Alembic Series II

Discussion in 'Basses [BG]' started by Dr. Cheese, May 8, 2019.

  1. Dr. Cheese

    Dr. Cheese Gold Supporting Member

    Mar 3, 2004
    Metro St. Louis

    When I got the latest issue of Bass Player, I saw my bass crush, Yolanda Charles, was featured. After seeing her in the magazine, I went on YouTube to see if she had any new videos out. I saw a few, but the video of here with an Alembic Series II caught my attention. Sadly, the video shows very little playing, but the thought of having to learn all of those filters gave me a headache. I have a hard time imagining that such a system would be easy to use on the fly.
    Last edited: May 9, 2019
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  2. That's not actually a Series II bass... That looks like a Rogue with the Series II package added to it.

    They've done that for a few people.
    Alembic - Featured Custom
  3. Dr. Cheese

    Dr. Cheese Gold Supporting Member

    Mar 3, 2004
    Metro St. Louis

    Good point, but I think that my concern about the apparent complexity of the Series II electronics still stands.
    jazzyvee likes this.
  4. Well, the S2 circuit adds a CVQ instead of switches.

    Most Alembic users I know don't twiddle all the knobs. They go for two of them to change the flavour when needed, but often leave the rest in place once they find settings that work for them. It's a filter based system, not a cut and boost, so it's a different mindset from the typical active EQ circuit.
    CaseyVancouver and Dr. Cheese like this.
  5. JW56789

    JW56789 Guest

    Feb 18, 2017
    Dr. C, it is a handful to get your head around.

    Series II Controls

    Jimmy Johnson marks the spots where he keeps his settings, and he's played only S2's since the 70's. Master it, though, and there's nothing else in the world that sounds like one.

    The best take on that tone is the James Taylor Live CD, recorded thru Massenburg preamps, and Massenburg engineered the recording. Of course, Jimmy is a master bassist, but the tone is rich and deep and articulate. JJ rarely uses amps on stage, mostly IEM's or the occasional wedge, so in that case you're hearing it 'straight, no chaser'.

    PS: Ron's original work with the Dead's guitars led him to find lumpy frequency outputs and magnetic strengths that could dampen the strings. This led him to his take on low-impedance pickups, fewer winds with an integral preamp to boost signal. His background as a design engineer with Ampex led to this outlook. The Series setup we see now with the 'dummy' pickup (the smaller in the middle is how these single coils can be that quiet) coupled with the idea of totally isolating the string from the axe (the brass nut, bridge, and that bridge sitting on a brass block) were to let the string vibrate as freely as possible: Couple that with the wonderfully neutral pickups and filter-based tone control, and you would get the most accurate sonic picture of the string possible. As a single coil system, the Series pickups will never be equaled. Period. These axes, along with his other accomplishments with Ed Long of pressure zone microphones, time-align, and the ELF/INFRA subwoofer systems, and more, put him in that rare air with guys like Leo Fender or Les Paul in terms of geniuses whose accomplishments are all around us every day.
    Last edited: May 9, 2019
  6. malthumb


    Mar 25, 2001
    The Motor City
    Which Alembic would say is a custom Series II with a Rogue body style. The “definition” of a bass is usually driven by the electronics. I actually own one of the very few exceptions to that rule. I ordered a Mark King Deluxe and optioned up to Series II electronics. Saved a couple grand over ordering a Series II and then paying extra for the Coco Bolo top and back. Since my serial number starts with 00MKC (Mark King Custom) they tracked it by the way I ordered it. Most basses with Series I or Series II electronics will either have no letter designation or a “C” for custom in the serial number. Mine should have had either 00MK (2000 Mark King Deluxe) or a 00C (2000 custom build) but they combined them to 00MKC

  7. Yeah, I noticed that. It also looks like that particular one she's playing is missing the Switchcraft jack for the umbilical cord for pickups and power. So maybe it's not entirely Series II, but a Rogue with a CVQ added?

    I dunno... ;-)
  8. malthumb


    Mar 25, 2001
    The Motor City
    Dr. Cheese, the secret is to think about what you want to do with each pickup. On a Series II, each pickup has three knobs associated with it...
    1. Volume
    2. Q Filter
    3. Q Control (3 position for Series I, Continuosly Variable, or CVQ for Series II)
    The volume is self explanatory. The Q Filter is a low pass filter. Depending on where you set it, the filter will pass through the part of your signal that is at and below that frequency and block signal that is above that frequency. The Q Control will provide boost for the frequencies that are allowed through the filter. So that’s six of the knobs explained.

