I am a hopeless romantic, and of all my guitars the Duke reflects this quality in its purest form. There is something arrogant about the Duke - it's a fancy guitar that doesn't try to fit into the trends of time. But above all, it is a player's guitar - ideal for the passionate musician capable of sensing even the smallest nuances and transforming them into music.
Juha Ruokangas - Master Guitar Maker
We're inseparable, me and Duke. It is my first original design, and it has laid the foundation to everything that has followed. Everything fell into place in such profound way, that you can see the ripples in every guitar I've designed since.
I'm a sucker for the Art Nouveau era of architecture and decorative arts that drew its inspiration from natural forms, curves and structures. This is the source of my inspiration for the sound and appearance of Duke Artisan.
It's like cooking - change one ingredient and the food transforms into something else. The Supersonic has its own unique voice, primitive power and punch, aggressive lower mids - completely different from its big brother with carved top.
Looking back on the time I designed the Duke - I was hooked on prog rock and fusion jazz. Genesis, Kansas, Gentle Giant, Mahavishnu Orchestra, Jukka Tolonen, Jeff Beck - refined music that sets the bar high for the guitar. In these gigantic footsteps, the Duke literally initiated my quest for the holy grail.
When I strung up the first Duke in the mid 1990's and played the first chords, it was quite a revelation to me. That sound was something very special - unique clarity, deep velvety bottom end, articulated mids, crystal-like highs. And the looks - Finnish birch has this unique holographic shimmer - quite unlike anything I’ve seen.
For years, making guitars from Spanish cedar felt like a fight against windmills. People kept asking me to make the Duke of Honduran mahogany - but I refused, telling them I want to make the best guitar I can, and Spanish cedar is in the recipe - take it or leave it. Luckily, as years went by, more and more players started taking it, rather than leaving it.
Thermally aged tonewood is the same as tonewood that has seasoned for decades. I’ve used thermally aged tonewood in my guitars since before the turn of the millennium. I love this innovation. The effects are very real. Thermal ageing relaxes the wood, and my guitars just sound and behave better.
"Since I bought the Duke and the Mojo from you I have stopped looking for anything else. I have arrived!"
- Markus Zlöbl (Austria)
"The clean tones of the Duke are sweet, bright and punchy, with chords in particular sparkling with depth..."
- Guitar Buyer (UK)
"This is superb. The Duke is the best electric guitar I’ve ever had!"
- Jukka Tolonen (Finland)
"The Duke sounds great on every amp setting! Excellent instrument! A real ass kicker!"
- Ben Kibbey (USA)
"The Duke is an amazing guitar. Whether I am teaching jazz, rock, blues or country, this guitar has it covered!"
- Craig beck (USA)
"Wherever I go, I keep getting compliments of how great the Duke sounds and looks."
- Saku Mattila (Finland)
"Getting my first Ruokangas changed everything! I didn't even know what a brilliant instrument can do for me!"
- Thorsten (Germany)
"The Duke epitomizes the custom guitar ethos."
- Guitar Player (USA)
"The Duke Sonic is all about rock'n'roll - nothing to add! Great!"
- Kari Järvinen (Finland)
"Wonderful craftsmanship – hats off!"
- Gitarre & Bass (Germany)
"Juha, like so many other players before me, I am in awe of your craftsmanship."
- Uwe Steinweg (Germany)
"The Duke plays wonderfully, sounds clear and sweet, is built extremely well and is resonant and versatile."
- Antti Pesonen / CDFmE (Finland)
"My Duke is incredible! So lively! I honestly think that the Ruokangas are the Stradivarius of electric guitars."
- Françios Duranleau (Canada)
"One has to come far to surpass the Duke Artisan. It just cuts right to the chase."
- Gitarre & Bass (Germany)
"The Spanish cedar of the Duke has unbelievable sustain."
- FUZZ Magazine (Sweden)
"Ruokangas really raises the standards and expectations of guitar players world wide - can’t wait to buy another one!"
- Tom Fay (United Kingdom)
"Both the Duke and Mojo are flawlessly finished with details you simply don’t see today."
- ToneQuest Report (USA)
"The Duke truly is alive, reacting precisely to players touch."
- Tommi Ahonen (Finland)
"The top is beautifully sculpted, the neck is smooth and glassy, and the black binding is absolutely flawless."
- Guitar Player (USA)
"The Duke is the most astounding guitar-evolution I’ve ever come across!"
- Hans Elmers (The Netherlands)
Fretboard width, neck shape, fret size - or details such as fretboard edge radius and shaping of fret ends - every detail will make a difference in how you perceive the playability of an instrument. Some guitarists with big hands enjoy playing small necks – and vice versa. There's no right or wrong here.
When you look at the Duke from side perspective, you notice that the body, neck, headstock, bridge and tailpiece form a similarly angled shape as in a violin. This construction contributes to the sound of the guitar tremendously, as the strings pull the tailpiece forward and press the bridge down tightly against the top.
What does it mean if an instrument is "well balanced"? It's got to do with ergonomics – the way the instrument balances on my lap when I play sitting down – or when I stand up and hang the guitar on my shoulder. Scale length and control layout play a role here as well. It is all about form following the function.
Our purpose is to create the ideal tools for your art of making music. To achieve this goal, each of our guitars is individually handmade to the highest standard by one of us, the Ruokangas team, using the finest materials in the world. No serial production methods or automated processes are involved in the making.
A great sounding electric guitar typically needs to have a good dose of certain mids and sparkling highs to cut through the mix. If the guitar doesn’t have those frequencies when playing unplugged, they're not going to appear plugged in either. They’re just not there, and changing pickups won’t put them back, either.
It is essential to understand that only the player holding the guitar - playing the guitar - is able to analyze the instrument quality. When you’re listening as a bystander, yes, you can hear some differences, but the feel and response of the guitar don’t come across hardly at all simply cause you’re not in the wheel.
That simple looking part guiding the strings from the tip of the fretboard to the tuners – the nut – plays an extremely important role in how a guitar stays in tune, plays and sounds. The material, string spacing, depth of the string slots, shape and angle of the slots... A number of variables, each and every one contributing to your guitar playing experience.
It is such a satisfying feeling to notice that so many professional musicians have chosen our instruments into their toolboxes. For us that is living proof that we're doing our job right.
It’s always joyful to play Ruokangas guitars, and they seem to just get better with age!
– Antti Paranko
Quality is not only what you experience in a finished guitar. To me, quality exists in everything. It's in the ethics and transparency of our every action. It's in the honor of taking good care of people around us. And for me and my team, quality is in our whole journey of crafting guitars - as well as in the enjoyment to get to witness so many gifted musicians using our art to express their art.
– Juha Ruokangas