Ralph Dammann has lived in Central Virginia for over 50 years, having moved across the country at age seven from California. He built his first instrument, an electric bass guitar, in 1969. His second instrument became the Bass he played professionally through most of the 1970’s. Ralph wanted an electric Bass that felt more natural to play – especially important for someone trained on a traditional double bass – so he designed and built his basses to hang upright and allow for greater (and easier) reach up and down the neck and, thus, better playability.
Ralph set up Dammann Custom Basses in 1997 to produce his custom 'Vertical Bass' in small volume. That business still exists with Ralph continuing to fine-tune the shape, balance and electronics for superior bass playing.
During the 80’s Ralph started playing the Octave Mandolin. Soon after he ordered a Mandocello, a standard four-course model, to branch out a little, and promptly fell in love with it.
Enter Ray Varona.
Ray is a trained luthier who came to work in Ralph’s shop in 2007. Ray was looking for somewhere to hone his instrument making skills, and Ralph's fully equipped shop was the perfect place. Both Ray and Ralph are accomplished musicians and both share a love of fine woods and expert craftsmanship.
Initially, Ray worked making Ralph’s custom basses but also spent time designing and making a range of acoustic instruments in the shop – everything from guitars to violins. Ralph’s interest in the mandolin and mandocello continued to grow and he asked Ray to build a five course mandocello. Ray, being Ray, built several and the acoustic version was a revelation to Ralph. Not only was it a beautiful instrument, but it had the character and tonal possibilities of an entirely new instrument. And so was born the Dammann five-course Mandocello…
Ray makes these instruments to sound full and balanced all across the spectrum of pitches available up and down the neck. His skill at balancing all the variables at play in the design of the acoustic stringed instrument is evident when the player picks one up. The Dammann five-course Mandocello can be made to accommodate whatever combination of instrument woods you like, tweaking the sound in one direction or another but the player can rely on the finished instrument to sing like no other stringed instrument he has ever heard.