Scroll envy. It’s a thing.
The symmetrical lines of teardrop A-style mandolin are inherently beautiful—simplicity defined, with form meeting function. But for many, a mandolin just isn’t a mandolin without those sexy, familiar Florentine curves.
Some call the scroll a straphanger. It’s well-suited to the task, but it’s much more than that. It’s a lovely bit of woodworking. It’s art, in an organic form. And it offers a signature, for luthiers and players alike.
Mike Fischer, who carves many a scroll for Weber, says that the graceful climb of the helix echoes the Fibonacci sequence found in nature, science and architecture. Think the gorgeous spin of a nautilus shell, the arc of a spiral galaxy or the sweep of the Vatican’s Bramante Staircase.
“To me, it's the most interesting part, visually, of a mandolin,” says Fischer. “Honestly, it's one of the most interesting elements of any musical instrument. It's just so ornate, and kind of reminds me of that old world heritage. It's the ultimate test of making an upscale mandolin, and doing it right.”
The scroll harks back to the pioneering vision of Lloyd Loar, whose presence still looms large over the mandolin world. Loar, riffing on the work of his predecessor Orville Gibson, brought violin building techniques to the bench, amplifying the latter’s early filigrees.
All these years later, it—the scroll—remains the hallmark of the traditional mandolin.
And it is created today in much the same fashion. By hand.
Tops are roughed on CNC machines and go through rigorous deflection testing and hand tuning, all with an ear towards making your Weber mandolin sound as amazing as it can. By the time it lands at Fischer’s bench, with its ribs already glued in place, it is quite nearly a music-making machine.
Part of his job—his craft—is to make it look as good as it will sound.
“I'm so proud,” he says, “to be part of the creation of something that gives so much happiness to people.
Fischer uses simple hand tools, and particularly favors an inch-and-a-quarter gouge, its blade angled about 40 degrees. He keeps it frighteningly sharp so that he can take off an errant piece of spruce, or gently shave away a whisper of maple.
The goal, of course, is uniformity, but there is room for expression. Even an ardent player or woodworker might not spot the fine differences between a dozen scrolls, but Fischer’s trained eye can pick out every hand in the shop.
“Currently we have four luthiers who, at certain times, take on the role of detail sander. Although, at an initial visual check, our work looks very, very similar, each one of us has a slightly different touch.”
A touch only available on a hand-made instrument.
Like everyone on the floor at Weber, Fischer thinks deeply about you while he works on your mandolin. He is moved by the fact that he is making art that will make more art. It’s a running theme when speaking with the luthiers, a deep understanding that the end goal of making an instrument shine is enticing a player to pick it up and make music.
“It’s incredible. To this day, I love being able to point out to somebody that I was part of creating something like that, of carving that scroll. I really love giving tours in Bend. I love any chance to show people the world of luthiery—to show them all the tools involved, the processes, all of those things, you know?”
What makes the Weber scroll unique is more than just the unusually fine attention to detail. Weber, unlike any other make, features what has long been referred to as the swallowtail. Other scrolls coalesce into a line that fades as the spiral meets the body. The Weber breaks gracefully into two diverging lines that echo its moniker.
“That swallowtail is one more thing that makes a Weber special,” beams Fischer.
Some feel that the aforementioned A-style body represents a budget model. It’s true that without the time-consuming work of a scroll, it is more affordable to produce an A-style mandolin. But the level of craftsmanship is just the same, and certain aspects of building an A require every bit as much effort and just as many hours. But, also as noted, the scroll speaks to the heart of many, onstage and off.
Thankfully Weber has offerings in both styles, and, with the 2018 rollout of Yellowstone large bodies, you can now satisfy that scroll envy with a mandola, octave mandolin or mandocello, as well as with the traditional F-style mandolin, available in all appellations from the unbound Gallatin to the prestigious fully-bound Fern.