Review of the Devon J5 Modern 24 from Devon Bass Guitars…
The modern 5-string jazz bass market is a mighty tough room to make your mark in. It seems like there are a ton of great offerings from serious contenders new and old, and it can be hard for a great bass to shine, when it’s surrounded by so many solid instruments. So where does one fit in, or better yet, how does one punch “the signal through the noise” and shine as a unique standout among many other great basses, all building off of the venerable 5-string jazz platform?
For Devon Smullen of Devon Bass Guitars, the answer seems to be a delightful combination of thoughtful design, meticulous execution, a number of unique and innovative features, fantastic playability, and outstanding customer service. After playing this bass, it’s not surprising that Devon has extensive experience in the UI/UX (user interface/user experience) sphere. No doubt his time spent thinking about how certain choices affect the user’s experience has been put fully into practice in his bass building. You can feel it the moment you pick up the bass. Everything feels so well thought out and perfectly placed, with a cohesiveness that is hard to describe, and rarely seen, even in some of the most well-respected bass brands.
From a construction standpoint, this bass is flat-out amazingly well built. The fretwork, the body shaping, the neck carve, the finish work: all are off-the-charts. I struggle to find anything that doesn’t look like a slam dunk in terms of execution. The neck and fretwork in particular are extraordinary. This bass showed up with crazy low action, with little to no buzz anywhere on the maple fingerboard. I had to raise the action up for my ham fists, but I still like pretty low action and the bass played like a dream. Chords and fast runs felt easier than usual on this bass.
Devon’s trademark rounded fingerboard edges and C-shaped neck was an interesting departure from the slim and fast D-shape I am used to on Jazz basses, but as soon as I stopped thinking about it and started playing it, I was immediately comfortable and felt right at home. The neck is fast and slim front to back, with a bit of a shoulder, but by no means beefy. It felt great under my hands and played very fast. This profile seems like a great way to maximize mass in the neck without increasing any feeling of beefiness or heft. I loved the thin satin finish on the back of the neck, which felt thin and smooth, almost like a sanded-off neck finish but still protective. The black oval inlays on the maple board tie in beautifully to the oval Delano Xtender pickups, creating a really cool, unique, and somewhat futuristic vibe.
Devon basses are available with a range of electronic options in Modern (rear-routed) and Classic (pickguard and electronics plate) configurations, with a lot of available customization. This particular bass is outfitted with Delano Xtenders: twin coil humbucking pickups, housed in oval shells, which offer an array of coil tap options. Paired with a Nordstrand 3 band preamp, the controls offer 3 bands of EQ with a push-pull option for the mid-frequency, as well as 3-way switches for each pickup to select front coil, both coils, rear coil settings for both. The result is an impressively varied array of tones.
The more time I spent with the bass, the more interesting and useful settings I discovered. This electronics package is on the modern end of the spectrum, and reminiscent of music man tones, capable of all kinds of muscular and thick modern sounds that really help it stand out in a mix, with a great midrange articulation. Customers can choose from a variety of popular pickups and preamps, and Devon works hard to meet his customers’ needs and desires around tone preferences and versatility.
Here is the fun part: getting into some of Devon’s signature innovations. Devon’s Modern basses have recessed control knobs, which has a very streamlined and low-profile vibe. Likewise, the tuning machines are slightly recessed into the headstock to help “lock” them in place.
The output jack is something new for many. Instead of a side jack or a front-facing jack, it is inset into the bottom bout of the body, facing “up” at you when playing. This keeps the cable out of the way and works great for either straight or 90-degree angle cables and will never pull out when you step on it like a bonehead in the middle of your only bass solo of the night and get glared at by the drummer, who, couldn’t be bothered to get to the gig in time for soundcheck, but now feels like he can judge you for an honest mistake. Ahem, just for example.
Looking at the back of the bass, one immediately notices the perfectly matched control cavity cover, which is held on by strong magnets.
Popping the cover reveals the cleanest control cavity I’ve come across. It looks like it was designed by an OCD Nikola Tesla. Wiring is uber tidy and cable tied into clean runs everywhere. It is a thing of beauty, and in combination with expert shielding, is truly best practice for the quietest operation possible.
The battery cover is magnetic as well and houses a nifty proprietary assembly that contains two 9v batteries, with a small handle. This neat system allows for a battery swap in about 5 seconds. Just another smartly thought out “better mousetrap”, which appears to be par for the course with Devon’s work.
After being lucky enough to spend some time with the Devon J5 Modern 24, I can say with confidence that Devon Smullen has knocked it out of the park on basically every level and succeeded in standing out from the ‘5 string jazz’ pack. My sense is that these days, it’s not enough to make a cool-looking bass. There is no shortage of those. A great bass has to look great, sound great, and play amazingly well. Likewise, as a luthier, you have to have a solid online presence, be responsive to customers’ requests, and keep your timetables shored up for delivery times, so as not to get months behind on promised shipping dates. Unfortunately, there just aren’t too many bass builders that check all of those boxes, but it sure seems like Devon does, and does it while coming in at a VERY competitive price point, given the outstanding quality of the build and componentry.
For more information on the Devon J5 Modern 24, visit Devon Bass Guitars online at devonbass.com