Meet Luthier Devon From Devon Bass Guitars
How did you get your start in music?
Although I’ve been in music from a very young age, I got my first bass after my girlfriend in high school was grounded from going to the prom with me. So, what did I do with that extra cash? I bought a bass, of course. The girlfriend is long gone, but the bass never left me!
Are you still an active player?
Yes! I play bass mostly in church on a worship team. I find playing in a church very challenging as you need to learn new music within a week and then be prepared to learn more the following week. A lot of times you’re changing keys on the fly and have to work through compositional changes with every service — extreme flexibility is key!
How did you get started as a Luthier? When did you build your first bass?
While I built my first bass in 1993, I actually started building guitars as an independent study where I went to school at Carnegie Mellon University. All that really did was give me access to the wood shop. The real education came from a local Luthier who I called on the phone daily. Bless him for his patience because he’d talk me through the next steps on the guitar I was building step-by-step. When he was done, he got a chance to see the instrument and told me, “You know what kid? You’re a natural. You should consider doing this for a living!” From there I was hooked and couldn’t stop making musical instruments.
How did you learn the art of woodworking? Who would you consider a Mentor?
Except for the over-the-phone lessons from the local Luthier in Pittsburgh, I’m mainly self-taught; I suspect a lot of Luthiers are. We’re just innovative problem-solvers that simply figure out how to do things — they just happen to be musical instruments. Although I didn’t have a mentor, I wish I did. I’ve always admired and marveled at the work of Michael Tobias. I hope I could meet him someday to tell him that!
How do you select the woods you choose to build with?
I select woods based off their aesthetic and tonal properties — and the most beautiful woods don’t always sound the best and the best-sounding woods aren’t the most beautiful. I really pride myself in obtaining some of the most rare and beautiful woods money can buy. This is a prominent feature of a lot of my basses. That’s why I’ve rarely covered wood with paint — I just think the natural beauty of the wood tells the whole story. Consequently, I always have to plan ahead with my wood. Some of the wood I purchase has to sit for at least 3 years before I can use it or it will warp or crack if used prematurely. I want to ensure that my basses are extremely stable and reliable for whoever will be playing them.
How about pickups?
I’ve always used Bartolini pickups. I really like their warm tone and it’s a tone that I’ve become accustomed to. That said, I’d love to have my own Devon Pickups. Lately, I’ve been using other pickups from Nordstrand and Honey Badger. They have such different voicings than the Bartolini pickups and they’ve really opened up a new world of tonal options for my players.
Who were some of the first well-known musicians who started playing your basses?
Although I really don’t pursue endorsements of the rich-and-famous, there have been a few well-known players who’ve purchased my instruments throughout the years. As a policy, I don’t give away free instruments to famous players. I think it’s more of a testimony when well-known players are willing to lay down their own hard-earned cash for my bass because it’s something they want — not because they received for free.
More importantly, I love supporting players that love what they do and understand how a quality instrument can make a difference. Most of the players I sell basses to are folks that have already owned at least one of my instruments.
How do you develop a signature or custom bass for an artist?
It all starts by listening to the person and asking all the right questions. Sometimes a bassist knows exactly what they want, other times they want help making decisions. Either way, my goal is to help them get the bass that most closely matches their expectations. One of my favorite parts is showing off some of the awesome woods from my stock and helping them envision how their completed instrument will look, feel and sound. Then I’ll often share photos of the build as it’s progressing. That said, it’s a very collaborative effort where the player gets to contribute to the final piece. However, the best part is watching my customers play their bass for the very first time. Nothing is as magical as that moment. It makes all the blood, sweat and tears worth it!
What are a few things that you are proud about your instruments and that you would consider unique in your instruments?
Some of the most unique features of my basses include the magnetically-fastened electronics and battery covers — it makes accessing them a literal snap. The other notable feature is the rounded edge on my fretboards. I dare say that my necks are among the most playable bass necks in the industry. You’ve just got to try one to know what I’m talking about!
Which one of the basses that you build is your favorite one?
They’re like your own children, how can I choose a favorite? But, if I had to choose a recent favorite, it’s a J5 Fretless that I completed with an exquisitely rare Thuya Burl top with matching pickup covers and knobs and an ebony fretboard. It plays like butter and has the most wonderful “Mwah” growl to it. Gives me shivers just thinking about it!
Can you give us a word of advice to young Luthiers who are just starting out?
Don’t be afraid to say, “no.” You can’t be everything to everybody. Build instruments that you’d want to play yourself and you know that you’ll always believe in what you’re doing.
What advice would you give a young musician trying to find his perfect bass?
There’s no such thing as the perfect bass for all instances. Each bass has it’s own tonal personality and will be suitable for some occasions, but not others. That’s why you see very experienced bass players often have several instruments to choose from to match the occasion, venue or situation they’re playing in. The best thing a player can do is think through which combination of instruments will most closely match the repertoire of styles they’ll be playing. Often times this includes a variety of instruments with different pickup configurations, fretboard woods, scale lengths and number of strings. Most experienced, serious bass players have at least 6 basses.
What is biggest success for you and for your company?
As crazy as it sounds, I believe my bass building is a calling for me — to build beautiful works that God wants me to do. So, success to me is becoming who He intended for me to be — and in that, there’s a lot of fulfillment.
Are you preparing something new?
I’m always thinking of new models and features. I’m driven by innovation and aesthetics. The hard part for me is to choose which one to focus on. Consequently, I believe that I can continue to push the models I currently have with further generations with some really cool innovations that will add some great brand differentiation.
What are your future plans?
Continue to build my digital capabilities in marketing my instruments; this is essential for a builder who doesn’t use a dealer network in the US.
Visit online at www.devonguitars.com