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Getting that Jimmy Johnson sound

Discussion in 'Basses [BG]' started by Paul C., Aug 16, 2007.

  1. Paul C.

    Paul C.

    Aug 16, 2007
    Hi guys

    I'm trying to capture that warm, round full bodied sound that Johnson creates on James Taylor's last CD: October Road. I could use some help.

    I understand he used a Alembic bass, which I heard goes for 3-4 grand. I can't afford that. I don't know anything else about his set up, i.e. amp, effects box etc.

    Right now, I have a Fender Jazz bass (Mexican) and Bassman 200, which I realize will never duplicate Johnson's sound. So I want to upgrade. I'm thinking a high end ampeg amp might help get some of the warmth Johnson gets on October Road. Any other suggestions?

    I also have some high end EQ in the studio I run but it hasn't helped much.


    Paul Cerrato
    Electric Acoustic Studios
  2. Just a note that Jimmy's alembics are series I or series II electronics which often go for over 7-8 grand ...some times over 10. His sound is basically that bass. I saw him live with Allan Holdsworth a couple of times and he didn't even use an amp, it was his bass straight to the PA.
  3. 20db pad

    20db pad

    Feb 11, 2003
    I been everywhere, man...
    None. At all.
    I agree that the biggest component of Jimmy's sound is the Alembic bass. I've seen him play through all sorts of gear with Holdsworth and James Taylor and he always sounds the same. Of course, his hands and heart are important parts of the equation, too.

    IMO, a Fender style bass can't really nail that sort of sound. A well-made bass with 24 fret neck-through construction, exotic woods, humbucking soapbar pickups, and quality electronics can get you in the ball park as far as a bass goes.
  4. Baryonyx

    Baryonyx Inactive

    Jul 11, 2005
    Marathon Man
    yeah, it's all in his Alembics imo...that very unique sound they have! If you could find a way to get some Alembic electronics into a walnut bodied bass then I guess you might be on your way...
  5. DougD

    DougD Bassman7654

    Sep 19, 2002
    North Las Vegas NV
    You could probably get close with a multi effect unit like a boss gt6b or such. You won't nail it,but you'll get close with some tweaking.
  6. Funny, I list Jimmy as one of my biggest influences, love his tone (especially on the James Taylor live CD), and absolutely, completey dislike the typical Alembic tone.

    His tone, to my ear, is much fatter and fuller than the typical Alembic tone, and really has a 'modern J' type timbre to it.

    Quite frankly, the closest bass I've heard to that tone 'right out of the box' is the Skjold basses.... that combination of hi fi, wide and pure, but with that little bit of grit and warmth to them.

    Of course, as we all know, lot's of Jimmy's tone is in his hands. I think he gets that 'fatter than the typical Alembic tone' but playing with what seems like a VERY soft touch, and quite close to the neck when I've seen him live. To me, that sounds similar to digging in a little more and playing over the bridge pickup with a good quality active modern J.
  7. melt


    May 16, 2007
    That's weird. Was watching him on the Stanley Clarke Night School dvd the other day and to me he sounds so Alembic it's unreal (I play one BTW). If you listen to Stan and Jimmy on that dvd they both have a very similar core sound, allowing for the fact that Jimmy's playing a full scale bass with heavy strings. If you think his tone is "fatter and fuller" than the typical Alembic tone I suspect you may not have had a great deal of experience with them, no disrespect intended. Those filters do an awful lot, whilst still retaining a core tone. I can get an amazing dub tone that is still "typical Alembic".

    I've never seen Jimmy play anything else but to me the core of his sound is his Alembic bass. Each player plays differently so that's not to say someone else couldn't get a similar sound using different gear, but that sound is Alembic through and through to me.

  8. I agree with you totally on the above, and did not mean to say that Jimmy doesn't let the Alembic tone shine through many times (although I though his tone on that DVD was much nicer than Stanley's... but agree with you, 100% Alembic).

