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  • My Top Five Instruments

    Anssi Kela is passionate about instruments and owning them.

    Now he shares with us which of his dozens of guitars, bass guitars and synths are dearest to his heart.

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    Text: Ville Hartikainen
    Photo: Ville Malja

    In June 2020, an acoustic Martin D-18E was sold at Julien’s Auctions for a record six million dollars. This is the highest sum ever paid for a guitar.

    It was previously owned by Kurt Cobain who played it at the Nirvana MTV Unplugged show in October 1993, five months before he took his own life. Cobain had purchased the guitar for 5,000 dollars.

    Three decades later, its value had increased by more than a thousandfold. What had changed in the meantime?

    On the surface, nothing. It was exactly the same instrument that Cobain bought from Voltage Guitars in Los Angeles in early 1992. However, with the tragic passing of its famous owner, the guitar began to accumulate entirely new levels of relevance. It became larger than life.

    This is something musician Anssi Kela can relate to. He confesses to be the type that easily develops an emotional attachment to objects. And instruments are particularly dear to his heart. They are his treasures.

    According to Kela’s notes, he owns a total of 47 guitars and basses and dozens of synths. Most of them have been hung up on the walls of the studio built in his garage.

    We asked Kela to pick five instruments he thinks are the most important and meaningful to him and give us a backstory on each of them. Kela accepted the challenge, lamenting that the task was not easy.

    “Someone once asked me that if my house was on fire and I had time to rescue only one instrument, what would it be?

    I responded by saying that they would all probably burn to ashes because I couldn’t make up my mind.”

    First, there was bass

    Kela says his philosophy on owning instruments can be summed up with a simple principle: instruments are bought, not sold. He says he has broken this policy only once. It was his first instrument, a 1976 Fender Precision Bass.

    “I had long dreamed of owning a bass guitar. For some reason, I specifically wanted to play the bass. I don’t know why. In autumn 1986, I founded my first band with my classmates. It was called Yhdeksäs hetki. I first played on a loaned bass guitar for about a year, but at that point I had to get my own.

    My father had died in a car accident two years prior. His band’s singer, Mikko Kuustonen, wanted to help me find a suitable instrument. While he was in Oulu to play a show, he found a Fender Precision Bass that cost 2,000 Finnish marks at the time. Another family friend, conductor Osmo Vänskä, promised to pay half of it.

    I remember when the bass guitar arrived in Vihti, delivered by Matkahuolto. I opened the package on my bedroom floor, hands shaking. I obviously had no clue whether the instrument was even any good. But it was mine. That was the most important thing.

    As my playing skills evolved, I began to appreciate nimble-fingered jazz bassists, such as Jaco Pastorius. I thought that one day I would become the best bass player in the world. I visited the Bass Center on Mechelininkatu and admired the gorgeous handmade high-end basses. Compared to them, the Precision started to feel dated and crappy.

    I placed an ad in Rumba and priced it at the same two grand that I had bought it with. It sold quickly, and I thought I had made a good deal. It only took a few weeks before I started regretting the whole thing. I tried to find the buyer in the phone book and called everyone who had the same name. I couldn’t find the right person.

    A few years ago, I half-jokingly asked on Facebook if anyone knew where my old bass guitar was. I managed to locate it the next day! It was still owned by the same person I sold it to 30 years ago. We agreed on a deal. The price was still two grand – only the currency had changed.”

    Guitar that made the Nummela album

    Kela’s second choice is an acoustic Martin HD-28. This guitar brand is popular with musicians and trusted by such names as Bob Dylan, Paul Simon and Paul McCartney. The Martin has had a crucial role in Kela’s musical career, as it made him the most popular artist in Finland.
    “It was 1999. My band Pekka ja susi had broken up. We tried hard to make our second album but ended up going nowhere. It felt like the band had become an obstacle for songwriting and creativity.

    I had decided that I need a steel-string acoustic guitar. All my favourite artists played a Martin, Neil Young first and foremost. He was my biggest idol at the time, and I wanted his sound.
    My budget was 5,000 Finnish marks. I tried out cheaper models and was quite pleased with how they sounded. Then I noticed a Martin HD-28 on the wall. I looked at the price tag: fourteen grand. Absolutely insane. But I had to try it, of course. And that was an expensive mistake. I played one chord and immediately went: “Holy shit…”

    In the end, the investment was worth every penny. I began writing new songs with my new guitar, and these songs eventually formed my solo debut album Nummela. I finally learned the art of storytelling in song format and found my own voice as a songwriter. The Martin provided the framework for the change.

