Discussion in 'Luthier's Corner' started by lowphatbass, Jul 21, 2005.

  1. lowphatbass

    lowphatbass ****

    Feb 25, 2005
    west coast
    Some years back my 92 Elan was stolen and brutally molested. The finish was crudly sanded off and the bass was dyed or oiled black(like I wasn't going to recognize it!). Some of the electronics are also missing.
    Alembic can bring this bass back(they can do anything!)but it will cost alot. I haven't acted on this because it is disturbing to think about, and quite frankly it is a bass that I don't really "need" in my arsenal right now. It has kind of been the "dirty little secret" that we just don't talk about around here and I can barely stand to look at it.
    Right now my thoughts are:
    Alembic's pricing isn't getting any lower. This bass would be more usefull to me as a fretless. This would require a board replacement, which means even more $$, but that would be the time to do it.

    I realize nobody can make this decision for me. I just wanted to hear some of your thoughts and/or ideas regarding this issue. My feelings regarding this are quite dark so I thought that some of you may give me some clarity and/or a different outlook.
    This also may be in the wrong forum but I really wanted to hear from those who have hands on experience and and a close-up relationship with instruments.
  2. Hey, Alembic is the cadillac of basses. It is a piece of craftsmanship that, to me, represents what a custom instrument really is. Of course, money is always an issue, and in the case of Alembic, a big one. I have a theory about repairing damaged equipment. If it costs anywhere between 30-25% or less than the cost of the instrument, I'd go for it. I would never (even if I was Carey Nordstrand *hero*) attempt to fix it myself, because then it would not be an Alembic anymore (I know you're not trying to do that, but if it were me, I'd probably be debating that and since I'm not I'm offering the comment with a cold head).

    As you said, this is a decision only you can make, but from your comments you seem to be pretty pissed off at the bass for what happened to it. Can you provide some more insight? or is this something that is too painful for you? It could definetly change any of our minds.
  3. lowphatbass

    lowphatbass ****

    Feb 25, 2005
    west coast
    First off, thanks for the reply! I appreciate it!
    I would never consider fixing the bass myself, I can bolt together a Warmoth, upgrade a Jazz and work wonders with a truss rod(even dual truss rods!) but as you said, no way. I do have an absolutely top knotch tech that could do this flawlessly but I haven't even spoken with him about it. My brain tells me it might be o.k. but my gut is telling me that this bass needs to be fixed/modified by Alembic.
    I got the bass new in 92 or 93 for $2000 out the door w/ case and extras. I haven't gotten firm pricing but repairing it would easily reach that level I am sure. Because of the missing/damaged electronics a whole new set may be required, although a used set occasionally comes around, according to Alembic.
    I'm not mad at the bass at all. The circumstances behind the theft is what really bugs. I was unable to get law enforcement involved because the crime was commited by a member of my "family", the whole thing is very complex. Because of this defrauding insurance would have been the only way to get coverage/compensation and I was not prepared to do that.
    If I were GASSING for an Alembic right now this would be a no brainer. The cost of fixing would be much less than buying new. The fact is I really didn't remember how this bass sounded or felt until I listened to some recordings of it the other day. This bass tracks well and I the fact that it is just sitting there in a coma is a shame. It is quilted maple on maple with walnut trim, I think that it's ability to articulate would lend to it bieng a fine fretless.
    Hey, you know what? Just "talking" about this is starting to make me feel better, this is exactly what I was hoping.
    Thanks for the theropy wilser!!
  4. hey, no prob! that's what a shrink would have charged $250 an hour for! :)

    if you love alembics, get it fixed by them. if you don't mind having an alembic hybrid, get if fixed by your tech.
  5. FBB Custom

    FBB Custom TalkBass Pro Commercial User

    Jan 26, 2002
    Owner: FBB Bass Works
    I'm going to have to disagree with Wilser a bit here. Alembic does stellar work, but there is nothing magical about what they do; they've already put the bass together, restoring it is something that mere mortals coud do. Whether or not an Alembic is sacred to the point where anyone else can work on it is up to you, but if it were mine I would be rebuilding it like Steve Austin right now.

    I would think that a reputable finish guy could do a bang up refin. I am thinking a guy like Pat Williams could bring the finish back and then some. Now, how deeply the black dye/paint penetrated is going to affect the cost of a refin, but perhaps you could get an honest appraisal by your tech to see how hard it will be to get the black out. Perhaps if it is going to be stubborn, you could do a dark burst over it.