    I was strictly talking about the tone that Jimmy achieves on the James Taylor gig... the live album, October Road, etc. It's great, and you can obviously get there with an Alembic. However, if that particularly tone is your goal, my point was you can get there a light less expensively (and lighter!) with some other choices IMO.
  9. markjazzbassist

    markjazzbassist Supporting Member

    Apr 19, 2005
    Lakewood, OH
    look for a Kawai FIIB or F2B bass. they are Alembic Japanese copies made in hte 80's and 90's. They won't cop an exact Alembic tone, but they can get close.

    check eBay and the TB classifieds. they usually go for under $800.
  10. Baryonyx

    Baryonyx Inactive

    Jul 11, 2005
    Marathon Man
    That dvd is really good, I was watching it only the other night! So good to see Stewart Copeland playing with Stan!
  11. lefty007


    Jan 19, 2004
    Miami, FL

    I don't know much about J.J. besides that appeareance in that Night School DVD and in Eric Clapton's Crossroads concert with James Taylor, but wow! he is now one of my favorite bass players.

    I generally don't like Alembics much, but I thought his sound and playing in the Stanley Clarke DVD was simply outstanding. . . what a player and sound.
  12. I think the warm full-bodied thing that you describe is probably what happens after the signal leaves the bass (quality DI, super high end esoteric preamp, super high end esoteric compressor, tape/AD converters, processing during mixing etc). Also, does Jimmy Johnson always use the Alembic in the studio? I don't know. There are lots of variables to consider.

    The most important part is Jimmy's tasty phrasing, well placed fills, technique/touch, and general musicianship that makes him fun to listen to.
  13. +1... he is just so good. To think that he plays those absolutely beautiful parts with James Taylor, and then burns with Allan Holdsworth in the next breath. Just amazing player.

    And, near and dear to my heart, he is given the general credit for 'inventing' the 5 string bass. One of his Alembic's is the 'first one', and I understand he still uses it. Very cool. He uses a 5 string similarly to my concept... using the lowest notes infrequently as emphasis in certain song portions vs. 'playing low' all the time.

    I really like this guy:D
  14. christoph h.

    christoph h.

    Mar 26, 2001
    jimmy gets a great tone. but what really astonishes is how he gets it. as kjung mentioned above, when you see him live, his physical approach looks like it has nothing to do with the tone he gets.

    the stuff he played (and the tone he got) on allan holdworth' "secrets" is simply amazing....
  15. pmcd


    Feb 22, 2006
    You might consider a Alembic Epic or Orion. I've seen Epics go used for under $1000. I still regret selling mine. I once did a recording session with it and the engineer had just done sound for a radio show that James Taylor with band was on, and as soon as I plugged in he commented that even my "low-end" Alembic had a very similiar vibe to Jimmy's bass.
  16. Brad Johnson

    Brad Johnson Supporting Member

    Mar 8, 2000
    Gaithersburg, Md
    DR Strings
    If I had to name the one Alembic player who doesn't play with the stereotypical Alembic sound (not a bad thing), it would be Jimmy... he's the very first to come to my mind. I think it has more to do with with Jimmy than anything else... it's how he plays his bass that gives that tone. Check out the early audiophile Flim & The BB's projects for examples.
  17. Brad Johnson

    Brad Johnson Supporting Member

    Mar 8, 2000
    Gaithersburg, Md
    DR Strings

    I have one. I also had a Series II (?) Alembic. MMV.

  18. bassman10096

    bassman10096 Supporting Member

    Jul 30, 2004
    +1 Alembic puts most of the same physical construction quality into their bottom of the line as their top of the line basses, even though they may differ in price by up to 10 grand new. Another option is to go after a used Alebic Spoiler. With that, you get the Alembic neck through design (which is as much a part of how that typical Alembic sound gets made as the electronics). You also get the basic filter-based tone circuit, which is an upgrade on the Orions, Epics and Excels (which are also set neck, BTW). Spoilers often go in the $1000 range. Also, I don't remember if anyone mentioned it - Alembics are built like brick sh#$houses - which helps give them the physical stability to produce their tone and also makes them a far safer than average used bass.
  19. melt


    May 16, 2007
    Me too!:)

    BTW, a used Alembic Essence may not be a bad call either, depending on available funds. I've seen them go pretty cheap.
  20. melt


    May 16, 2007
    When my Alembic arrived it had heavy strings on it, and and did a very good impression of Jimmy's Alembic sound (I also play extremely lightly BTW). Bear in mind a lot of Alembic's "big guns" (e.g. Stan, Mark King) use very light strings and have the filters set to give maximum top end.

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