Stanley Clarke and Short Scale Bass

Discussion in 'Basses [BG]' started by Chrisk-K, Jan 15, 2018.

  1. Chrisk-K


    Jan 20, 2010
    AZ, USA
    I always knew who Stanley Clarke was, but only recently did I start listening to him. I was BLOWN AWAY by his tone. Crystal clear, aggressive, crisp...and often times very deep. Perhaps, the most magical bass tone I've ever heard in my whole existence on this planet (50 years).

    I was even more stunned to find out that he's been using short scale basses. How is it possible to have such a tone from a short scale bass? Of course, it's in the hands of Stanley, but I don't think he can get that kind of tone from an EB-1 or a Hofner. Is what I'm hearing the sonic magic of Alembic or what?
  2. Gorn


    Dec 15, 2011
    Queens, NY
    EB-1s and Hofners sound very different than his Alembic. Not all short scales sound alike. He's also Stanley Clarke, so he's pretty good.
    scuzzy, ICM, Grapevine921 and 6 others like this.
  3. MobileHolmes

    MobileHolmes I used to be BassoP

    Nov 4, 2006
    I've played a couple Alembic Stanley Clarkes, and they really do have that sound built in. I'm not sure how they do it on a short scale, but they are very crisp sounding instruments
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  4. malthumb


    Mar 25, 2001
    The Motor City
    Blue, then red
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  5. From what I've read he's heavy on processing.
  6. malthumb


    Mar 25, 2001
    The Motor City
    He has some processing to be sure, but it seems that most of it is the fact that he is taking advantage of the stereo capability of Alembic Series I basses and sending separate signals to Alembic preamps that are tone set differently, then recombining the signals.

    This is an EXCELLENT walk-thru with Stanley and his engineer.

    Rig Rundown - Stanley Clarke
  7. Bob_Ross

    Bob_Ross Gold Supporting Member

    Dec 29, 2012
    It could be elucidating to listen to some of Stanley's electric bass work from before his association with Alembic instruments. He plays electric on I think one track of the Return To Forever eponymous debut, and every track on Hymn Of The Seventh Galaxy. Definitely did not have an Alembic for either of those records. May have played some of those tracks on a short-scale (30") Gibson EB-2d ...although it's possible he played some of them on a long(-ish)-scale (33") Rickenbacker 4000. Regardless, I don't think anybody would characterize the bass tones on those albums as being "Crystal clear, aggressive, crisp...and often times very deep."

    Well, "aggressive" yeah, I'll give him that. After all, it's Stanley.

    So I think a lot of the credit is due to the Alembic basses he started playing circa 1974. The active electronics in a Series I bass are so powerful they can overcome nearly any of the sonic limitations [sic] one might ascribe to short-scale instruments.
    Dr. Cheese, ajkula66 and bucephylus like this.
  8. bucephylus

    bucephylus Supporting Member

    Aug 18, 2002
    +1 to Bob’s and James’ posts.

    Alembic Series I and II instruments have a dominating tone, which is the product of Ron Wickersham’s incredible preamp. That preamp, more than four decades on, remains the one of the finest preamps you can find on a bass. There are some other nice preamps now, Pope, Sadowsky etc.; but, the Alembic preamp has stood the test of time. Every player should try to get one on the gig at least once.

    I just did a gig at the Westward Look, one of our resorts here in Tucson, this weekend; and I used my short scale Series I. The bass rocked the house.

    TBH, I’m not all that comfortable on a short scale; and I REALLY don’t like appearing to ape some name player (even if SC is amazing); but the long scale Alembics have too far of a left hand reach for me, and I was never able to pin down a lighter weight medium scale. I’d really prefer a medium scale as the best compromise of scale, balance, and ergonomics. Just never happened for me.
    Last edited: Jan 15, 2018
  9. bucephylus

    bucephylus Supporting Member

    Aug 18, 2002
    Another thing is to track down some of Jimmy Johnson’s material with Flim and the BB’s, or his backing work with recent-ish James Taylor live work. You will hear the same powerful tone.
  10. FC Bass

    FC Bass Alembic and Mesa/Boogie junkie

    Jun 9, 2006
    For Series I/II instruments the big difference is the single coil pickups, IIRC the rest of the circuit is pretty similar to the Activator electronics.
    The Activators have their " dummy coil" built in (stacked, one coil with magnet and one without magnet) So there's no need for the noise cancelling circuit, downside is that the dummy coil has some impact on the sound.
    The separate dummy coil of the Series I/II is located far enough from the "active" coils to give you the real single coil sound, which is much more "open" than the Activator sound.
  11. jazzyvee


    Aug 11, 2012
    United Kingdom
    I think that even with a Clarkee style series bass you can still have your own sound. Yes there is a strong alembic sound as soon as you pluck the string otherwise why would you have one. :) However a lot of the tones Stanley uses, in my view, would be difficult to use transparently in a lot of non Stanley Clarke peices as they are so associated with his tonal diversity and the sonic landscape he creates with his writing it would dominate the music. I'm convinced that he writes in a way that he can utilise that diversity in tone he gets from his alembic which gives his music such a great sound.
    I've seen him live here in the UK a number of times and without a doubt I have never ever heard a live bass sound come anywhere near to what he has in terms of bottom end, clarity, power and tonal diversity.

