Robb Report / Duke Royale



Pairing an electric guitar with an amplifier can be an entertaining yet daunting task. Tonal characteristics of guitars (generally either bright or full), when mated with imperfect amplifier choices, can result in a sound that is tinny or muddy – the two tonal adversaries of guitarists. Certain sonic pairings are legendary: Gibson Les Paul with a pre-1970 Marshall amplifier; a Rickenbacker with a Vox AC30 combo; and a pre-CBS Fender Stratocaster with a Fender Deluxe Reverb amp. Ofter a result of accident and experiment, the marriage of the well-matched guitar and amplifier has graced popular music for over 50 years, defining how a guitar is really supposed to sound. Accordingly, what if two leading guitar and amplifier builders were to design a spare-no-expense pair in tandem? Then the well-heeled guitarist with a taste for the glorious could find bliss with recent offerings from two Finnish builders.

robbreport_2006_1The Mad Professor all-tube amplifier – named for engineer Bjorn Juhl – represents the cutting edge in amp versatility, ease of use, and sound quality. From glassy, clean tones to a beautifully corpulent, rich tube overdrive, the string-to-string definition and sensitivity (increasing the distortion in proportion to the player’s touch) allow multiple shades of dynamics to radiate. If an aged single-malt Scotch could be represented by a sound, this would be it.

The Duke Royale guitar by Juha Ruokangas is entirely handmade without any use of CNC machines, and barks back to the sound and feel of 1950s Gibson instruments, perhaps even surpassing those legendary guitars in detail of workmanship. The body and neck are robbreport_2006_2made from Spanish cedar, which Ruokangas believes best captures the honey-toned resonance of the older Honduran mahogany Gibsons. Multiple laminations, abalone inlays and a nut made from moose shinbone (provided by hunters in Finland) further grace this gorgeous guitar. And don’t even think that third party pickups are utilized, as they are on many expensive “custom” instruments – these two pickups have been designed and hand-wound by Ruokangas to fit the guitar and amplifier.

The Mad Professor’s amplifier case and speaker cabinet are also hand-carved out of Spanish cedar and, like the Royale, are highlighted with figured arctic birch in a stunning honey sunburst gloss finish. All metal parts on both guitar and amp are gold-plated, with the speaker cabinet exhibiting handwoven solid copper-wire grill cloth. The matched guitar and amp set celebrates the 10-year anniversary of both the Mad Professor and Ruokangas Guitars.

by Randy Gollard

Robb Report, December 2006