Meet the... makers? - Chad & Devin of Jennings Guitars
Originality, and familiarity. Often something that's very hard to capture well. But it's something I've always felt Jennings Guitars have managed with their instruments. There's a real sense of familiarity with the aesthetic, they have a classic look but in no means do they replicate. They've always caught my eye for this reason, and have enjoyed following their work for some time now. 

Jennings Guitars Interview - Jennings Guitars UK

Chad Jennings reached out to me in the early parts of this year and we spoke on the phone a number of times which was great to be able to do with someone on the other side of the world. What struck me was firstly their passion for what they do, but also through discussing methods and ideas that they have an incredibly high attention to detail which shown that the beautiful photos of their instruments, branding and way they present themselves and their work is absolutely no fluke. This is their strong vision on what they want Jennings to be, and it's been a great experience learning more about that. It got me thinking, we need to do a Meet the Maker for these guys! But, being the first 2 man team I've considered interviewing, I thought it was important to involve them both so both Chad and Devin joined me for this and share their thoughts and processes on all things Jennings!

J - This is the first two man team I have interview for this series, and I'd love to learn more about that working dynamic. Do you both have specific tasks which don't cross over, or is an equal balance of tasks working alongside across all stages of a build? Right from the design stages through to final stringing up, and how do you feel working as a partnership benefits your ideas, builds and business?

C&D - It’s a mixture of both for us, we definitely have specific tasks that don’t cross over, and there are certain parts of the build process that we both do. For example, Devin despises finish work, wants nothing to do with a spray booth and wet sanding/buffing, but Chad does a really good job with that stuff, so Chad tends to take care of that side. But Devin is really good with computers and CAD drawings and CAM work, he excels at our CNC programming and milling so he handles most of that. All of the other steps in our process are interchangeable between us so we can both handle any of the other tasks. Having the partnership between us is beneficial in just about everything, 95% of the time. There are definitely going to be moments when one of us wants to do something a different way than the other, but in the end we can usually jump on a final decision together. A lot of times the ideas we come up with will influence the other to come up with something that compliments that idea even more. Something that probably would not have happened if it was just one of us doing this. A good example would be our original guitar designs, specifically the semi-hollow designs. Chad designed our headstock and Devin designed our body shapes. When it came time for Devin to design the Catalina and Voyager Deluxe models, he wanted to have a non-traditional sound hole shape that really tied the headstock and body together. So he pulled inspiration from the headstock by using the shape of the cutaway portion of the headstock, the section that is usually left the natural wood color of the neck. That is just one of the few ways that we have been able to build off one another.

Jennings Guitars Interview - Jennings Guitars UK

J - From my own research and time spent being a fan of your work, I learnt that Chad's history & experience seems to originate from within the guitar world, which I'd love to discuss shortly. Whereas Devin's has perhaps a more unique journey including handmade skateboard making being a part of your CV. This in particular I found really interesting, predominantly because handmade skateboards isn't something you come across everyday, here in the UK anyway. So I have to indulge my interest for a moment if that's okay Devin! How did that side of woodworking come about for you, and were you able to take any of that experience or aspect of the work/techniques into the world of luthiery?

D - I started woodworking at age 11 when I began taking woodshop classes in school. We did some pretty basic projects in that class such as carving wooden spoons, bagel slicers, and other random projects. When the class was over I wanted to keep making things so my father and I started collecting various woodworking tools to keep in our garage. I believe a couple years later I started getting really into skateboarding and around the age of 15 thought it would be really cool to make my own longboards. They were usually made from strips of oak, mahogany, maple, or a few other hardwoods arranged in an old school surfboard stringer pattern. Between the ages of 15 and 18 I probably made around 12 of them for myself and other friends. One of those friends was riding the board I made them around town once when a man stopped them and asked to take a look at the handmade board. That man happened to be the owner and founder of Honey Skateboards. He liked what he saw so much that he contacted me and I was hired on the spot. During my time there we probably made around 1,000 of the various models offered. What was cool and unique about these boards though was that there were no printed graphics on the boards. Instead, we used strips of various woods to create the top and bottom veneers, very similar to how I was building my solid wood skateboards. This is where my skills as a carpenter really formed and my attention to detail was honed. Just about every skill I learned while making those skateboards is used while making our guitars, especially when it comes to jointing body blanks, book matching woods, resawing raw material, and sanding complex curves with an orbital sander and by hand.

