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Al Krow

Alembic basses

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Saw one of my all time 'guilty pleasure bands' on a BBC4 documentary recently and was reminded that the guy who wrote perhaps the most iconic bass line of all time, played on an Alembic bass.

Also that Lindsey Buckingham never played with a pic, which is super unusual for a rhythm / lead guitarist. But boy what a sound! 

On the website Alembic speak of the electronics as being part and parcel of the bass and not some after thought. That's a philosophy that get's a massive thumbs up from me.

So who has one and are they as awesome as their reputation (and price tag!)?!

The other question I wanted to ask was actually posed by my fellow BC'er 7 years back. Be interesting if thoughts have moved on since then...

Edited by Al Krow

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They are the ones who happened to be among the first in active, sorry, low impedance stuff. They opened the higher ground to us, bassists. Their superb woodwork gave us hand made high end instruments (compare them to cheap, hi-Z, bolt-on, F-word stuff). On the other hand they represent sky high prices. The 25th anniversary bass had a price tag of 25 ooo $ at a time, when Jens Ritter was still very, very young.

If woodwork is your thing, I suppose that Alembic is your thing, too. Electronics have certain reputation, although they are not magical. Very good to excellent, though. Something similar can be found from Wal, Vigier's Nautilus and ROM packages, later Status and few others.

My only complaints might be the weight and body shapes but this is very subjective. Every single Alembic I have had a chance to play has been a real tour de force of workmanship and quality control. There may be something very "progressive" in them from 1970's but if their concept touches you, you will get a lifelong partner.

http://alembic.com/info/fcvault.html

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18 minutes ago, ped said:

The bass in the vid is a Tobias

Good spot, thanks :) - I've updated the OP to avoid any confusion.

And he's swapped to the bass of proper bass pro's in this most recent one (although he was totally not cutting through the mix - probably needed to boost his mids a touch) 😁

I'll need to try a little harder to find him playing his Alembic...

Edited by Al Krow

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But Lindsey Buckingham's g-word thing is made by Rick Turner, who worked with Ron W., so Alembic.

Tobias was Michael Tobias' design and handwork in the first phase before Gibson bought them. Pre-Gibson handcrafted instruments cost quite some. They have some basic lo-Z electronics (bartolini?), but the woodwork is impeccable. The "ergonomic" neck is special, it is thicker under lowest (thick) strings. Their bolt-on version was named as "Killer B".

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17 hours ago, Al Krow said:

Saw one of my all time 'guilty pleasure bands' on a BBC4 documentary recently and was reminded that the guy who wrote perhaps the most iconic bass line of all time, played on an Alembic bass.

Also that Lindsey Buckingham never played with a pic, which is super unusual for a rhythm / lead guitarist. But boy what a sound! 

On the website Alembic speak of the electronics as being part and parcel of the bass and not some after thought. That's a philosophy that get's a massive thumbs up from me.

So who has one and are they as awesome as their reputation (and price tag!)?!

The other question I wanted to ask was actually posed by my fellow BC'er 7 years back. Be interesting if thoughts have moved on since then...

Clearly, you don't remember playing my Stanley Clarke?

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39 minutes ago, Wolverinebass said:

Clearly, you don't remember playing my Stanley Clarke?

Well here's the thing Andy, I do...buuut it was relatively brief (the focus was on 12 strings that evening, right? Oh yes, and how much awesomer my VK was compared to your Markbass cab 😂) and, if I'm being completely honest, I had no idea of the quality and value of the instrument back then. I do now! And I'm certainly looking forward to a return visit at some point! 

Edited by Al Krow

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Not sure I could describe such a massive band as Fleetwood Mac as a ‘guilty pleasure’ , if you had said Jedward...

