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An Alembic Custom or a $300 Korean one? I'll take the Korean axe, thank you.

Discussion in 'Basses [BG]' started by sumpitan, Oct 4, 2008.

  1. sumpitan


    Sep 30, 2006
    WARNING: This is a rant. My personal impressions on a single instrument.

    I recently had a once-in-a-lifetime chance to take an Alembic Custom for a (long) spin. My hands almost trembled when lifting the axe from it's case, such was the power of the bronze Alembic logo on the headstock. I was to be unimpressed, however.

    The bass weighed a ton, 14 lbs. to be exact. Felt like a piece of iron hung from my neck. Standing up and playing was strenuous. But the massive body (over 14" wide) was next to impossible to fit in my lap while sitting and playing.

    Even with all the mass in the body, the bass was still neck-heavy, thanks to the very short upper horn and the (again) massive headstock, which actually flared outward while continuing past the tuners for a couple inches for no reason.

    Despite the nifty 32" scale length, reaching the first position was no easier than on my 35" scale Korean bass, due to the bridge being located several inches into the body instead of at the rear.

    The neck was a full two inches wide at the nut, and had a beefy profile. Hard to play with my small mitts.

    The Alembic was simultaneously the most expensive and ergonomically the worst bass I've played to date.

    It was a mystery how a famed custom maker would put the best materials together with superb accuracy and finish, yet fail to address simple ergonomic issues. Why is the body 14 inches wide, two inches wider than, say, a Spector? Why is the upper horn so stubby that the bass is off balance? Why is the bridge not at the edge of the body for a compact short-scale instrument? Why is the headstock so humonguous?

    Then it dawned on me: the bass is a solid-body bass incarnation of the classic hollowbody electric guitar designs: the body shape and size, the bridge location, the headstock shape and size...but instead of a hollow instrument at 6 pounds, it's a solid hunk of laminated hardwood and brass. No wonder it felt awkward and clumsy. To think that these instruments sell for 5000USD...I was relieved to grab my cheap direct-order Korean bass - so much easier to wield and play while no worse (although not as flexible, either) in the tone department, blasting through my practise amp.
  2. JFace


    Apr 17, 2008
    Columbus, OH
    How did it sound?
  3. $5000 ? You got a cheap one, no wonder you didn't like it. :bag:
  4. eots


    Dec 18, 2004
    Morris, IL.
    I think that Alembics were originally custom ordered basses designed to have the tone the purchaser was looking for, aesthetics aside. The preamps were specifically taylored to the customers wants.
    My 1st thought was that your nervousness in handling such an exotic piece of work made you uncomfortable and mind drew a blank as to what to play.
  5. ROON


    Aug 5, 2006
    Sydney, Australia
    I'd never feel comfortable on such an expensive instrument. Hell, I am ****-scared of scratching my Stingray! :meh:
  6. 82Daion


    Nov 14, 2006
    Alembics are very much a form-over-function proposition when it comes to ergonomics, unless we're talking the more modern designs that they conceived in the 80's, or the new "Balance K Point" shape.

    I had a Series I for a year with the old Standard Point body, and the ergonomics were part of the reason I sold it. I had no trouble with the weight or the reach out to the first fret, but the width of the body did place my right wrist at a very poor angle.

    That's just the way they do things. You love it or hate it, I guess.
  7. Eilif

    Eilif Holding it down in K-Town. Supporting Member

    Oct 1, 2001
    I've only had the opportunity to play two alembics, but neither one floated my boat at all. I found it physically daunting, and sonically unimpressive, but as has been said, they are a love-it-or-leave-it kind of bass, and who knows how much of that was due to the unique specs of the original owners?
  8. My second bass was a 1983 Alembic Spoiler.

    It looks exactly like this...


    I have no pictures of mine.

    I got it in 91 from a store that had taken it in trade on a kubicki. I paid $600, and the guy at the store was glad to be rid of "that damn Alembic boat anchor."

    I've never weighed it, but I've never noticed it being heavy. It's always been comfortable to play standing or sitting. I love it.

    A while back a friend of mine was recording his band and was complaining that they simply couldn't get a bass tone that anyone liked. I loaned him the Alembic, as well as an older blue-front Alembic F2-B preamp, and the preamp was used on every track, the bass made it onto about half the tracks.

    He ended up buying the F2-B from me during a time when I was short on cash. He now refuses to sell it back, and all bass and guitar tracks go through it as a last stage before going into his Presonus Firewire unit for recording. He loves it.

    I still have the bass. The electronics are on hand laid perfboard, and the connections have become brittle. The whole bass is beat down and needs a full refurb. But I'll never sell it.

    Of course, about the only thing I play these days is a P-Bass. The older I get the simpler I want my instrument. But ergonomically, I've got no problems with the Spoiler.
  9. peter jack

    peter jack

    Jun 8, 2008
    I have an Epic 4 strings. Sounds very, very, very great. Its really very solid. But I have the same problem: the width of the body. It makes me play over the scale, with my right hand. However, I found a new universe of tones, too.
  10. Fealach

    Fealach Guest

    Apr 23, 2003
    Gone to a better place
    If this was actually a "custom" bass it was ordered by someone, and tailored to that person's desires. Perhaps a person with bigger hands than you? Unless their specs have changed dramatically it would have to be a custom order - they make some 4 string models that are 1.75" at the nut (too wide for me to be comfortable) but nothing that's 2".

    Playing a high end bass that was someone else's custom order is like wearing someone else's really nice custom tailored suit. It's great that you're happy with your cheap bass, it will save you loads of money to stick with it. Alembics aren't everyone's cup of tea. I could never justify the new prices unless I won the lottery, but the people there do know what they're doing. They'll build practically anything, and their standard models are quite different from each other. It's not really fair to judge them all by one specimen; if I did I would never have bought one. My first encounter was with a 70's Series I, a huge bass with a neck that was too thick for me, with many knobs, only a few of which still worked due to the abuse it had suffered. I didn't care for the body style, and was lucky to even get the thing to produce sound. There's a good chance I would not have liked the bass you're talking about here, but unlike some other companies their products are widely varied.

    My Exploiter requires quite a reach to play from 1-3rd frets. It's 32" like the one you mention, and the bridge position seems pretty similar to yours. Is this a design flaw? Moving the bridge inward from the edge of the body does put those low notes pretty far away for a Hobbit like me. It also gives total access all the way up to the 24th fret, and positions the neck so that the mid and higher positions are much more comfortable than most other basses. For some styles, this is great.
  11. what kind of korean bass did you decide on?

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