Devon Smullen, of San Antonio, Texas began building in 1990. "I took an independent study course to teach myself how to build guitars in my senior year at Carnegie Mellon University. That was when the bug bit me and I’ve been building ever since. I opened shop in 1993 with my focus only on bass guitars. Seeing the work of Michael Tobias, Carey Nordstrand, Roger Sadowsky and Vinny Fodera inspired me to create beautiful looking, sounding and playing instruments. That said, I’m totally self-taught and developed my own techniques and approaches to bass building throughout the years."
What kind of customer do you build for? The musicians that play my basses define the Devon Bass brand. They are as serious about their craft as I am mine. They understand what authentic quality is and demand it from themselves — as well as their basses. This might be why over half the musicians who purchase a Devon bass already own one.
Clients of note: I love working with up-and-coming musicians who are on the verge of breaking out. A couple of recent names include Demonterious “Detoxxx” Lawrence (Avery Sunshine) and Michael Karsch (Lawrence). I’m more interested aligning with musicians who display integrity and humility than with players simply because they’re famous.
Favorite materials and finishes to work with? While I believe in the tried-and-true woods like Ash, Alder, Maple, Rosewood and Ebony, I grow weak in the knees for a spectacular top wood like a 5A quilted Maple or Amboyna Burl. Add some gorgeous inlays in the fretboard and I’m done-for. I’m always in wide-eyed wonder when it comes to God’s creation of wood.
For finishes, I believe less is more. That’s why I work with Sharon Cline of Shazrock Paint for most of my finishes — while understanding the aesthetic, she knows how to optimize a bass guitar’s tone by applying just the right amount of Poly. I’m also doing some of my own less traditional finishes as well —like scorching the wood and multiple-paint-layered distressing. It really has become an artform unto itself.
When did you discover Nordstrand and why you use Nordstrand in your builds. I started using Nordstrand pickups and preamps in 2015. Like myself, the Nordstrand Audio team understands that quality is the most important aspect of our products. Their pickups bring out the true sound of my basses, maximizing their tonality. Most of the basses I make these days are using Nordstrand pickups and preamps for this reason.