – staring value 3,500 €
Pros (both basses):
+ handmade in Finland
+ Finnish wood (except top nut)