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it's a very big question...as awesome as reputation and price tag?  To some they're mythical beasts, and I suspect many of us haven't seen one up close, let alone played one.  To others, over-priced, overly-ornamented and a bit of a dinosaur - early innovators but disappeared into some cosmic, highly esoteric hole.   Trying to be as objective as possible (I've owned six and retained three but played many more), for me each instrument feels very different.  Woodworking is complex and beautifully executed and quality of finish is the best I've seen anywhere (I've owned Fodera, Wals etc. but not a Ritter).  Ergonomics can be err... idiosyncratic.  There's a rigidity or stiffness to most instruments and they tend to sound quite oddly dead unplugged (there are reasons for this).  The house tone is present in most models but you'll get more of this and more versatility the higher you ascend the price scale - I'd say you're generally buying-in to the characteristic tone from around the signature models and up.  In the SI and SII models, this reaches its zenith.  The basses are generally not that easy to set-up and some notable builders and techs don't like to deal with them.  When set-up properly (and of course, to individual taste), they can play remarkably well - certainly as well and better than anything else I've ever used.  On the downside, I find most Alembic body shapes uncomfortable on a strap and only really play them in a sitting position.  Some are also very heavy.  Adjusting the on-board controls takes some getting used to.  There's also some nonsense talked about Alembics and a bit of a negative cachet (as with any expensive brand).  

So... to return to the original question.  Yes on both counts for me though with some caveats.  These aren't magical instruments but they are beautifully crafted and thought-through in a (wholistic) way that doesn't appear to be the case with most basses (or other instruments for that matter).  To add a question, is this the transcendent bass and end of the search?  Well, I've been playing my US Lakland PJ a lot more than my Alembics recently and it fits most situations perfectly.  And it's not fiddly or uncomfortable in any way 

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They are lovely basses, very expensive new but rapidly lose value. I bought an Alembic Epic last year for 1500 or 1600,  used for a few Grateful Dudes gigs (Alembic was very much tied up with the Dead originally) but sold it this year as I have moved onto 6 string basses. It was not an easy decision to let it go, but I would have had even more trouble letting the Fenders I have had a few years than the Alembic high was only in my hands for 6 months or less.

If a decent full scale Alembic six string bass came up for sale, I don't think I'd be able to resist it, but for now, I am content with my pair of Ibanez sixes, which cost FAR less than an Alembic. 

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6 hours ago, Al Krow said:

Well here's the thing Andy, I do...buuut it was relatively brief (the focus was on 12 strings that evening, right? Oh yes, and how much awesomer my VK was compared to your Markbass cab 😂) and, if I'm being completely honest, I had no idea of the quality and value of the instrument back then. I do now! And I'm certainly looking forward to a return visit at some point! 

You're welcome to pop over whenever you want squire.

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I had an Epic for a while, but wasn't massively impressed; build quality was good, but nothing better than a good luthier build (Sei, Shuker, ACG, etc), the brass bridge was titanically over-engineered and it weighed a ton. It did the whole piano-tone well enough, but the overall impression was of a marque which might have been verrrry impressive twenty five years ago, but had been caught up by modern developments.

And yes, the Epic is one of the less well-specced models, but it's also twice the price (and then some) of basses which are just as good.

All IMHO, YMMV and all that...but you did ask :D

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2 minutes ago, Muzz said:

I had an Epic for a while, but wasn't massively impressed; build quality was good, but nothing better than a good luthier build (Sei, Shuker, ACG, etc), the brass bridge was titanically over-engineered and it weighed a ton. It did the whole piano-tone well enough, but the overall impression was of a marque which might have been verrrry impressive twenty five years ago, but had been caught up by modern developments.

And yes, the Epic is one of the less well-specced models, but it's also twice the price (and then some) of basses which are just as good.

All IMHO, YMMV and all that...but you did ask :D

Believe me, it's just as useful to hear contrary views, particularly when they are based on experience and fair reasoning! 

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I’d give a kidney for that alembic mark king signature in the FS section or an old 70’s alembic. I know that doesn’t help this thread. Just putting it out there. 😂

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1 hour ago, Muzz said:

I had an Epic for a while, but wasn't massively impressed; build quality was good, but nothing better than a good luthier build (Sei, Shuker, ACG, etc), the brass bridge was titanically over-engineered and it weighed a ton. It did the whole piano-tone well enough, but the overall impression was of a marque which might have been verrrry impressive twenty five years ago, but had been caught up by modern developments.

And yes, the Epic is one of the less well-specced models, but it's also twice the price (and then some) of basses which are just as good.

All IMHO, YMMV and all that...but you did ask :D

Me too and I had exactly the same experience! 

