This past summer, I went out to Bozeman, Montana, for a reunion of acoustic musician friends. My cousin Tom “Mandotom” Murphy hosted the get-together. Tom showed us his new, beautiful maple octave mandolin which was custom-built by the luthiers at a shop about 45 minutes from his place.
Sound to Earth is owned by Bruce Weber and his wife, Mary, who manufacture Weber mandolins, mandolas, octave mandolins, archtop guitars and, more recently, resonator (resophonic) guitars.
Bruce was formerly the manager of the Flatiron Mandolin Company that was then owned by the Gibson Corporation. When Gibson decided to move their mandolin manufacturing to Nashville, Bruce and a few other employees went to Nashville to set up operation but missed Montana enough to move back without jobs. With the help of some former Flatiron employees, Bruce began manufacturing Weber mandolins.
Employee (and champion bluegrass picker) John Lowell gave us a tour of the shop, which is in a two-story red brick schoolhouse in Logan, Montana, in the Gallatin Valley. The shop is about 8,000 square feet with plenty of natural “big sky” sunlight streaming through the many 10-foot-high windows.
The main work area of the shop appears to be the former gymnasium: there’s a stage at the end of the room filled with weight machines and other exercise equipment. Along one wall are shelves going up about 12 feet filled with vast supplies of spruce, mahogany and maple boards where they age in the consistent low humidity of Montana.
Many of the instrument parts are rough-cut ahead of time to ensure that any warping or checking will be noticed before the building process begins.
Much of the rough milling, about 70 percent, along with logo carving, is done by a computer-controlled carver; the rest is done by hand.
A conversation with a musician about an instrument often leads to further innovations based on their feedback. Among Weber’s innovations are a new style of bridge that uses ebony wedges rather than the traditional brass screws to adjust string tension. The ebony wedges make adjustments a bit easier and provide a more solid tone from the strings. Another unique feature of Weber instruments is the use of mortise-and-tenon neck joints rather than a dovetail joint.
When Sound to Earth developed a line of resonator guitars, John says they went against the traditional design and came up with a new system they call a “carousel” soundwell. The open soundwell, which holds the resonator, is created with two wooden rings supported by eight posts. This design increases the flow of air and sound.
A lacquer finish on Weber instruments helps to improve the tonal quality as the instrument ages. Find out more at www.soundtoearth.com.