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Meet the Craftsmen: Marty Lewis

“He’s a walking contradiction, partly truth and partly fiction.”
Kris Kristofferson penned those words in 1971, meaning to describe Johnny Cash as well as a bevy of other wild Nashville cats. Kristofferson wasn’t thinking of Weber luthier Marty Lewis when he wrote that famous line—heck, Lewis would have been about nine then—but the thought describes him pretty well.
Lewis, you see, is the man Weber owner Tom Bedell turned to when he wanted to go full tradition with a dovetail neck joint on all models Yellowstone and up. Bedell knew that with Lewis’ deep experience in woodworking, hand carving such a fine, strong connection between the body and the neck would be both child’s play and genuine art.
So, yeah, Marty works with wood, just as he has since he and his father built a still-functioning workbench with lap joints and dowels, not long after Kristofferson was first singing “The Pilgrim, Chapter 33.”
No contradiction, right? Just truth, and not much fiction?
But what about Marty Lewis the skateboard punk? What about Marty Lewis the madman skier? What about Marty Lewis the biker—and we don’t mean Harleys—who built his rides as well as raced them? Not to mention Marty Lewis the unrepentant motorhead (and occasional drag racer), with an acre of varied automobiles, each undergoing a custom transformation not unlike the creation of a Weber mandolin.
Now you see the contradiction, the truth and the fiction It’s a compelling story about a compelling man—a self-described adrenalin junkie, who just happened to sing baritone in the state champion middle school choir; throw pots on the wheel; and develop his own black and white photography.
But wait, did we mention his “movie addict’s” abiding love for classic film comedies and animation!? If you had any doubts, yes, Lewis can throw down quotes from Wayne’s World like a hellion. Don’t even try to compete.
In the shop, Lewis may be the senior in a group of equals, but his youthful attitude keeps pace with relative youngsters like Dalton Bell and Erik Has-Ellison. And his knowledge of what makes wood “work” is a resource for all, from Scott Wegner, who chooses the billets that go into each instrument to Ryan Fish, whose relentless research into all things mandolin always needs feeding.
Lewis worked in windows for over 20 years before joining Weber in 2013. The latter career move was made easier when he spied a Fern on a bench in Bend.
“My jaw just dropped. I thought that’s art, but more than that. That’s art that creates art. It serves a purpose. It’s not just something that hangs on a wall looking beautiful.”
But Lewis’ window work was much more than the everyday stuff of aprons and astragals. He made the hand-bent frames for luxury houses—custom oval lunettes, elegant bows, arched lancets, stylish oriels and classic fenestellas.
By the time Lewis caught sight of that Fern, his life had, in fact, slowed down a little, the need for speed diminished more than anything by a bad back blowout that nearly left him crippled.
A single father of an adult child, Lewis passed his passion for mountain biking down to his son, Sean, who competes with typical Lewis commitment and makes papa proud.
Lewis, while born in Lawrence, Kansas, is Oregon through and through, and shares his love of the outdoors with virtually everyone on the Weber team.
These days, for the man who graduated wilderness school at 13, hikes in the woods take on a different meaning. Yes, they bring peace, a chance to get away from the hum, but they also bring communion, a chance to be amongst the trees. Oregon trees. Bend trees.
Lewis, after all, is the one who suggested Weber make a limited edition number of instruments using Port Orford cedar and Oregon Myrtle. He even suggested a juniper fingerboard, although that has yet to be explored.
His favorite wood is actually the highly prized koa, from the big island of Hawai’i, perhaps because he has a Rosebud-like memory of a beautiful Arbor Longboard from his days in Salem, skating hard and listening to Sex Pistols, B-52s and the like. He could tweak a skateboard then, just as well as he could fix anything wrong with your skis, another pre-Weber job that matched woodwork with function and beauty.
Lewis has a nice collection of instruments at home, mostly from the Two Old Hippies family, including instruments by Breedlove and Bedell, as well as Weber. A devout music fan and an ardent classic rock concertgoer, he, curiously, does not play.
Why so many axes?
“I’ve always considered them investments, and, frankly, I’m a fan of objects of beauty. Sometimes I buy them just because of the wood, or because the combination of binding and purfling just sets me off.”
And like his beloved 1970 Datsun 510 and ’64 Buick Riviera, each guitar and mandolin gets further home customization, with finely-detailed inlay being a current fascination.
And that’s no fiction.