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the Alembic "sound"?

Discussion in 'Basses [BG]' started by cole, May 23, 2001.

  1. cole


    Sep 14, 2000
    okay, I know Alembics have a big reputation for having a certain "sound" to them. (heck, all those knobs better do SOMETHING special!) the trouble is, I don't know what that sound _is_. can anyone point me towards some recorded examples of the Alembic sound? (and don't say ELP--it's nearly impossible to hear Greg Lake's bass playing on their albums...)
    Squittolo likes this.
  2. Stanley Clarke has always been a big Albemic user if I'm correct, so you could check out some of his work. I'm not familiar with loads of his music, but the "School Days" album is probably a pretty good place to start I guess.
  3. malthumb


    Mar 25, 2001
    The Motor City
    I think the idea of an "Alembic Sound" is sometimes a bit humorous. Most people think of either a trebly type of sound or a "Stanley Clarke" type of sound. Here's a few things I know to be recorded with Alembics:

    * Car Wash - Rose Royce
    * Starchild - Level 42 (and most of Level 42's stuff)
    * The "Right On Time" album by Brothers Johnson has Louis Johnson playing an Alembic Series I
    * Practically anything by Stanley Clarke
    * on Prince's "Raspberry Beret" video the bassist is playing a white Spoiler.
    * Wierd Al Yankovich's bass player uses primarily a Stanley Clarke Signature bass

    In addition, I've heard that Flea did the studio recordings of the "What Hits?" CD with an Alembic, though he played a Music Man during live performances. Kool Bell of Kool & The Gang used an Alembic for some years, but I can't confirm which cuts.

    Again as far as "a sound", I have a couple Alembics that sound so different from each other that it would be hard to regard them as even being similar. I'd suggest that their different woods give them substantially different voicings. My coco bolo 5 string Series II is deep and throaty, my walnut 4 string Series I has a piano type voicing, closer to what people think of as an Alembic sound. Comparing them is like comparing Barry White to Phil Collins. Both have wonderful sounds and tones, but are are sonically night & day.


    TolerancEJ likes this.
  4. just to add another, James Taylor's bass player uses, I believe, a Series I
  5. bassics


    Nov 27, 2000
    Newark, Ohio
    John Entwhistle of "the Who" was a big fan of Alembics, and had several custom made, including one with an explorer body shape, neck through, with custom "spider web" inlays in rememberance of their song "Boris the Spider".
    TolerancEJ likes this.
  6. alembicbones


    Nov 10, 2000
    Seattle, WA
    I think malthumb, seeing as though he plays the creme de la creme of Alembics, has a real knowledge of the Alembic soul. Here's my take, for whatever it's worth:

    Clearly the woods used and construction of such goes a lot to the character of an Alembic. The Series I actually is a semi hollow body bass (not sure about the Series II). When I play my Essence 5 srting acoustically, it sounds really good.

    There are two main components of the electronics that I believe are unique to Alembics, the "Low Pass Filter" and the "Q switch/CVQ knob".

    The filter allows you to assign a certain frequency, then everything below that frequency is unaltered and everything above is attenuated at -12dB per octave. On my Essence, I achieve a very growly sound by panning to the bridge pickup, and setting the filter around 400 - 600 hz.

    On the higher end models, the Q switch or CVQ knob is added. This feature allows you to boost the frequency set by the low pass filter. The Q switch has three settings where the CVQ allows a spectrum of settings.

    On the basses malthumb plays, you have independent controls of the above electronics for each pickup. Lots of factors to deal with, but in the hands of a bassist with a master ear, the possibilities are endless.

    My hope is to someday own a Series II and discover it's nuances. For now, my Essence run through the superfilter works quite well.

  7. LowRanger


    Dec 24, 2000
    I believe Jimmy "Flim" Johnson does the Alembic sound to a "t" on the Flim and the BBs album "Tricycle."

    Great bass sound, chops to die for...
    bucephylus and gebass6 like this.
  8. Hategear

    Hategear Workin' hard at hardly workin'.