    I use a short scale series bass for gigs and the times I deliberately choose a Clarkee type sound is very small and usually only if it's something funky or delicate or one of his tracks i'm covering.
    Stanleys sound is a combination of a great bass in the hands of a great musician who knows how to use it completely.
    FC Bass likes this.
  12. Mushroo

    Mushroo Supporting Member

    Apr 2, 2007
    The difference between 34" and 30" is only 2 frets. It's no big deal. Like taking a bass line in the key of C and moving it up 2 frets to D.
    gebass6 and ICM like this.


    Feb 10, 2016
    Michigan USA
    I believe Stanley played a Ric on Hymn of the seventh galaxy. Someone correct me if i'm wrong.
  14. Stan's tone changed throughout the years, and generally got crisper and better as recording techniques improved - that is, more of the tone of the bass made it to the record.

    'Romantic Warrior' is a great record but the bass often sounds very 'rubbery' and lacking in punch and definition. Fast forward to 'If This Bass Could Only Talk' or 'Animal Logic' and it's a world apart in terms of definition.

    For comparison, check him playing a 34" scale Spellbinder bass on 'Time Exposure', which has a really crisp and defined bottom end, a tone distinct from his Alembic sound.

    Over the years, Stanley has refined his sound. I like it, so when I describe it as 'thin', it's not a slight. Modern recording shows the Alembic to be very crisp, with excellent top end. He tends to scoop the mids a bit and plucks hard near the neck creating a sound that is almost like a pop, and his playing is notably different on the 34" scale basses where he can't leverage such control over the string (the 30" scale offering less tension).

    I do not find his tone typical of Alembic basses because they are inherently so flexible.
    Mr_O'B likes this.
  15. adje


    Feb 3, 2004
    Don't forget he does tend to play a lot of tenor bass, so with the A string as the lowest and a high C string added. He does add an octaver occasionally, but a lot of the lower end is coming from keyboards.
    For Jimmy Johnson, check out the Steve Gadd Band recordings - and play them loud.
  16. Axstar

    Axstar Inactive

    Jul 8, 2016
    Yup! Stanley had a Rickenbacker 4000 during that period. It sounded a lot darker than his Alembics, with a lot less definition going on.

    I almost think Stanley's tone veered too far the other way for a while, as he was very bright and twangy on some RTF stuff thereafter.
  17. lz4005


    Oct 22, 2013
    Yep. He typically tunes ADGC, and uses piccolo tuning (standard up an octave) as well.
    He had an EBS octaver on his board last time I saw a pic of it.

    His band often includes a 2nd bass player on recordings and tours for his solo music. As well as keyboards with a lot of low end.

    He doesn't play only short scale, however. He absolutely slays on upright. You don't get much longer scale than that.
    Chris J Mann and Axstar like this.
  18. Bob_Ross

    Bob_Ross Gold Supporting Member

    Dec 29, 2012
    I actually prefer his bass tones on the Romantic Warrior album to those on If This Bass Could Only Talk ...but I wonder if what you consider "definition" is what to my ears causes those bass tones to not support the ensemble, to sound like a disparate element and call too much attention to themselves?

    Haven't heard Animal Logic in ages, maybe I'll go listen to that now!
    Garret Graves likes this.
  19. Axstar

    Axstar Inactive

    Jul 8, 2016
    I think stuff like that is why Geddy Lee went over to the Wal and the Steinberger. If you have huge synths handling the low end then you can explore the bass as a sort of mid-range tuned percussion instrument.

    Sometimes it sounds like there is a sort of massive, wavering low-end coming from Stanley's Alembic, but it is pushed to the background a bit by all the treble snap and sizzle up front. I guess being a shortscale helps with that, as well as running the bass in stereo with a filter-based preamp.
  20. Never was into his sound, but: at least early in his career he wasn't satisfied with ordinary bass rigs and I remember seeing pictures of him playing live with tons of hifi-home-audio speakers behind him besides larger bass speakers.
    This goes into the same direction from an old Talkbass thread.
    Karlson Hi-fi speaker cabs for bass?
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