Post Number: 393
|Posted on Thursday, August 17, 2006 - 11:48 pm: |
I've recently returned from a trip to Alembic in Santa Rosa. I have a Series II John Entwistle Replica (well, not an exact replica - it's being made to my specifications, but with major design cues from John's famed Spyders) under construction, and I thought I'd share a few insights.
First, if you're reading this, you more than likely have been bitten by the Alembic bug. You know what Alembics are all about, their strengths, weaknesses, limitations, etc. Yet, you're still here. This should tell you that Alembic basses and/or guitars speak to you musically in a way no other guitar or bass can. If they didn't, most could never justify opening their pocketbook to buy one.
Second, you've probably decided, after playing your Alembic, your friend's Alembic, or several Alembics, that the time has come for a custom of your very own. That's how I got here, anyway. To this end, I offer the following.
1 - Be honest with yourself about what you want, and how you will use the instrument. Most will go for bells and whistles if they can afford, if not need them. Order what you need and will use instead. There's no point, for example, in ordering a flat fingerboard radius (Like John used) when you're not a big tapper (bassist). My custom is as close to a replica of John Entwistle's basses as I can get without actually buying one of them (prohibitively expensive). John had a very light touch with his right hand, and was an avid tapper. I'm not. I tend to anchor my right hand near the bridge pickup, and dig in a bit. So a flat fingerboard radius would most likely not work for me. So ...
I made changes to the instrument based on my preferences, the physical makeup of the bass based on other Alembics and basses I've owned, etc. The nut will be narrower to accomodate my smaller fingers, it will have a satin feel neck (from my Dragon's Wing), inlaid logo and shell (again from the Dragon's Wing), chrome tuners (love them on my Essences), and more spacing between the end of the fingerboard and the neck pickup (from the Essence, Dragon's Wing, and Europa). Always remember that you are the one playing this instrument, and no one else. Ultimately, it will be yours, and yours only. Might as well get it how you want it.
2. Know what you want, and don't want. Too often, folks ordering a custom instrument aren't exactly sure of what they want. I've toured the factory, and trust me, there is a point in time where the artisans crafting your instrument need to know what you want in order to make it happen. Once they do that, it is too late. Therefore, it behooves you to clearly articulate up front what you want. Can you make minor adjustments (e.g., changing a pickup selector switch to a pan pot, as I did on my custom) at a late date? Sure. Just don't expect them to cram Series II electronics into a body not prepared to accept (and approved by you previously) them at the last minute.
3. Make sure Alembic knows your playing preferences. If you're a player who primarily uses a pick, or slaps and pops, or does fingerstyle, or uses a combination of all three (like me), make sure Alembic knows. They'll make all of the accomodations you need to fit your playing style. If you don't tell them, and then the bass or guitar arrives and it doesn't perform as you like, you've only yourself to blame. They're only going to build it based on what you tell them. The more they know, the more it will be as you want it.
4. Bass Players: Technique and string size matters. Most basses are set up for .45-.105 strings (four string basses). It is the standard gauge. Heavier gauges are usually no problem in terms of set ups, but lighter gauges are (I know this from experience). If you use lighter gauges, tell Alembic before they build your custom. Tell them the action you want and expect, in inches or mm. Tell them the gauge and brand of string you use. Better yet, send them a pack of your preferred strings, so that when James and crew get to your instrument in the set up shop, it gets set up with your strings in mind, the way you like it, and with the action you seek. Tell them where you pluck the strings (if doing fingerstyle; if using a pick, the location you use the pick). They can't set it up to your specifications if they don't know how you use the instrument, what strings you use, techniques used, etc. If you do give them the info, more than likely they will be able to provide you with what you're looking for.
5. Take a trip to Santa Rosa if possible. The reason I say this is that you will have the opportunity to speak with the people who will be directly involved in making your instrument. You're investing a bunch of money; might as well spend a few hundred extra to make sure that the craftsmen making your instrument understand what you want. It is cheap in the long run. And it's just cool to visit Alembic! Trust me! I had the opportunity to speak with Chip, the fine young man who will be carving my custom. He showed me several templates, and we were able to get it to where I wanted it. This is the value of being there - you can talk directly to those who are crafting your instrument. BTW, Chip is a cool dude. And he is a true artisan as well.