Jennings Guitars Interview - Jennings Guitars UK

J - From watching videos, reading your captions for photos or browsing the Jennings website, I really did feel at home and related to the passion you have for the guitar. Particularly a video filmed at the NAMM show of this year, with Chad running the presenter through the range and options. The excitement about each guitar's specifications was really engaging and I'm sure others would notice that passion too. It's really clear that the guitar is a longstanding obsession for you Chad, where did your guitar story begin and how did you decide to pick up tools and make it more than just playing them, but making/repairing them too?

C - I truely owe it to my father for playing music when I was growing up, as well as teaching and encouraging me to use tools when I was very young. I would say I fell in love with tools and the ability to create and fix things first, I was always fascinated by the idea that I could take an inanimate object and turn it into something useable, or take something that was broken and make it work again. In the sixth grade I started to learn how to play guitar, and that eventually lead to putting the two interests together in the eighth grade when I built an electric guitar from scratch using tools from around the house, and some templates I ordered online. The two inch thick SG I made played and sounded pretty good! To be totally honest I’m still not sure how I got the neck angle and bridge in the right place, but it worked out perfectly despite really having no idea what I was doing. At that point I was hooked, and most of the moments of my day were filled with thinking of what affects different materials would have on the instrument. This has brought me to the thing I am most passionate about, timbre (or the character or quality of a musical sound or voice as distinct from its pitch and intensity) and how I can voice the instrument to maximize the timbre quality and resonance simultaneously. For me, the most exciting part about playing guitar is the relationship of me playing an instrument, and the instrument responding back to me, my passion is really to increase the quality of that relationship. It is hard to believe that I have already been building for 12 years now. Back in 2013 I went to the east coast to work with luthiers Dale Unger of American Archtop, and Jay Lichty of Lichty guitars. I learned first how to build an archtop acoustics with Dale and flattop acoustics with Jay. The year after that I headed off to Michigan to the Galloup School of Guitar Building and Repair where I received my certificate of guitar building and repair, when I came back from that is when I really doubled down on Jennings Guitars as a company, and moved everything into its first dedicated shop space.

Jennings Guitars Interview - Jennings Guitars UK

J - How did you both meet, and was it a mutual interest in guitars/music that sparked the idea to start a business together? I quickly learnt from setting my own business up that there are so many aspects you have to consider, big decisions and directions to be inspired by. Do you feel this difference in dynamic by having someone else to bounce ideas off helped sculpt Jennings Guitars into the brand it became, including the instruments you have designed?

C&D - We actually met long before we were involved in any kind of music ventures. We joined the same Boy Scouts of America troop in our hometown when we were both 11 years old. We became pretty good friends before Chad ended up leaving after a year or two due to having too many other extracurricular activities, but we remained friends and went to all the same schools together throughout the years before Jennings Guitars was eventually formed. In our early 20’s Devin was playing in a signed band and wanted a nicer bass guitar but couldn’t afford any USA made instruments, so we got together and designed a really good looking seafoam green jazz bass. That was ultimately the first Jennings “guitar” that was made. Shortly thereafter, Chad came up with the concept of Jennings Guitars and knew he would need some help to get everything going, that’s when he contacted Devin about jumping in since he knew about Devin’s carpentry and design skills. The differences in dynamic between us has definitely helped in a large way to make the brand what it is, we believe that our differences complement each other. It has almost always helped to have a second set of eyes to look at anything either one of us does, it keeps us both in check. As far as aesthetics in guitar design goes, we ultimately end up on the same page because we both have similar taste in our favorite instruments that we pull inspiration from.

Jennings Guitars Interview - Jennings Guitars UK

J - From the outset, your model range appears to be a simplistic one, with the core options being two main body shapes. Was this a conscious decision to keep it that way? Do you feel this approach opens up the 'custom shop' possibilities for your customers by having a concise range along with also yourselves having a deep understanding for where you can take each model with options and customization? 

C&D - We have so many customizable options on our instruments that to introduce even more models would make it really hard to keep track of orders and the options for each order. Right now we have a very manageable amount of work with our current models and the original goal was to really plant our roots with these models before releasing any of the other designs we have cooked up. We will definitely be releasing new stuff as time goes on, we just wanted to make sure we didn’t burn ourselves out by trying to blast into the market with five or six unique models all at once. We thought it would be best to get our current models well known and hope that the fans who know us for those models get really excited when we start to tease new things. When we do start to become more complex of a business we might have to simplifying our ordering process and possibly limit some of the options people can do, but for now we are having a lot of fun coming up with crazy finish and hardware combinations that inspire us to come up with even crazier stuff!

