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Montana Lutherie

The Special History of a Mandolin Pickguard

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Some of you may remember this story, but it's a good one:

By Bruce Graybill

When Bruce Weber built my first custom Weber Mandolin, he had me play for several of his builders using my ‘go to’ Mandolin of that time. He had some special cedar from a tree cut in 1910, that he thought would really work well for voicing the kinds of range and timbre of the classical pieces I was playing. Along with the incredible experience of having woods and building style specifically geared to the way I played Mandolin, Bruce helped me incorporate woods with poignant family history.

In 2004 I took a road trip through Montana, with my daughter, to celebrate her graduation from high school. While there we visited the homestead cabin site of my great grandfather, Andrew Pool, outside Greycliff, Montana. I had visited the cabin in 2001 while performing at at Classical Mandolin Society of American convention in Bozeman, Montana. At that time the homestead cabin was still mostly standing, the roof and upper walls caved in from decay. The homestead is now part of the 17,000 acre corporate ranch managed by Steve Story, who was very kind to provide me access to the site to photograph the cabin in 2001 and 2004, and visit the grave of my Great-Aunt Helen (daughter of Andrew and Myrtle Pool) that passed away as an infant at the homestead in 1917. On this second visit with my daughter, we were told in advance a forest fire had consumed the cabin in 2003. We were able to walk among the ashes of the cabin, and found two pieces of the original log walls that had not completely burned in the fire. One was the size of a cantaloupe, rather heavy and encased in burned charcoal. When I proudly laid the bag of charcoal pieces on Bruce Weber’s desk a few days later, black dust bellowed out really making a mess. He just laughed an told me it wasn’t a problem. He told me he would cut it open to see if there was any useable wood to incorporate in the custom build he was undertaking on my behalf. Fortunately, there was enough heat tempered wood to make it possible.

Featured are some pics of the homestead cabin when I visited the site in October 2001 and 2004 after it burned. At that time the cabin walls were still standing over about 80% of the structure. My Grandmother, Pansy Genevieve Pool rode the horse that pulled these logs up the mountain as her father cut the trees down for the cabin. She was around twelve years old at the time.
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In addition to salvaging the wood for the pick guard and armrest on the first Mandolin, Bruce was able to get one larger piece to use as a pick guard on the Octave Mandolin he built for me. The scorched edges of the wood show through the clear finish.
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Having accessories made of this wood, the only remaining wood from my great grandfather’s homestead cabin, give a quality to this instrument that far exceeds it’s considerable intrinsic value. I am truly grateful to Bruce for his effort to make this possible.

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