(The Author's Behind-the-Scenes Look at the Building of His Personal Mandolin)
Mike Fischer has finished the back of my Diamondback by now, the lines of flame in the raw maple converging, rippling down with promise yet to come. He repeats the process of the top, stripping the binding into place on a freshly cut rabbet, the glue taking time to set before Marty Lewis can sandwich all parts together.
Now the dovetail, already snug enough to support itself, gets its own dose of Titebond, and Lewis sets the neck. You might, at this point, mistake my Diamondback for a lovely box with a long handle if it didn’t look so dang much like a beautiful butterfly of a mandolin.
Scott Wegner may stop by and see how things are moving along, marveling at the beauty of wood he chose from the remarkable Weber supply. Miles Benefield, busy in the office and needing to smell some sawdust, might take a peek at the build card and nod approvingly at how far things have come along.
The Diamondback, now with something like a mind of its own, heads back to Ryan Fish. It doesn’t want to fret. It just wants frets.
Truth be told, the mandolin needed to sleep awhile after its neck and back were attached, but now it’s a very solid unit, ready to withstand frets being gently but firmly hammered in place. Fish installs .080 wire into the ebony board, both standard across all Weber lines.
While Weber aims for a traditional look and sound, the radiused fingerboards larger frets and standard 1 1/8 inch nuts make for an easy, contemporary playability.
And this Diamondback, ever closer to its still a-ways-off shipping date, is itching to be played.
First, it’s back on Fischer’s bench. All mandolins like to be on Fischer’s bench. It’s a good place for a mandolin to be.
Using his trusty—and sharp—inch-and-a-quarter gouge, Fischer reminds the Diamondback that it’s a Weber. He ramps the spiral into the scroll not simply by removing excess spruce, but by releasing “the angel in the marble.” The same goes for the trademark Weber swallowtail. Fischer brings an artist’s touch to his role as craftsman. To the untrained eye, the elegant lines in the Diamondback’s Adirondack top are uniform, but his work on the scroll is as much a signature as Fish’s name on the final label.
This is, after all, a handmade instrument.
Under Fischer’s tutelage, John Graham may jump in for final sanding and detailing.
All hands in the Weber shop understand all duties and may be called on for different steps, but each respects one another’s special talents as well.
Graham uses a variety of sandpapers, each finer than the next, to smooth the Diamondback into beautiful submission, into beautiful harmony.
You may have heard of instruments being “in the white.” This is an instrument in the white. No strings, no tuners, no tailpiece, but, save for its finish and fripperies, a complete mandolin.
And what a finish! Dalton Bell has been hard at work across 2018, developing new stains, new formulations and new looks for all Weber mandolins. Along with Brad Streit, he has been applying these state-of-the art traditional finishes to the delight of every new Weber owner. Wow simply doesn’t cover it.
In the booth, it’s fretboard covered with masking tape, the Diamondback gains an Antique Tobacco Burst, a classic look that recalls the great bluegrass mandolins of yesteryear. It’s a satin lacquer finish, thin enough to let the sound of that red spruce blossom, strong enough to protect it from years of loving use, and not quite as shiny as the full gloss treatment of other Heritage models.
Sanding is an Olympic sport in Bend, and once out of the booth, the custom three-play binding of my Diamondback is scraped clean, now positively popping against the darker edges of the sunburst, creating a defining line that will look great onstage and just dazzling close up. The body finish is fine sanded to mirror smoothness, and, being a Diamondback, the neck is given a little special treatment, too.
Diamondbacks are the only existing model in the Weber line to receive a speed neck, although you, of course, could order such treatment on your Weber mandolin.
The speed neck echoes the feel of classic violins, with nearly bare wood offering great ease of playability and a look that frankly says, ‘I’m not kidding around.’
Bell tapes off the necks on Diamondbacks before staining and spraying, but leaves enough finish at the edges for a natural look, which he and Breit finesse with fine grit.
Ryan Fish has been inspecting the Diamondback, like all mandolins that cross the floor, throughout its various stages.
He gives a thumbs-up and it moves on to Erik Has-Ellison.
Californian by birth, but Bend at heart, Has-Ellison joined Weber in 2016, and has been doing stringup ever since. His, in a practical sense, are the last hands on your Weber mandolin.
Facing a multitude of drawers and bins, Has-Ellison attaches the missing parts to the Diamondback—the bone nut, the adjustable ebony bridge, the gold tailpiece and tuners, and finally, the D’Addario strings. He sets the instrument up and fine tunes it, literally and figuratively, dressing all 21 frets, tending to the truss rod, and tweaking the bridge height and placement for perfect action, intonation and ease of play.
The moment of truth has arrived. Months after the notion, this amorphous idea has become wood and wire working together to create music. It’s not just a mandolin, it’s a Weber mandolin. And, for me, it’s not just a Weber mandolin. It is my Diamondback F14-F.
Ryan Fish approves. He plays it and it sings. He signs his name to the label, which Has-Ellison carefully places into the instrument before placing the Diamondback in its case for shipping.
The dream is on! What will be your Weber mandolin?