There are a few things you should know about Miles Benefield.
First, he’s from Mount Pleasant Tennessee, “The Phosphate Capital of the World,” but he loves the purity of Bend, Oregon. Second, when he needs to relax, he steps out of the office and hits the Weber workshop floor, to smell the wood—it centers him in a way that anyone who appreciates making or playing can understand. And third, perhaps most importantly—in his own words—“I know all three chords.”
Benefield oversees operations for Weber Fine Acoustic Instruments, as well as for Bedell and Breedlove Guitars. He’s the rare numbers guy who can cut planks, shave a brace and do a final sanding, too.
The son of a touring drummer turned church musician, Benefield lit out from Maury County at 18, heading an hour north for Nashville, not for the bright lights of 16th Avenue, but for the classrooms of Belmont University.
His father passed young and playing guitar was a way to feel connected. Soon, Benefield was in the music business, as well, just in a very different way—taking classes during the day and ‘gigging’ in the evening.
“Gibson Guitars posted on its website that they were hiring” he recalls. “It worked out really well for me as far as going to school and being able to work full-time on the second shift.”
Benefield began as a rough mill worker, and soon became rough mill lead at the big brand’s electric guitar factory. When the right door opened, Benefield walked through, with his newly-minted Belmont business administration degree landing him a better post in the music giant’s Nashville home office.
Luckily for all of us, after seven years at Gibson, Benefield heard the call of the great Northwest, and at the suggestion of a friend, visited the Two Old Hippies digs on American Loop and ended up joining the team.
Miles is the one who tracks your Weber mandolin as it’s made, following it from its first appearance as a paper order until it heads out, on its way to your chosen dealer.
“It’s not like I'm just stuck in my office for 40 hours a week, though,” he says. “I can still get out there and be involved in the process, which is fun for me.”
Benefield leaves the finish booth to Dalton Bell, but he’s comfortable being called on for any other tasks in the handmade process, and still loves to “spend time gluing things up.”
His day begins early. He kisses his wife and young child goodbye, and he’s locking up his bicycle by six a.m.
“Doesn't matter if its 100 degrees or negative two degrees,” he says. “I like riding my bike to work.”
Once inside, out of the high desert air he so loves, he starts with a tour of the shop to make sure everything is ready to be up and running.
“I take a nice deep breath and see what's going on,” he says.
Benefield’s life at Weber is uniquely divided, so while Ryan Fish is bending sides, Mike Fischer is cutting binding and Erik Has-Ellison is stringing up completed instruments, he bounces back to the desk doing paperwork, evaluating and transferring inventory, and insuring that any parts or billets that needed to be ordered were ordered.
Not surprisingly, given his academic bent, Benefield has a real passion for precision, which is born out at Weber not so much in the tally book, but in his careful monitoring of everything from the week’s red spruce supply (tended to by Scott Wegner, who we’ll meet in profile soon) to the initial carving of neck blanks, to whether a mandocello top is hand-graduated to just the right specification.
“I really like the numbers side of things,” Benefield affirms. “I like analyzing the data and looking at where we are at, and how we can use that information to achieve and create the best sounding traditional mandolin available anywhere. How we think about the process and how we work with it and create new ways to shape and mold these pieces of wood, I think, is a lot of fun.”
By the latter half of the day, when Benefield has calculated to his fill, it’s time to breathe in the boards again.
“There was some Port Orford cedar in here the other day!” he beams.
“It's amazing just to look at all the different species that we work with. Each has its own well-defined character. But even in a more specific sense, we’re dealing, you know, with one specific tone set that came from one specific tree that grew in one specific place. It's really something to be able to bring it all back to life, to make it into a musical instrument. It’s very grounding to think about a tree. Its roots are in the ground, and then we get to take it, after its lifetime is done, and create something else beautiful out of it. It’s like reincarnation. I find it fascinating.”