    The electronics will run you a fair bit, as you know, and nobody makes electronics like Alembic. The good news is that the Alembic eletronics I have seen are brilliantly designed and are the easiest harnesses to install that you could imagine.

    Finally, the fingerboard. Can you not defret this fingerboard and fill the lines with veneer? This is the job that would worry me the most about entrusting to someone even though there are reputable repairmen/luthiers who could do it. If you could use the existing board, you might be able to send it out to Thor for a defretting and a nice epoxy treatment.

    A wild guess at the price tag? A few C notes for Thor to do the fingerboard, a couple C's for the missing electronics, and maybe 500 for a pro refin, and you could escape in the $1k range. That's still a steep price, but if (a) you don't want to take any of it on yourself and (b) it's cheaper than Alembic's estimate by a significant amount (c) it's cheaper than a new one and (d) it's a kind of therapy for you, then it's something to consider.
  6. lowphatbass

    lowphatbass ****

    Feb 25, 2005
    west coast
    You know, you make alot of great points! There isn't anything sacred about this bass from a collecting or historical standpoint, especially when you take into account the way it was defiled. I also have much respect for the instrument and who built it so I want to do what is "right". That sounds pretty stupid, I know!!
    The neck has aluminum markers in the side of the fretboard that would be distracting if not removed and filled or somehow deleted. The surface of the fretboard has quite large oval inlays. While these may not be a problem from a playing standpoint it would just wouldn't look right. Of course these could also be removed and filled. Having very limited hands-on experience it seems from my point of view that it would be best to replace the whole board, but don't have any first hand experience with the challenges of removing a fretboard and the labour intensity involved. Maybe some of you could advise me of your opinions on this.
    This has been great, keep it coming!!
  7. luknfur


    Jan 14, 2004

    My typical spin is warped pragmatic so may well be diametrically apposed to your take. But it may expand your thoughts in a way that you may draw something of use from it. This is an interesting mix with a bit of everything so I can see the shelving - which was a good a approach in my book. Apparently you're ready to do something at this point.

    Personally appearance I could care less about. However if I felt like killing something everytime I looked at the bass that would pose a problem. But if the bass was a joy to play I'd get over it and probably enjoy the amusing juxtaposition knowing the history. Talk about a conversation piece. But I could easily see another player spewing his shoes at the thought. Keep in mind you can refinish anytime and really not have to go through anymore than you would now. So that much could continue shelf time and allow for an adjustment period.

    To defret is something I've done and personally and would never do again. I'd buy a fretless with known variables from the outset. Plenty have done it though and been pleased. But for me having any equipment I don't use is pointless and is to be moved on to someone who will use it so a change to join the rotation would be in order.

    For me, I'd try and think about something other than fretless to accomplish that. Since electronics need some replacement, Alemibc electronics are through the roof, and tone was less than stellar before, that would be my focus - away from Alembic but without permanent modification just in case. The pup configuration may pose a severe limitation bepending on what it is. I'd look for something I feel is missing in what I've got and shoot for that - peizo, whatever.

    Costwise, I'd focus on keeping mods reverseable, cutting loses, and maximizing resale value of the bass. Whatever mix that would take is the direction I'd go - which may include selling the bass as is now. And for a keeper it would have to fit in the rotation or I'd chuck it regardless, take my hit and be done with it.
  8. lowphatbass

    lowphatbass ****

    Feb 25, 2005
    west coast
    Hey thanks for that Luknfur. You make alot of sense and have some good points. I am also not really hung-up on looks either, but man, this bass just looks WRONG. I'll try to post some pics on Fri and you'll see what I am talking about. No way this bass leaves the house looking like this...it is THAT BAD!!!

    I'd like to thank everybody for the comments so far, they are much appreciated!!
  9. nateo

    nateo Schubie Fan #1

    Mar 2, 2003
    Ottawa, Ontario
    Two words. Metal flake. Cover the fingerboard and all, and maybe embed some bits of a broken mirror into the finish, too.

    Oh, and you can't go wrong with LED's scattered liberally about. All different colours. And have them flash different patterns as you play.

    Also, gluing a giant chrome hood ornament to the headstock would be class personified.

    Let's see you appreciate that.

  10. lowphatbass

    lowphatbass ****

    Feb 25, 2005
    west coast
    What's your point??
  11. nateo

    nateo Schubie Fan #1

    Mar 2, 2003
    Ottawa, Ontario
    Sorry, I guess the humour of the post was lost due to my refusal to use smilies.

    Or there wasn't much humour there in the first place. Either way.