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30 minutes ago, Burns-bass said:

Me too and I had exactly the same experience! 

Oh dear. Well it seems that the Epic could suffer a valid challenge under the Trades Descriptions Act (1968).

Best cross that one off my list then. 

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I thought my Epic was wonderful, only sold as I needed money & space for the six strings.

I played it at three gigs, only one of which was recorded: 

 

 

 

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I've owned an Alembic... it was a bit of a disspointment. They are marmite however, to be fair, they are great basses in as much as the woodworking is faultless and the preamp is breathtaking

That said, I think that they are overpriced and that the British built Wal - and in particular - the fantastic Scottish built ACG - do the whole filter based preamp just as well in a far more user friendly package/price point.

Just my thoughts.

Edited by White Cloud

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The Alembic preamp is very, very good - but I preferred the East preamp in my Ibanez 1006. I sold it as it was too heavy for the long gigs we play, and was bitterly disappointed to discover that an East preamp won't fit in my 1206. I even took it to John East's house for him to see if it was possible, but sadly it wasn't. The sweepable midrange was the main reason I preferred the East.

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1 hour ago, Al Krow said:

Oh dear. Well it seems that the Epic could suffer a valid challenge under the Trades Descriptions Act (1968).

Best cross that one off my list then. 

Don’t do that. Try one and see how it works for you!

I’m weird. I play double bass but prefer the skinniest necked jazz basses you can find. I don’t know why.

The Alembic was beautiful but we didn’t click, perhaps you will.

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29 minutes ago, Burns-bass said:

Don’t do that. Try one and see how it works for you!

I’m weird. I play double bass but prefer the skinniest necked jazz basses you can find. I don’t know why.

The Alembic was beautiful but we didn’t click, perhaps you will.

Unfortunately not the easiest model basses to casually try, but I do have a friendly Stanley Clarke owner not too far way...

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I will state that my first hand experience of these only goes to 1993 - Wal, 1998 - Alembic but I don't think that much has changed with the philosophies of either company in the meantime.

Both are top quality instruments built to the highest standards and use mostly unique, purpose built hardware and electronics. to my mind, Alembic set the ball rolling with filter based preamps but Wal developed the concept to its optimum regarding variety of tones versus simplicity of use. ACG/ John East has since developed the Wal concept even further albeit the complexity is increasing again.

A couple of things not mentioned in the original thread you referred to in my mind influence the sounds of these instruments as much as the pre amps - Construction and pickups.

The Alembic sound is without doubt partially due to its complex, multi-laminate, through-neck construction, just as the Wal is similarly shaped by its bolt-on construction. That is partly I think, why the Epic basses seem to slightly fall short - they are set-neck construction, not through-neck. Apologies to all Epic owners - they are fine basses but that basic construction setup in a way changes the character of the sound.

And again- pickups. The Alembic pickups are voiced to enhance the Alembic sound and as such are probably integral to the sound of those basses. Likewise, the Wal Multi Coil pickups are a huge part of the Wal sound.

Do Alembic and Wal ( and Fodera, Sadowski etc. etc. ad infinitum) justify their high price tag? Well, factually they do - they're still in business after all these years and customers are still ordering new instruments from them so the price is justified in that respect certainly. But in relationship to general cost of living price indices, some of these makers have been able to push their prices far beyond inflation levels. According to an inflation calculator I looked at, the Alembic Essence 6 bass I ordered in 1998 at a cost of £2k should now cost about £3.5k But if I look at the Alembic price list, it starts at $8000. Only the individual can decide if anything is worth that sort of premium to them.

I love my Wal. I love my Alembic. I love my ACG. I love my Antoria fretless Precision Copy! I just like basses and I like the little differences between different ones.

Whilst the prices of the boutique builders can sometimes be hard to swallow, there is no doubt that at the mass market end of the bass spectrum, it has never been easier to afford a quality instrument.

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Well, that's certainly an 'interesting' design! I tend to go for fairly traditional looking basses, my widest purchase was a pair of Thunderbirds, both have since been moved on. 

I was aways slightly anxious about the Alembic at gigs, being a bit more valuable than the Fenders I was using then, spoiled my concentration on the music. 

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