Written by Adam Perlmutter
Published by Acoustic Guitar Magazine
Once you pick up Weber’s Two-Point Bitterroot octave mandolin, it’s nearly impossible to put it down. With its brilliantly sparkling timbres, complex overall voice, and impressive sustain, this large mandolin almost sounds like a tiny string orchestra.
Whether played with customary mandolin triads or altered jazz voicings, the instrument has an impressive and vibrant chop—you can clearly discern the individual members of chords. It also has a dynamic, well-projected tone, with excellent clarity and note separation, and a sound that’s a little smoother and less twangy than that of a standard mandolin.
When I downloaded the sheet music for some reels and jigs and played them on the mandolin, I was impressed by the instrument’s authoritative voice. And it was easy to add ornamentations like grace notes, thanks to the instrument’s perfect setup. It sounded particularly warm and robust on an arrangement of J.S. Bach’s Cello Suite No. 1.
Long and Lean
Granted, it can be difficult for a guitarist to transition to the mandolin. After all, a guitar’s usual scale length is 25.4 inches; by contrast, a standard mandolin’s scale is just 14 inches. The octave mandolin, however, is pitched an octave below a regular mandolin (low to high: GDAE), and has a much longer scale length of 22 inches, making the switch easier. (Weber also offers also a version with a 20-inch scale length.)
At 37.5 inches long, the lightweight Bitterroot sits nicely on the lap. Its fretboard has a 10-inch radius, and this, in tandem with its low action, makes it comfortable to play both barre chords and single-note lines up and down the fretboard. A 13/8-inch nut width (as opposed to 11/8 inches on a standard mandolin) give both the fret and pick hands plenty of space to move around.
Based in Bend, Oregon, Weber offers many other mandolin-family instruments, in addition to acoustic archtop and resonator guitars. The company has its roots in the Bozeman, Montana-based Flatiron Mandolin and Banjo Company, which was subsumed by the Gibson Guitar Corporation in 1987. When Gibson relocated Flatiron to Nashville in the mid-’90s, Bruce Weber, the head luthier, stayed behind in Montana to work on his own finely crafted, distinctively styled instruments. A couple of years ago, Weber joined the Two Old Hippies family of musical instruments, which also includes Breedlove and Bedell, and moved to its present headquarters.
Each of Weber’s instruments is available in one of seven cosmetic packages; the review model featured the company’s Bitterroot treatment, named after the state flower of Montana. Though the Bitterroot package is one of Weber’s least-expensive options, it incorporates a number of attractive cosmetic flourishes, like a Celtic knot mother-of-pearl headstock inlay, diamond-shaped fretboard markers, and engraved nickel Grover tuners with pearloid buttons.
The instrument also boasts a satin nitrocellulose lacquer finish with a buckskin-colored stain, giving it a bit of a leathery look, unusual on a musical instrument.
The Bitterroot’s impressive tonewood selection includes a hand-carved solid Sitka spruce top with a superfine and even grain pattern; the back, ribs, and neck are made from beautiful, straight-grained mahogany. The fretboard and bridge are inky black ebony, while the headstock cap is made from attractively streaky ebony.
The instrument is exceptionally well built, with 27 smoothly polished and beveled frets, plus a precisely notched nut and bridge. The inlay work is meticulous, as is the interior kerfing. In your hands, it feels like a solid instrument.
Most important, though, the Bitterroot is inspiring to play—a beautifully constructed and superb-sounding instrument that will help guitarists access the chorusing effects of a mandolin. It might be prohibitively expensive to many players, but it’s a fine choice for those who can afford it.
Two-point body style
Hand-graduated and tuned solid Sitka spruce top with f-holes
Solid mahogany back and sides
Satin nitrocellulose lacquer finish
22-inch scale length
1 3/8-inch nut width
Grover open-geared tuners
Satin nitrocellulose lacquer finish
John Pearse strings (.014–.048)
Deluxe hardshell case
PRICE $4,399 MAP
Made in Bend, Oregon, United States
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