    Apr 6, 2001
    Appleton, Swissconsin
    Peter Steele of Type O Negative. [Scratching his head] I don't know if that's a real good example of the Alembic sound though, eh?
  9. Edgar


    Nov 4, 2000
    Montreal, QC, CA
    Did Jaco ever own an Alembic?
  10. malthumb


    Mar 25, 2001
    The Motor City
    Alembicbones pretty much nailed it with his description of the Q switch & CVQ set ups. Tonal possibilities are way beyond what most people will ever use on either a Series I or Series II, so to identify "a particular Alembic sound", it's pretty much whatever you want it to be. I've been fiddlin' around for about a year & I'm still finding sounds.

    When I talk about the difference in sound on my basses, I'm comparing them at as close to the same pickup, tone, and Q settings as possible (full on, mid, full off) and playing the EAD&G strings. With all things electronically leveled, there's still a big difference.

    MOST Series I & II basses are semi hollow. My Series II is solidbody, since it's basically a Mark King Signature optioned up. Being solid I'm sure adds to the depth of the tone.


  11. Aside from Stanley Clarke's sound on "School Days" I think some of the most definitive Alembic recordings are the Dixe Dregs albums featuring their first bassist Andy West. He played long scale Alembic Series I's through a bi-amped system. Clear, pianolike tones with tons of bottom and shimmering high's. This is the tone I searched years for. I finally found it in my Kawai F2-B - regarded as the "poor man's Alembic".
    Squittolo likes this.
  12. alembicbones


    Nov 10, 2000
    Seattle, WA
    I absolutely second Andy West's work with the Dregs. Especially the earlier albums. "What If" , "Dregs of the Earth", and "Freefall" come to mind. He's one of my favorite bassists.

    However, watch out for his Steinberger use.

  13. winston

    winston Supporting Member

    May 2, 2000
    Berkeley, CA
    The fretless Alembic Spoiler I had was capable of a wide range of tones, from super-thick booty to the rudest nasal honk imaginable. I think that when people talk about the Stanley Clarke Alembic sound, they're probably referring to the bright, clear tone of the short-scale basses he played. The medium and long-scale ones have a deeper tone, but they all have tremendous sustain and clarity. I believe that David Hood from Muscle Shoals used an Alembic for much of his career, and Phil Lesh of the Grateful Dead used them for much of the '70's.
  14. Back to Greg Lake, one of my favorites, I would suggest, Fanfare for the common man, Knifes Edge, and From the Beginning for the tone you seek.
  15. EString


    Nov 20, 2000
    Los Altos, CA
    The Red Hot Chili Peppers' "One Hot Minute" album was recorded entirely (with the exception of "Aeroplane") with an Alembic Epic 4 string.

    For the "One Hot Minute" tour, he of course played his usual Music Man Stingray, because he says "he wouldn't be caught dead with that (the Alembic) bass."
  16. Flat Bass

    Flat Bass

    Dec 8, 2002
    Listen to Armand Sabel Lecco on Paul Simon CD, the one he did in Central Park for free in the early 1990s I think. That is some bad ass bass playing and it is on either a series I or series II small body short scale. Man he is got some tone on that live recording. It will trip you out.:D
  17. Ben_P


    Oct 2, 2001
    Alberta, Canada
    Would one of those custom Alembics have a tone resembling other Alembics? The pickups are the same but alot of them with the choices of woods seem pretty different.
  18. neptoon

    neptoon Supporting Member

    Jul 25, 2000
    Melbourne, FL
    the Q man...it's all about the Q. pete steele uses an '84 alembic spoiler, but the recorded sound is a pretty bad example...he gets an awesome live sound with it, though...armand sabal lecco is also another good one, but he uses a bossas a lot as on the live at the greek album with stanley clarke (illegal).
  19. Blackbird

    Blackbird Moderator Supporting Member

    Mar 18, 2000
    Jaco only needed a Fender. :p
  20. Flat Bass

    Flat Bass

    Dec 8, 2002
    I do believe that Jaco did have an alembic at one time. He was so good it did not matter what he was playing. He had all sorts of basses just given to him by different companies i think.;)

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