  12. lowphatbass

    lowphatbass ****

    Feb 25, 2005
    west coast
    Hey, no problem. I don't like the little smilies either, but "either way", if you've got something to say then spill it, if not that's cool, too!
  13. Damn serious discussion here...

    I'm an Alembic fan from the word go but I've never owned one. Hope to one day. It's hard to imagine NOT being totally in love with one that one bought new but I can see your point clearly. With the hassle and worry of the theft, mistreatment by authorities, and then to have it trashed as it was would sour me too. So, I'll take the pragmatic angle a step further and plan to sell it. Here's why:

    Each of the positive solutions has a negative as stated so far:

    POS - Full Alembic resto to near new condition and playability
    NEG - Pay twice (purchase price + cost of resto) to have a bass worth less than half of that total.

    POS - Full aftermarket resto to decent condition and playability for less than half the cost of an Alembic restoration.
    NEG - The bass becomes only a "players" instrument with the involvement of outside luthiers and your still $1000 upside down.

    POS - Leave cosmetics to nature and restore to standard playability with Alembic parts, if only for "that sound"
    NEG - You've still got a bass that doesn't have particularly fond memories for you.

    But it's an Alembic fer chrissakes and it deserves to have a fairy tale ending so I say sell it. If I'm correct, it will fetch near a grand with a properly worded auction and a well chosen reserve. If it doesn't, it won't be in the shabby range at all and the proceeds would be substantial enough to get something else. I guarantee that someone out there without the baggage would spring big for this project and you wouldn't have to think about it again except to console yourself that it went to a loving home.
  14. Hey, I can understand your personal feelings....several years ago, my girlfriend went through some bad problems, and pawned off a bunch of my stuff. A couple of electric guitars, a bass, effects, other gear, probably a couple of thousand dollars worth. I eventually got some of the stuff back, but couldn't really go through the insurance or legal system.

    She's cleaned up her act a lot since, and I try not to harbor ill feelings, but I can't help it at times. She still has problems though and it looks like it's only a matter of time before she moves out, after 6 years together.

    But back to the bass:

    From an economics viewpoint, what you spent on the bass to buy it is already spent, it's a sunk cost. So at this point (strictly from an economics viewpoint) us engineers would look at these options:

    1) Do nothing. Bass sits in closet. No cost, no benefit either though.

    2) Sell bass as is. No cost, some money will be recouped.

    3) Fix bass as economically as feasible, while still keeping the repair to an acceptable level of quality. Cost maybe $1000, based on estimate above.

    4) Fix bass by Alembic. Highest cost, but highest level of quality.

    Factor in the emotional viewpoints, though, and things get more complicated.

    1) Keeping it "as-is" in the closet may not cost anything monetarily but emotionally it may take a terrible toll.

    2) Sell bass "as-is" puts you through some grief now, but what will your attitude be 5 years from now--either you've forgotten it, accepted it, or kick yourself in the butt "man I should've kept that Alembic"...

    3) Fixing it the low-cost way: every time you play the bass or look at it, you may think, "man I should've had Alembic fix it, such-and-such isn't quite right" Or you may be continually reminded of the bad things that brought the bass to this condition....

    4) Fixing it by Alembic certainly makes it up to the highest caliber of quality, but you may still be reminded of the bad vibes.

    If it weren't for the bad vibes, I'd just have to ask, is it cheaper to fix it by Alembic, or replace it with another Alembic---same model bass, roughly the same year, in good condition.

    No easy answers, I can relate to your quandary though.
  15. malthumb


    Mar 25, 2001
    The Motor City

    That's where I'm at. Pick up an Essence, Europa, or Signature Standard for $1,000 - 1,900 and sell the Elan for $500 - 750.


  16. I see money as money. You'll keep on making more, and if you don't fix that alembic you'll probably buy fx, amps, cabs and a bunch of other stuff that you'll probably sell for way less down the road anyway. Instruments are different, they become part of you. I see FBB's point, but I guess he's not the alembic fan I am. Hambone and nashvillebill seem to share some of my feelings about a situation like this. Don't get me wrong, I don't have money to throw out in the air or wipe my butt with everytime I take a crap, but fact is, given my feelings toward the 'hippie sandwich', I would pay half the cost of the instrument to have it restored to full condition. As others have said, a different tech could maybe do a good job of restoring the bass, but in my case, I would put out and get alembic to fix it. Also, they will do such a great job that you'll end up with the bass like new. Even more, what you paid for it 13 years ago is not what the bass costs today, so penny by penny comparison is not fair. I say the same thing I say before, if you're soft for alembic, have them fix it, else, have a 'good tech' fix it. I think selling it as it is might not fetch you what you expect.
  17. lowphatbass

