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The mid-priced instruments in DuncanAfrica’s three guitar lines are found in the Suubi series. “Suubi means ‘hope’ in Uganda,” luthier Jay Duncan says.
Singer/songwriter Dave Siverns has played a fair share of DuncanAfrica guitars, and he says the quality of their dark woods makes for a unique, resonating sound. In the past few years, he’s owned both rosewood and mugavu OMs, and recorded in Nashville with a friend’s mugavu dreadnaught.
“None of them were overly bright or Taylor-ish,” he says of the tone, but he noted that the DuncanAfrica mugavu guitars he’s played sat beautifully in band mixes. “Think vintage Martin or Gibsons,” he says. “I actually restrung a ’60s Gibson—the model eludes me—when tracking in Nashville, and I compared it to the mugavu ‘Jubilee’ dread. There was no comparison—the DuncanAfrica sounded better in every way.” When prodded, Siverns has trouble comparing his DAs to any modern guitars. “They’re a bit louder and richer in general, and feel more broken in on the first play. I’d probably compare them most to some of the smaller, handbuilt guys like Collings, but with a bit more of a rustic feel and sound.”
When asked what’s different about his 6-strings, Duncan prefaces the explanation with, “I am a tone freak," before going on to explain that many of the instruments’ tonal qualities are due to a unique “double-X” bracing system that he says allows the tone from the back and sides to really shine. East Indian rosewood gives a wide tonal range with strong highs and lows, while Western flamed maple lends a gorgeous aesthetic and a warmer tone that Duncan says is “almost vintage-sounding, right out of the box. We also use Ugandan mahogany and sapele, which makes for a nice, warm body with a bit of tinkle in the high mids, and the local mugavu has a powerful midrange.”
Duncan says his school in Mpigi has averaged 25 guitars annually, but he’s seen a significant increase in demand over the last year or so, with 35 guitars being completed in 2012, and 20 orders in a twomonth span this year. He has high hopes for an eventual output of 200 instruments per month and enough profits for the Mpigi community to put toward things like health care, education, and entrepreneurial initiatives.
With his distinctive-sounding guitars, and inspiringly selfless attitude, Duncan can’t be surprised that word of mouth has carried the DuncanAfrica story across the globe. “We’re asked all the time to take our project to different parts of the world—North Korea, Guatemala, India, and, last week, it was Russia.” But while Duncan loves the idea of expanding his reach to other countries or continents, he says he’s got some caveats before taking his shop/school model somewhere else. “The money would have to be there,” he says. “We set up DuncanAfrica with absolutely no money, and it’s been an incredibly hard seven years because of that. But if the financial backing were in place, we would gladly go somewhere else and do something similar.”