Canadian luthier Jay Duncan makes the world a better place by helping others build sustainable communities, one guitar at a time.

Canadian master luthier Jay Duncan is emphatic about the ability of guitars to change the world—but not just in the hands of heroes who create timeless music. In fact, his own guitars are hard at work, impacting lives at this very moment in ways that are arguably more important and far-reaching than, say, hearing the music of a master player from any genre. His will to empower those in poverty and desire to share his acoustic guitars with the world led him to open DuncanAfrica, a registered charity and trade school in Uganda where, for nearly a decade now, he’s been teaching locals everything there is to know about guitar making.

In a 1,000-square-foot cement shack in the tiny village of Mpigi, Duncan’s students learn about every step of the process—from bending sides to bracing soundboards and handcarving beautiful mahogany necks. And they’re not just learning a trade, either. Duncan’s acolytes are also paid to be there five days a week, nine hours a day, creating the gorgeous, classically inspired guitars sold on the company’s website—and all the profits go back to the community. Just as at many larger operations in the States and abroad, most students work on an assembly line, perfecting a specific job, such as rim or body assembly. But some of the better woodworkers graduate from working the line to becoming the sole luthier for one of the handcrafted instruments in DuncanAfrica’s higher-end Artisan series.

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The legendary X guitarist dishes about the trials of balancing a busy touring schedule with the demands of his amp business, and shares his latest designs for Gretsch, the Black Crowes, and Brian Setzer.

Standing onstage at Boston’s Paradise Rock Club, 64-year-old Billy Zoom doesn’t look a day over 40. In his signature wide stance, he peers out over a sea of thrashing bodies with the vacant grin of a joker. Possibly for fear of blinding, he never once looks down at his sparkling Silver Jet as he shreds. The entire club, entranced by X’s beloved punk rock anthem “Los Angeles,” murmurs with cult-like enthusiasm, “She had to leave ... It felt sad, it felt sad, it felt sad.”

Just a few weeks earlier, not far from L.A., Zoom was in his Orange County shop, where he’s known in the industry as a jack-of-all-trades for his technical work building, repairing, and modifying tube amps—work he says he prefers to touring. “I hate that feeling right before I have to leave,” he says. “I usually don’t bother to read the itinerary or anything until a few days before so I don’t have to think about it.”

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Self-taught luthier Pete Swanson blends art and science in a groundbreaking approach to guitar design that combines computer technology, wax molds, and fiber-optic photonic pickups.

TOP: The Dagmar Custom Guitars Vicky model. BOTTOM LEFT: The crown from the Vicky tailpiece is a nod to Queen’s University’s role in developing photonic pickup technology on the guitar. BOTTOM MIDDLE: Vicky’s headstock. BOTTOM RIGHT: Custom lightning bolt inlays on the Vicky model. Photos courtesy of Queen’s University

Mark Trokanski had just decided he was done acquiring guitars when he came across a photo from the Montreal Guitar show that stopped him dead in his tracks. He saw four archtops with completely rounded edges and lightning-bolt soundholes, two of which featured a checkerboard pattern around the curved rims. These instruments sat atop a table labeled “Pete Swanson.”

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