    After that, there is another knob that controls master volume. So, you can use the pick up volumes to set how much you want each pickup to contribute, then you can adjust your master volume up or down, keeping the same relative volume between the two pickups. Seven knobs down. Then there is a pickup selector that controls on / off, and whether you’re using bridge pickup, neck pickup, or both. That’s all eight knobs explained.

    For me, once I have the Q settings I want, and the relative volumes of the two pickups set, the only things I adjust are master volume and on / off. The photo below is not my bass, but the exact same control layout. The bass that Yolanda Charles is playing has 9 knobs. Either one of them is a Mono / Stereo switch, or possible an LED on / off switch, or this is one of the basses where Alembic did a custom order Bass / Mid / Treble set up for each pickup. Haven’t watched the video yet (at work) so I don’t know if YC described the functions in the video. My thoughts are just from looking at it from the still shot.

  9. malthumb


    Mar 25, 2001
    The Motor City
    Or it’s side-mounted. Alembic has done a few of those as a custom order. Or it’s the “East meets West” electronics setup. The humcancellor between the pickups makes it much more likely that its is a Series II. There’s no other reason for it to be there.
    frankie5string likes this.
  10. alembicbones


    Nov 10, 2000
    Seattle, WA
    Just a quick point, I think that is a Europa body, not a Rogue. This bass is similar to mine, albeit I have Series I electronics.

    James gives a great explanation of the electronics package. I think once you get used to the Series concept, they aren't too hard to navigate.

  11. Dr. Cheese

    Dr. Cheese Gold Supporting Member

    Mar 3, 2004
    Metro St. Louis
    Thanks Malthumb. Like anything else, I know Series II electronics can be mastered. I just find myself favoring simpler active systems these days.
    teh-slb likes this.
  12. adje


    Feb 3, 2004
    The thing with the filters is that the descriptions seem horribly complicated, but they're really not that difficult to comprehend.

    Looking at all the controls, just look at the regular round knobs. There's four of them grouped like on a Les Paul guitar - two volumes and two tones/filters. Sometimes there's a fifth, which is usually a master volume. So you keep the tones/filters open for a bright sound, and you set the volumes to where you get a nice blend of neck and bridge pickups - and you use the master volume to raise the overall level without changing the blend. (Two volumes add up differently from having a blend pot, so there.)

    The effect of turning a filter ccw is like starting with a bright metallic sounding flute, and slowly turning it into a more woody sounding recorder. If you let a note sustain, the brightest sounds are the first to disappear, but if you add a Q boost (with either the switches or the pointy CVQ pots, between the four round knobs) it accentuates the brightest bits, that happen at the start of a note, especially if you slap or pluck a note. If you keep the Q boost and move the filter to the woodier range, then the accent lands on the woofier part of the note.

    The way I think works best is that you have one pickup with the filter open and little or no Q boost, volume at full blast, and the other pickup with the filter partially closed with a nice Q boost but the volume lowered to where you're adding a bit of colour to the full-range sound of the other pickup.
  13. Gilmourisgod


    Jun 23, 2014
    Cape Cod MA
    What's the advantage of separate bass and treble pup volume controls AND a master volume? Are you supposed to use the two pup volumes like a Blend, and then set overall master volume? Why not just a Master and a Blend? I love Alembics, but they tend to overdo it on controls, sometimes to comical levels of complexity, Lesh's famous Dead bass in particular. There's a video of him trying to explain what all the knobs do and he.... forgets. He could always consult this website:
    a close up look at Phil Lesh's Big Brown bass

    Just read your description, about what I figured, still not sure WHY you'd want to do that though. :D
    adje likes this.
  14. There is a purity to the Alembic system that is unique and it is a love it or hate it kind of thing. Over the years Alembic has offered several 'simpler' circuits that also had their followers that are available as a special order also. The Distillate and Spoiler circuits are particular favorites of mine from the past these have portions of the filter matrix set for a particular sound character.
  15. adje


    Feb 3, 2004
    You don't have to drag in ancient history, but seeing that you do, allow me to respectfully debunk ... and I'll return to the blending question later. :bassist:

    The vast majority of Alembics simply don't have the large number of controls like on Phil Lesh's 1970s basses. Also do realize that Big Brown and Mission Control each had two sets of identical controls, one set for each pickup, plus some for a quad pickup on Big Brown. They were conceived in times of full-on experimentation :cool: ... Also note that Phil is pretty much exclusively playing his new Series II basses over the last few years, with the "limited" controls that they have.

