Jay Duncan is Using Ugandan and Canadian Wood to make Guitars for Charity

Posted August 18, 2011 by Ugandan Diaspora News Team in Charity ~ 4,335 views


BY CHRISTINA TOTH, THE TIMES | Tuning into Uganda’s needs ~ Luthier combines wood from B.C. & Africa to help make life better for impoverished nation.

The light sweet strains of the DuncanAfrica guitar lift off its hardwood body and float above the chatter at the House of James coffee shop in Abbotsford.

Jay Duncan strums a few chords from A Stairway to Heaven and a few other tunes. The voice of the guitar is female, clear and clean and enchanting.

The instrument is one of 45 similar guitars Duncan has helped create since his dream of building fine quality guitars overseas became a reality.

A few years ago, as Duncan was reflecting on his life and his relationship with God, he also decided to pursue his guitar-building dream. The idea grew into a non-profit project, and then Duncan met a pastor at the Peace Portal Church, which supports an orphanage in a Ugandan village called Mpigi.

He traveled to the village to see if anyone was interested in learning to become luthiers. Duncan found conditions pretty basic in the village of 10,000 people.

“One main road runs through town. Sometimes they have electricity, sometimes they’re without it for three, four days,” he said.

He also found many people hungry for work and steady money.

“Most people don’t have an income-providing job. Sometimes they work for weeks but don’t get paid,” he said.

Duncan has returned several times to Mpigi to screen and train apprentice luthiers. With his 15 years of experience building guitars, he teaches them the art of bending sides, bracing the soundboard, carving a neck and fitting it all together perfectly.

Today there are 12 men and women aged 18 to 45 building instruments for the non-profit Duncan Guitar Society. Duncan had no idea how his love of music and the artistry of creating guitars would one day impact people half a world away. The process has transformed their lives, and also Duncan’s.

“To have a regular pay cheque is a substantial move forward in life. They can support a family,” he said. “I’m a guy who made music for a living and now I’m learning about development. It’s a huge learning curve.”

The guitars range from $1,200 up to $2,500 and are designed to compete with high -end instruments by Larivee, Martin and Gibson. The society uses B.C. woods such as cedar, spruce or maple for the tops, and dense African hardwoods like mahogany, ebony and mugavu for the body to reflect the sound, and for the neck and headstock. Larivee, where Duncan worked for seven years, helps out with laser cutting the logo inlaid in the headstock.

So far, the society has sold 45 DuncanGuitars and there are 20 more buyers on a waiting list.

“It takes a lot of faith to order a guitar you haven’t seen,” Duncan says with a laugh. But buyers do have faith, in the instruments and the cause. They include worship music leaders such as Abbotsford’s Juno Award winner Brian Doerkson. One customer is on his third DuncanAfrica guitar and some have bought two.

The society’s goal is to have 30 people in Uganda trained, the minimum number required there to set up their own co-operative enterprise.

The next step is to buy a generator or set up solar energy to power the sanders, band saws, other tools and humidity control that is necessary for guitar building.

w There is a benefit concert for DuncanAfrica at 6:30 p.m., May 14 at the Bakerview Mennonite Church, 2285 Clearbrook Rd., Abbotsford. The evening includes the Mennonite Jazz Committee, improv comedy by The Panic Squad, a buffet dinner by Karen Bergen Catering and a presentation by Duncan.

For tickets and more about on the guitars, see

To test driver a DuncanAfrica guitar, go to the House of James in Abbotsford.

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Ugandan Diaspora News Team

Ugandan Diaspora News Online is an independent, non political news portal primarily aimed at serving Ugandans who work and reside outside Uganda. Our aim is to be a one stop shop for everything Ugandan and the celebration of our Ugandan heritage.


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