    lowphatbass ****

    Feb 25, 2005
    west coast
    Everybody, glad I posted this in your "corner". All the options are before me now, I can rule a couple of them out right away.
    #1-get it playable and wory about cosmetics later: While this would get the instrument back into my hands, so to speak, form a purely cosmetic standpoint it isn't even presentable. "What is that?" and/or "What the heck happened to it?" would be questions asked on a regular basis. I'll post a thumb below, I wish I had the capability to post a full sized pic, but the thumb will suffice, I'm sure.
    So this is out.
    #2- Selling the bass, as is or otherwise: If I could do this I would have done it years ago. After having to let my Jazz go many years ago so I could eat I decided that I was going to keep my basses, even this one. I don't claim that this is at all normal, but with the exception of my first bass(total crap)they have all been very "special" to me, even with this "stigma" attached to it.
    So this is out.
    That leaves me with fixing it @ Alembic or having it fixed elsewhere.
    My gut is still saying "Alembic" on this one. I think my next move is to contact them again, get "firm" pricing and start the search for replacement Alembic electronics. If I can afford to make this go within a 12 month period then I think that is what I will do. If it is too cost prohibitive then I'll talk it over with my tech and see where that leads me, he's a guy I have alot of confidence in!!
    I'll keep you guys updated if your interested.
    I would also like to thank everyone here for their knowlege and advise, and please keep the comments coming if you have any(that are constructive).
    (hope the pic isn't too disturbing for anyone!)

    Attached Files:

  18. malthumb


    Mar 25, 2001
    The Motor City

    Now that I've seen a picture of the bass in its current condition, AND now that I know that selling it is not an option, I can tell you how I'd handle it.....

    Order the electronics from Alembic and let a tech install them. Then play it until you have the funds saved to send it to Alembic for home-cooked TLC. Since you are not going to sell it, market value is irrelevant.

    When I have bought used Alembics, I've bought them with market value in mind, realizing that at some point I would likely sell them for about what I paid for them and move up to something better. Once I decided what I REALLY liked as far as features and wood choices, I dropped the big check on a custom. If I were to sell it, I would book a sizeable loss. But since I have no intention of selling it, it's value to me exceeds what I was willing to pay for it 5 years ago.

    This is what the issue appears to be with your Elan. It's a question of what it's worth to you, throwing market value out the window.

    Now, having said all that, the picture doesn't look bad. Wish you could have seen the condition of the bass in the center of this picture when I first got it......


    I had to call Alembic with the serial number to confirm that it was even a real Alembic. I paid $475 for it. That should give you a clue as to how beat up it was.

    I sent it out to Alembic and they brought it back to close to new condition. I kept it for a couple years and eventually sold it (dumb move).

    Step 1: Get the right electronics installed by a competent tech.

    Step 2: Get the cosmetics restored by Alembic.

    Step 3: Leave it to your kids in your will.


  19. abngourmet

    abngourmet Gold Supporting Member

    Nov 11, 2004
    The way I see it, I'd get it redone. Sure, you could buy a new Alembic for about the same it would cost to redo the Elan, but it wouldn't have the history behind it, good, bad, or otherwise.

    I've taken some instruments and had things done to them to make them truly my own. My '74 Gibson Ripper is undergoing a total refinish right now, and I don't regret it one bit, even though it most likely won't increase it's value on the open market. It will make it more mine, I think.

    Same goes for the '77 Rick that I bought in pieces off Ebay. It's structurally fine, but needs a total refinish and restoration. I'm going to have it refinished black, and have a Badass Bridge put on it, just like the one I had as a teenager a la Geddy. Why? It makes it special to me. You can do the same with your Elan if you are so inclined.

    Others have commented on the financial and emotional aspects of this, so I won't comment here. My vote, however is to bring her back to life if it is financially possible at the time. You won't regret it, and you'll get an instrument that is truly "yours."

    My two cents,

  20. I bow to Malthumb's approach. His experience and knowledge of the ways of Alembic rival Gandolf's in Middle Earth. He IS the man.

    In fact, had I known that a sale was completely out of the question, I would have probably chosen this path anyway. Just having one of the big A's in hand would be enough for me. And, after seeing the pic, I'm not all that put off by the color of the wings - if Alembic couldn't get all of the dye out of the wood - but could brighten up the center runners a bit - I'd be happier than a pig in mud.

    BTW, Malthumb, What ever happened to that questionable Alembic that was on here last year - the basket case that was being researched then going up for sale? It was a real gem in the rough if it was legit. Didja get it?