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An Indepth Look at Weber Finishes

An Indepth Look at Weber Finishes
By Michael Eck

The finish on your Weber mandolin speaks to everyone in the room—or the festival tent or the club or the concert hall—even before they hear the first note. It telegraphs quality. It signifies the instrument as an object of beauty, craftsmanship and virtuosity. You could hang it on the wall and call it art, if you could just convince yourself to stop taking it down to play it!

Since day one, Weber mandolins, mandolas, octaves and mandocellos have been eye candy, matching visual flair with astonishing sound. But now, along with other changes for 2018, Weber fine acoustic instruments look better than ever, with important upgrades in finish across the catalog.

Gallatins have grown from a sturdy, austere monochrome to a still simple, yet stunning, no-frills satin Amber sunburst. Bitterroots boast a thinner Faded Amber pattern with a lovely glow all its own. Yellowstones make good on their name with a high gloss Burnt Amber finish, blending yellow into dark brown; set off by ivoroid binding, front and back.

All of this work is towards making Weber the best, and best-looking, traditional mandolin available today.

And no one knows more about the finish on your Weber than Dalton Bell, because he’s the guy who applied it. Bell is the da Vinci of the spray booth, although he’s too humble to say that himself.

“I do have to have a little bit of an eye for detail,” he’ll concede, and when nudged he’ll offer, “I think the work is pretty artistic.”

“The new colors for the Gallatin, the Bitterroot, and the Yellowstone are all done with a stain process,” he explains. “To begin with, I'll stain them with a base layer of yellow, using a soft rag, then give them a profile sand to make sure everything is smooth.”

Yellow is the first color to enter the eye, and the last to leave, which makes the stained undercoat both a powerful visual incentive and a strong palette to build on.

“The bursts on those three lines are all spray applied in brown,” Bell says. “With the Bitterroot, for example, I do a really light area of brown around the edge, versus the Gallatin, which will have a heavier band. I’ll bring it more towards the center so it creates a rich, classic look.”

Bell notes that one of the most telling changes in finishing for 2018 is that the grain, the natural beauty of the wood, is more visible than ever.

“There's a lot more transparency to the color,” he says. “Look at a new dovetail Yellowstone, you can see every bit of grain detail, because it's applied directly to the wood. Since the Yellowstone has a more figured back, I’ll give just a dusting of brown over it, and then when I stain it, the figure will stand out even more.”

Heritage models, like the Fern, the Vintage and the Diamondback, are slightly opaque, befitting their historic counterparts.

“They will be darker towards the end of the bursts, towards the edge. You'll see the grain peeking through in the center, if not so much on the lip. But I do think with each of the new colors, they reveal all of the grain, even if it's really shaded.”

Thinness of finish is important. The beauty work may be done for the eye, but the instrument needs to sing, too. That’s how you know it’s a Weber!

Bell is careful to balance the layers of stain, paint and nitrocellulose lacquer because he knows how his work can affect the sound.

“Obviously, the more material you tack onto the wood, it's going to be taking away from its ability to vibrate through the rest of the instrument, to resonate. So, I try to keep everything as thin as I can. Some models require a bit more material, just so I can safely buff it without hurting the finish or the color. But all in all, I'll try to execute each one of them with as few sprays as possible.”

The distinctive speed neck of the Diamondback, a banjo-killing bluegrass machine, takes special care, which Bell is glad to give. The result allows the player nimble access to every note at the galloping tempi so common to the form.

“I'll mask the center of the barrel,” Bell says, “and then I'll burst it out as if I was going to do the whole neck, but I'll just spray up to the tape. When I get done with the rest of the body, I'll go back and pull that tape off, and then I'll even out the level of finish to the raw wood, so it's smooth and you don't have a bump anymore.”

“But I'll sand it to where it looks like it had a burst underneath and almost like it's been scuffed clean from heavy playing. It gives a naturally worn look, but it's pretty much still a bare maple neck. When that process is done, I like to seal it with either Tung oil or Danish oil to safeguard the wood. That way it's not entirely raw and susceptible to moisture and such. It's still protected, and boy does it feel great under your hand.”

And that, too, is how you know it’s a Weber.