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.
"Ruokangas guitars are well-made and they sound really sweet. They’re built in what I’d call the right tradition."
- Mick Box / Uriah Heep (USA)
"... beautifully built on a level that is virtually non-existent among all but a few instruments made today at any price."
- ToneQuest Report (USA)
"The Duke plays wonderfully, sounds clear and sweet, is built extremely well and is resonant and versatile."
- Antti Pesonen / CDFmE (Finland)
"To sum up: The Duke Artisan is a masterly instrument."
- Gitarre & Bass (Germany)
"The clean tones of the Duke are sweet, bright and punchy, with chords in particular sparkling with depth..."
- Guitar Buyer (UK)
"The Duke works admirably when playing everything from blues to rock with a bit alternative in between."
- FUZZ Magazine (Sweden)
"The top is beautifully sculpted, the neck is smooth and glassy, and the black binding is absolutely flawless."
- Guitar Player (USA)
"As you might imagine, I spent a lot of time playing the Duke this weekend. I didn't want to go to work this morning!"
- Tom Givan (USA)
"The conceptual perfection and the craftsmanship of the Duke Artisan is stunning – nothing can be criticized."
- Gitarre & Bass (Germany)
"The fact that the Duke sounds so good on top of being such a beauty makes it all the more compelling..."
- Guitar Player (USA)
"The Ruokangas team brought my vision of a perfect guitar to life! Every little intricate detail is flawlessly executed!"
- Tom Fay (United Kingdom)
"You can hear the superb tonal character even if you play the Duke Artisan unplugged."
- Gitarre & Bass (Germany)
"Juha, like so many other players before me, I am in awe of your craftsmanship."
- Uwe Steinweg (Germany)
"The Duke is the most astounding guitar-evolution I’ve ever come across!"
- Hans Elmers (The Netherlands)
"I'm glad that I found Ruokangas in my musical path. Congratulations, you DO make the finest guitars in the world."
- Marcos Parras (Colombia)
"The Duke is an amazing guitar. Whether I am teaching jazz, rock, blues or country, this guitar has it covered!"
- Craig beck (USA)
"If I do an all-around gig and can bring only one guitar, it’s always the Duke."
- Saku Mattila (Finland)
"I'm very happy with my Duke - it's a killer! The best sounding guitar I have ever played and owned."
- Troels Rasmussen (Denmark)
"The tone of the Duke is well balanced, and the guitar reacts to playing dynamics in an excellent manner."
- Riffi Magazine (Finland)
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