    I find the blend control doesn't offer as much variation around the middle position, as I can get with two volumes close to max. It may be a gain thing - IIRC, a blend in the middle position adds only about 70% of each pickup's signal.

    I put some TI JazzFlats on the bass in my avatar just a week ago. It makes the earth rumble at living room volumes, it has a heft to the notes that my two non-Series Alembics can't reproduce. With roundwounds that was just a bit much of a good thing, the flats make it manageable and visceral.
    Tennesseemick likes this.
  16. alembicbones


    Nov 10, 2000
    Seattle, WA
    I get your point. Prior to having my custom built, I owned a Series II, with individual volume controls and a master. I liked the Series II electronics but sold the bass do to ergonomics. With my custom, the difference in cost between Series I and Series II at the time was only $200. I decided upon the Series I because it simplified things a bit. I don't regret my decision.

    jazzyvee and Gilmourisgod like this.
  17. GBassNorth

    GBassNorth Gold Supporting Member

    Dec 23, 2006
    All this talk about series I and II basses got me thinking about calling up Mica to see what it would take to convert my Dragon Wing to a series bass.
    Here's mine as it sits today...

    I jumped out to the Alembic website to see if I could find any Series equipped DW basses and ran across a surprising picture from Mica...

    Look closely, I think it's actually my bass that Mica must have photoshopped different controls onto as an example for a different buyer - LOL.

    I love the sound and functionality of my bass with the master volume, pan, and neck and bridge Q filter knobs. The two toggles have a very subtle effect on the sound, mostly noticeable in the attack. I've gone back and forth on the potential upgrade. Hate to mess with a good thing but I just keep thinking I'm missing out on so much more. No idea what it would cost to go to Series or if it can even be done. Still just kicking it around in my head.

    Has anyone here turned a non Series over to the mothership for a Series upgrade?
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  18. 600 Ohms

    600 Ohms Supporting Member

    Jan 4, 2012
    I can explain the whole Series I/II filter system in a few simple graphs. The Series electronics are actually really straightforward.

    Each pickup has a Low-Pass Filter, very much like the tone knob you'd find on any bass. As you roll the knob off, the high end starts to go away, like you'd expect. I would represent use of the filter like this:


    Partly rolled off:

    Fully rolled off (350Hz is the lowest point in the sweep):

    Now, here's where the Q controls come in. On the Series II, the Q is continually variable, so as you turn the knob, the Q creates an ever-louder resonant peak at the frequency at which the filter knob is rolling off. Like this:

    A little bit of Q:

    Quite a bit:

    And full-up (Almost. The real CVQ will boost by 15dB):

    So, you are still rolling off at the desired frequency, but by creating these peaks with the Q knob, you are actually boosting the frequencies right before they get rolled off. This gives you the benefit of removing your high end where you don't want it, but giving you some emphasis right below the point at which you start filtering it out. It can help make it sound as if your tone is brighter, but without boosting everything above it. It's a cool control.

    On a Series I, it's the same, but you get 3 positions: Flat, a bit & a lot.
    Last edited: May 8, 2019
  19. 600 Ohms

    600 Ohms Supporting Member

    Jan 4, 2012
    This. I don't disagree with you, it would give you one less knob to contend with.

    There's likely a reason it is technically more desirable to have separate volumes, but I couldn't say what that is. Maybe something to do with the way blend pots taper? You would get more "resolution" having the entire pot to sweep per pickup.

    One way to simplify the Series electronics, but still get 90% of the benefits, would be to have one filter downstream of the pickup blend, then you only have one "tone + Q" control for the whole bass. I guess Ron assumed that you might want to have separate controls over each pickup to come up with some very specific tones. I can tell you, in the 25 years I've owned my Series I, I've never wanted the filters at different frequencies or Q settings. But I'm sure there is someone out there who does. Lunatics!

    Remove the separate volumes, and replace with a blend and you could eliminate 4 controls: the bridge pickup volume, CVQ, filter and the pickup selector. I do like the pickup selector, though, as it acts as a fast mute.
    Last edited: May 9, 2019
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  20. I asked Mica years ago about ordering a bass, and you could have a bass "prepped for series" when built where they would install the unused dummy coil. I think the spacing/width of pickups can be different. So it would be ready for electronics swap down the line. And I think put the knobs in correct positions and install the unused cannon jack, etc. It's been so long I've forgotten all the details, so you'd have to contact the mothership to check options.
    GBassNorth likes this.