    Many of my biggest hits have been written with this guitar. Regardless, I don’t think the instrument itself has any special powers. Songs do not live inside a guitar. Once, I was told that J. Karjalainen put his guitar up for sale, the reason being that the said guitar “had ran out of songs.”

    I think that the sound or the look of an instrument may be a source of inspiration, but the songs themselves are the product of your surroundings. At the end of the day, guitars are just wood and glue. They are like a writer’s pen or an artist’s brush that are used to bring form to an idea.”

    Guitar made him miss Independence Day Reception

    Jimi Hendrix and Fender Stratocaster. Angus Young and Gibson SG. Jimmy Page and Gibson Les Paul. Many world-famous guitarists are connected to a certain guitar model. An instrument has become a visible part of their image. For Anssi Kela, that instrument is Gretsch 6120.

    A red guitar that I bought in London in December 2001 to reward myself for the success of Nummela. That guitar was the reason I missed the Independence Day Reception. I’ve not received another invitation since.

    Out of all my guitars, I’ve played the Gretsch the most at shows. And you can tell by the way it looks. There are scratches and dings here and there. They’re something I’ve never known how to, or even wanted to, watch out for. After all, guitars are tools, not collectible items that you stow away in a showcase. I think that the various marks just give the instrument more character. They are all a part of a story.

    My Gretsch is not the easiest guitar to play. It’s really sensitive in terms of feedback, it doesn’t resonate particularly well, and solos are a challenge with it, to say the least. But for strumming basic chords, it’s magnificent. I’m not sure if there even is another guitar that sounds as good doing that. If I had to play the whole show with one guitar, this would be it. The Gretsch is my go-to. And there’s no denying that it’s a really handsome fellow.”

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    Kela picks up a white Telecaster. It previously belonged to one of Kela’s idols, musician Pave Maijanen. Maijanen who passed away due to ALS two years ago and Kela got acquainted in 2015 when they were filming the TV show Vain elämää.
    Kela says he felt a sense of kinship with the ‘elder statesman.’

    Maijanen was a multi-faceted music professional and a multi-instrumentalist who composed, played and produced music regardless of genre. That is the type of music professional Kela also wanted to be: more of a musician than an artist.

    “We hung out a lot off camera. Pave took a beautiful white 1957 Telecaster with him to Hirvensalmi. One day after filming, the guitar was left on a stand so I politely asked if I could try it out.

    I fiddled with it for a little bit and realised that it was a fantastic instrument. I could feel the high level of workmanship and handicraft of decades past.

    At its best, Telecaster is a percussion instrument. It’s a guitar that loves to be played hard. It was a great fit for Pave, as he was particular good at playing rhythm with precision.

    A few years later, Kitarapaja’s Jaakko Kiikeri posted a picture of a familiar-looking Telecaster on Facebook. The post received a ton of comments. Was Pave’s Tele up for sale? I called Jaakko and he told me about Pave’s condition. He could no longer play and had put his instruments up for sale. After the call, I took a minute to think about it. Then I messaged Jaakko and asked him to reserve the guitar for me.

    I met Pave one more time before he passed away. I was quite impressed with how he regarded the inevitable. He wasn’t bitter but rather grateful for having lived a good life. The disease, that’s just the way it goes sometimes.

    “Pave was very pleased that the Telecaster ended up with me. I think that our mindset regarding guitars was quite similar. They are like batons in an Olympic relay that are passed on to new users. Eventually, I will also hand this instrument over to someone. I love this guitar. It’s probably the best instrument I have.”

    The piano that found its way back home

    Last but not least is the Yamaha CP-70B electric piano, standing in the corner of a studio room, weighing a whopping 140 kilograms. Out of all the instruments Kela owns, it also weighs the most in terms of personal value. The piano belonged to Kela’s father who passed away in 1985.

    “My dad played keys for a gospel group called Pro Fide. As a little kid, I often played around with his synths. It was exciting to sneak into dad’s workspace, put headphones on, twist knobs and listen to all the buzzing and pulsating noises.

    Pro Fide was odd in the sense that its instruments were owned by a Christian organisation called the Finnish Bible Institute. A few weeks after dad died, they came to our house and took all his instruments. It was like a dagger to the heart. It made me feel like my dad was irrevocably gone.

    About five years ago, I spotted a Facebook ad for a similar electric piano that dad had at the time. I didn’t recognise the seller but I noticed that we had some mutual Facebook friends. They happened to be former Pro Fide members! I called the seller and confirmed what I had suspected and hoped for: it was my dad’s old piano. We agreed on a deal immediately.

    It was such a thrill to finally play the piano, knowing that dad had pressed the very same keys. I felt I formed a connection with dad at that moment.
    The piano became a physical link between us. And now, it had returned home.”

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