Devon Smullen Creates Unique Bass Guitars
Can a musical instrument be a work of art? Devon Smullen, who builds one-of-a-kind bass guitars, believes so. And his work speaks for itself.
“I try to accomplish three things with my basses,” says Smullen, of San Antonio, Texas. “Great sound, great playability and great aesthetics.”
Like the wood that he interweaves in his instruments, each of the three elements plays off the other. For example, beautiful wood doesn’t always produce beautiful tones. So he goes with offbeat woods choices, like the burl of a tree – the big knotty area. Or ebony with natural streaks that has been rejected for a violin neck because it’s not solid black. “I'll go to local wood shops [to get my wood]. The stuff they call garbage, I call treasure,” he says. “They see something knotty, and I see wood grain that can make a gorgeous top.”
With playability in mind, Smullen might make a bass neck that’s longer and at an angle, giving it a unique look and a great sound. “You get a rich, robust tone when you use a longer scale,” he says.
Clearly, Smullen’s bass guitars have resonated with musicians; he has customers on nearly every continent. He believes his success lies in the fact that “bass players tend to be more willing to be experimental in the brands of instruments they try. They’re more open to different designs and tones.”
When he’s sourcing wood, Smullen often buys eight-foot slabs, used for the bass neck. “It's great that I can stick them in the back of my Subaru,” he says. He also uses his 2014 Outback, his fourth Subaru, for transporting basses to domestic customers. “I love that I can fit my family and my basses in the vehicle.”
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Photo: Justin Brownell