Jennings Guitars Interview - Jennings Guitars UK

J - One thing we all have to admit within the guitar world is that we have a natural urge to 'pigeon hole' new guitar designs as being 'like that classic single cut' etc, but from day one of following your work I personally felt your guitars truly had their own feel and personality. There is a sense of classic and contemporary ideas blended together, but nothing for me anyway, feels like it's directly lifted from iconic shapes of yesteryear. So I'm really interested in hearing more about the design influences behind the Catalina and Voyager models if you'd like to talk us all through those models and where they originated?

C&D (But mostly Devin on this one!)- Well I will start by saying that while the Voyager isn’t a copy of any single guitar from yesteryear, it is definitely an amalgamation of about four to five of my favorite guitars from the 60’s, 70’s, and even an Ibanez from the 80’s! It was an attempt to create something that was definitely unique, but familiar. The Voyager was a tribute to these guitars and is rightfully named the Voyager because it was our first signature model and marked the beginning of our “voyage” as a guitar company. The Catalina was something that was created off of just a few guidelines that Chad wanted me to follow. He wanted a semi-hollow guitar with two sound holes, an even round bottom instead of an offset, and he wanted easy access to the upper frets. With that in mind I drew up the Catalina, my favorite part of it being where I found inspiration for the sound holes as I stated in a previous question. Another cool feature is that I wanted the Catalina to fit comfortably to the players body, so I created a tummy cut then offset that surface into the chamber of the guitar. This allowed it to be super comfortable, while still maximizing the volume of the upper chamber. The Catalina was named after one of the Channel Islands off the Southern California coast. It was an Island that I spent a lot of my summers growing up at a Boy Scout camp (and Chad for a couple years as well) and a place that I still visit a few times a year to this day. Once the Catalina was designed we knew that we had to make a semi-hollow design of the Voyager as well, and that’s when the Voyager Deluxe was born. We were able to swap the pickguard and sound hole designs from the Catalina to the Voyager Deluxe with very few modifications. The Voyager Deluxe is probably my favorite model of the three because it is a complementary combination of the Catalina’s features and the Voyager’s shape.

Jennings Guitars Interview - Jennings Guitars UK

J - There are of course so many aspects of guitar making to consider, which are your favourite stages along the journey?

C&D - The best 3 parts of making a guitar in our opinion are probably when we are going through the process of designing a cool guitar for a client, the stages of paint where stains are applied or colors are sprayed so you actually see what it is going to look like when it is finished, and then the assembly day when you get to complete an instrument and play it for the first time.

J - I always enjoy learning more about the musical journey that lead to your interest in the guitar. What was the music and who were the bands you both grew up listening to, do you think that influences your design, style or guitars overall today?

C&D - We both grew up listening to a lot of heavier alternative rock, and we have both been in a few alternative or indie rock bands either together or on our own. We would definitely say that the music we listen to has influenced our guitar styles. We listen to a lot of Thrice and I believe that probably had a large part in us creating a baritone neck that fits on all of our guitars! Top three most played artists in the shop the past couple years are probably Thrice, Company of Thieves, and Foals.

Jennings Guitars Interview - Jennings Guitars UK

J - Do you have plans to introduce any new models in the future? And what are your plans with Jennings Guitars, artists you'd love to work with, new directions for the brand etc?

C&D - Yes! There are a couple other designs we are keeping secret for now… and one of them is quite wild! First up though is a solid body version of the Catalina we are currently prototyping. After that might be a bass design since a lot of people seem to be asking for one. After those we will probably release one of the two other designs we have been saving for a while. Right now we are working with a handful of some smaller but extremely talented bands and artists who we LOVE working with. It is really cool to be building personally relationships with the people who believe on our company and do everything they can to spread the word about us. We prefer to have those types of relationships with people, but it would be really cool to see our instruments in the hands of some bigger artists on some very large stages and settings! The plan with the business is to grow it into something that we can make a happy living off of, we aren’t looking for fame or fortune or to sell the business to a larger corporation, those things don’t really happen in the boutique guitar world. We are just looking for an honest living doing what we love to do.

Thanks very much to Chad and Devin of Jennings Guitars for sparing some time to do this interview with me for the Meet the Maker series. I'm very proud to say I'm working alongside them in helping bring the Jennings brand to the UK, and the first two instruments from them are arriving this very week! So if you like what you see and hear through this interview, be sure to keep an eye out for these instruments and check out the mini launch I'll be doing for them at the London International Guitar Show on October 28th 2018 at Kempton Park!


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