Mike Fischer remembers the phone call well. It was a Minnesota February, the kind that cuts a chill right through to the bone. He was in his second year, studying Guitar Development & Production at the Red Wing campus of Minnesota State, an hour south from his Twin Cities home.
He got the job.
It was a phone call from Weber.
“The standard in the industry,” Fischer says, “is what's called a bench test. For a gig like this, a luthier’s position, you fly out and do the test and hope to prove your skills. Before the interview, I had sent out nice full-size gloss pictures of the things I had built in school, hoping that was enough to show my abilities. I was very lucky that Weber took a chance on me, without the initial test.”
The talent that put him on the bench in Bend was evident in those photos, and its evident in your Weber mandolin.
Fischer, who carves and sands many of the scrolls on traditional F-style bodies, is the binding master at Weber Fine Acoustic Instruments. An avowed fan of “functional art,” he loves creating the binding and purfling, crafting it layer by painstaking layer; he loves cutting the rabbet (essentially a tiny shelf) for the carefully bent pieces to sit in; and he loves marrying the beautiful trim he’s made to the wood—to the spruce, cedar, mahogany and maple being transformed into mandolins.
“The whole idea of something that's visually pleasing, but that has an actual role to fulfill, is absolutely important to me. I think that, at Weber, we live in a magical space in the musical instrument realm. We get to create a piece of art, technically, that then creates more art. That’s pretty rare. It's like creating the most beautiful paint brush in the world, which someone will use to create more beautiful paintings.”
The urge to “create,” to bring “beauty” into the world, runs deep with Fischer—an avid outdoorsman, like the rest of the Weber team.
In his youth, he was unsure where to channel his passions, eventually finding a path, before he settled on guitars, in glass.
Blowing glass is a serious pursuit, and Fischer followed it through tracks at two schools.
“First,” he says, “was Anoka-Ramsey Community College, in Coon Rapids, which has an excellent glass blowing program, especially considering its size. It has a very large shop for the number of students at the school. And then, I pursued blowing glass further at University of Wisconsin-River Falls.”
He has no access to a glass works in Bend, and truth be told, he spends what spare time he can find building more guitars at home. But he does wax nostalgic for the heat, the bright light of the sodium flare, the gathering, founding and flashing.
“I definitely miss it,” he says ruefully. “Sadly, I don't know of a local shop. Despite my love of blowing glass and making massive vases and things, I found that you really can't start up without tons of cash. It's very, very expensive, let alone having money just to run the gas every month.”
“But I can definitely translate the sense of form from glass to wood. The scroll, for example, is a three-dimensional thing. There's the actual profile of the scroll, which is determined by the shape I choose when I bind it. I cut that rabbet in, but then I reshape it, if need be, to the exact form I want that scroll to be. That sets the future of the instrument. The three-dimensional part, when you come back in and complete that scroll, is all based off the sense of form that I learned in school—nice flowing curves, you know, proportional, all those things. It’s got to be pleasing to the eye.”
Most of the glass Fischer made in Minnesota was “inherited” by his family—“my parent's kitchen is lined with pieces from school,” he laughs—but his mandolins are played around the world.
Fischer’s father spent time in bands before starting a family, ripping up The Ventures’ “Walk Don’t Run” on a Gibson Melody Maker that still holds a special place in Fischer’s heart.
He remembers that the instrument itself fascinated him as much as the music his father could produce with it. Today, the younger Fischer—a true guitar geek—plays a little, but when his shift is done at Weber, he puts his energy into making even more music machines.
“I've always been so incredibly obsessed with the building part, that, sadly, it subtracts a lot of time from the playing part. I am working toward having more time to play; however, my passion will always revolve around creating the best tools for musicians that I possibly can.”