I first discovered Blast Cult during NAMM 2019, and the company resonated with me immediately, with their subtle lines, attention to detail and, of course, the substantial American ’50s vibe which permeates the brand’s style. Jason Burns is the luthier responsible for Blast Cult, and he is one helluva double bass player, plus a touring musician who has a unique insight into what makes an instrument tick all the right boxes.
Just a little background first, as I mentioned above, I became aware of Blast Cult during NAMM 2019, and at the time, I reached out to Jason Burns and did an article about his work
for gearnews.com. The subtle pin-striping, beautiful old school celluloid binding and huge American ’50s style just made Blast Cult stand out from the crowd during that show for me personally.
At the time, Blast Cult was based in Orange County, California. The whole business already had a reputation for catering to pro touring musicians and lovers of classic looking and roadworthy instruments.
Fast forward to 2021, and I’m just getting GuitarBomb off the ground, and I think that I have to get in touch with the Blast Cult, as their work just impressed me so much. Low and behold, two days later, an email lands in my inbox, entirely out of the blue. And you’ve guessed it Blast Cult have just reached out to tell me about what they are up to in 2021. Fate has intervened, and so I reach out and arrange this interview.
It transpires that in the last three years, Blast Cult has upped sticks and moved to London, and actually, they’ve moved just down the road from where I was born.
Jason originally hails from Louisiana and has been a pro musician, playing the double bass and touring the world since 17. He learned on the road that carrying around double bass was like carrying a ‘giant egg’ and that they would often break down. Burns is one of those guys that work stuff out; he knows he can make things even better, and thankfully, his grandfather had taught him from an early age how to use woodworking tools.
It isn’t surprising then that eventually, he would modify his double basses, making them more robust and far more reliable for using whilst touring. It didn’t start like this though, in the early years, he would take his double bass to a ‘classical instrument’ repairer to get work done. He describes the disbelief on their faces when they saw what he had done to his instruments and their repair costs as very high. But every time he got some work done, he would ask questions on what they were doing and gleaned as much knowledge as possible with each visit.
Eventually, Jason would start reinforcing the necks of his double basses with steel and aluminium bars. This upgrade came about because these ‘giant eggs’ would inevitably lose their necks in a fall or when airline staff dropped the cases, so it was always a significant issue and a repair he often faced whilst out touring.
He also had an endorsement with EMG pickups as a pro musician and had started tinkering with their preamps and started to create his own piezo pickup systems for double bass. Thus allowing his double bass tone to be adequately heard at stage volumes. Essentially Jason took that ‘giant egg’ and made it roadworthy and let it be adequately heard during gigs.
Who are your biggest influences with instrument building?
We talked about influences, and obviously, touring was a massive part of making instruments ready for the road. And I discovered that Jason was a frequent visitor to the library, and there he would research how to build instruments, and as it was all pre-internet, a lot of these books were used as the basis for ‘the basics’ of instrument building. He cites specifically Robert Benedetto’s Book: Making an Archtop Guitar, which he studied when he decided to start looking at making guitars. The double bass construction was similar, but it was a little ‘looser’ as in you can have various scale length, and there aren’t any frets.
Whereas with the guitar, there are set scale lengths, and the fretwork is critical. What also came up in our conversation was how with the correct techniques, one could make an archtop guitar from pretty basic construction materials, the kind of timber you would find in a Home Depot, for example. This knowledge was all taken from books by builders like Robert Benedetto and talking with Jason, and we discussed how this ‘raw’ materials idea struck a chord with him at the time. He figured if you get the construction right, then it will sound great.
Jason is the kind of instrument maker that turns his hand to everything within the build, and he likes to get down and dirty, learning new skills along the way. He takes classic designs, modernises their plans and along the way, he knows, often by his mistakes, how to improve on them.
We discussed how he builds all the hardware for his double basses, from bridges through to the tuning pegs, all the way down to bespoke pickup systems. He is also a dab hand with finishing and does all his finish work in-house. With guitars, Jason uses already proven hardware, as there are lots of quality brands already on the market. Just with the double bass, this hardware doesn’t exist, so he creates it all himself.
What is your favourite part of the process of instrument making?
Jason loves the finer details, and if you look at his work, it’s all there in plain sight but so subtle. This is what turned me onto Blast Cult in the first place, as all his instruments have style.
Just check out how he binds the f-holes on his instruments, using celluloid binding, which is a nightmare to work with but looks fantastic when done to this level. Or the subtle pin-striping on some of the finishes, which I think looks great, as it’s understated yet perfectly underpins the whole aesthetic of the instruments and tie them together perfectly.
The devils in the details, and Jason dances with him frequently. He says he enters a zen-like state when working on these fiendish parts of the build, and you can see the love and care of attention when you see his work.
How should potential new clients get prepared when buying a new instrument from you?
Jason consults with potential new Blast Cult users to find out what they require; he finds that he can advise what works best, drawing on his working knowledge. He also likes to listen to their music/ bands and get a feel for what they are doing where possible.
Therefore, many new customers worlds will change positively as all the nightmare issues they could have experienced will never happen. Essentially, Jason has put in the miles of hard work so that you can avoid any pitfalls.
How would you describe your style of instrument building?
Blast Cult is known for very American-style ’50s and ’60s looking instruments that use improved modern construction methods. We all are familiar with these classic shapes. Blast Cult is moving things forwards with the build and making them better.
I’ve developed removable necks for double basses, using materials that include carbon fibre for stability and all in a neat, functional, robust design. Perfect for touring musicians that need reliable instruments.
What’s the biggest mistake you’ve made whilst learning your craft?
There are many pitfalls, and it takes experience that you can’t learn at school. Time and study, you learn from your mistakes. You then know how to avoid mistakes going forwards. My skillsets encompass everything from the electronics of the instrument through to the final paintwork.
Multiple skill sets acquired throughout a lifetime of creating, and my passion for instrument making is why I do it.
Why do you think musicians should buy a luthier made instrument?
Not everyone will need one, to be honest. Though at a certain point in their life, many musicians reach out and know what they want. Both professional musicians and collectors will be after something specific. It’s a very personal thing, and 99% of the customers who contact me know what they want.
Do you have a personal favourite style of instrument?
Double bass. Along with funky old guitars brands like Harmony, Rocket 3 and Supro.
What do you feel when you have to hand the new guitar/bass over to its new owner? And Do you ever want to keep them instead?
I love handing them over, so I can see the new owners reaction. I would love to hang on to certain ones, but it has to leave like breeding puppies. It’s exhilarating when you first string up a newly made instrument, especially the hollow-bodied stuff and get hot ready for its new owner.
What would you want your legacy to be?
The instruments I build and their quality holds the test of time. There will be a few thousand of my instruments out in the world. And if I have made an excellent honest instrument that inspires an artist to make beautiful music, then my work is done.
Especially with the double bass, as they will experience no feedback, and it will sound great. So players can tour with it, and it will translate their unique voice and always sound true to the instrument.
Blast Cult is one of the guitar companies you have to check out. I would highly recommend you follow Jason’s work on social media and get in touch if you are looking for something unique. He is one of the most accessible guys to talk with, and he knows precisely what we musicians are looking for in an instrument.