6. Don't expect daily updates. Folks, the elfs at Alembic are busy. They have multiple projects going on, catering to multiple customers. It's not that they don't care, but that there's only so many hours in the day. I saw, up close, at least 10 instruments in spray, 5 more being set up, frets installed, etc., 5 being carved, 6-8 in clamps being glued, 8 or 9 being shipped ... Val answering the phone ... Mica doing the tour .. Susan ... well, everyone listens to Susan ... Ron ... he has way too much fun for one individual ... you get my drift. Alembic is a small operation. There aren't a zillion folks working there. They will, however, within reason do their best to see to it that you are updated on your instrument in a timely manner.
Additionally, the way they make instruments does not lend itself to daily updates. For those of you who really like Coco Bolo, I offer the following - it absorbs finish. Because it does, they have to sand in between each coat (after it has dried completely, depending on humidity, temperature, etc.) to determine what pores are still not filled. This takes time, days, weeks, sometimes months. It is not an exact science, much as a piece of lumber is not an exact science. Therefore, unless you want to see pics of your instrument in the finish room with an opaque white patina on it every day, I respectfully suggest that you wait. It's worth it.
7. Finally, have patience. Excellence does not come easily or cheaply. If it did, everyone would be able to achieve it. Trust me, the folks in Santa Rosa know what they're doing. If they tell you it needs to take a bit longer, so be it. Their insights are based on over thirty years of making (IMHO) the finest basses and guitars in the world. Give them the benfit of the doubt, and you will be richly rewarded.
Post Number: 752
|Posted on Friday, August 18, 2006 - 5:24 am: |
Good advice Alan. Perhaps a candidate for the must reads section.
Post Number: 82
|Posted on Friday, August 18, 2006 - 10:07 am: |
Have to agree with jacko on that!!!!
Must also say that this posting was the most intuitive relative to anyone ordering a custom that I have ever come across!!
Post Number: 394
|Posted on Friday, August 18, 2006 - 11:13 am: |
Glad to be of help. I'm sure there are others who can offer even more advice on ordering a custom. Hopefully it will save time, money, and headaches for folks.
Post Number: 753
|Posted on Friday, August 18, 2006 - 2:17 pm: |
Sounds to me like you're thinking about a custom.
Then again, aren't we all. When are you going to let me know when you're playing?
Post Number: 971
|Posted on Friday, August 18, 2006 - 6:23 pm: |
I would add this: If at all possible try and stay with combinations of standard things they do on a regular basis. For two reasons:
---It's something they already know how to do
---and as such, it tends to be cheaper and faster, IF THAT MATTERS.
If I had buckets of money, I can't really imagine anything I'd want that is not based on their catalog of shapes and electronics. But that's me.
IF you're 'going boldly where no man has been', you're certainly in the right place. But remember when you brind your ideas to them:
You're translating woods and metal and electronics into a physical, finite object. There's no one better than Susan at managing this transition. But like AJD mentions, it really needs to be set in concrete what you want, because as it takes shape, it will pass many points in the process that are irreversible.
And it is a small, family business. Think of Fender or Gibson as Honda or Yamaha; ALEMBIC is like MV Augusta. Fabrication at this level of perfection takes time, even for them. Wearing them out every other day about what color screws you're getting is just not helpful.
If I were getting one built, I'd pay up front, tell them EXACTLY what I wanted, and then I'll see it when it's done. I could NOT second guess them. Why would I try and tell Emeril how to cook or Tom Brady how to throw a football? I would only be waiting for the day UPS comes, rip open the box, open the case and sh** all over myself. It takes as long as it takes, and I'm more than willing to stay out of the way while people are working to build something special for me.
Hell, it's the least I can do.
J o e y
Post Number: 396
|Posted on Friday, August 18, 2006 - 6:41 pm: |
One thing you get to do when you visit the factory is play a bunch of different instruments. It gives you an opportunity to see what you like and don't like in an Alembic. I had the opportunity to play a Series II, an Excel, an Orion, a Balance K, and a Stanley Deluxe. All of them were awesome, and all of them showed me some things that I hadn't considered concerning my custom. In the end, it helped me let Susan know what my preferences were. As a result, I'll get exactly what it is I'm looking for.
I don't know if I'd tell Emeril how to cook, but I'd definitely tell him to stop putting his index finger on top of knives. It is poor technique. But what do I know. He's a millionaire chef, and I'm a ... schlep!
Post Number: 354
|Posted on Friday, August 18, 2006 - 11:16 pm: |
My knife technique involves the not-always-successful "try not to put your fingers under the blade".
Did you know that superglue was invented as a battlefield wound sealant?
Post Number: 1567
|Posted on Monday, August 21, 2006 - 4:52 pm: |
Ah, Alan, don't forget, you're a schlep with Alembics! I'd rather hang out with you that in Emeril's kitchen any time! So you had fun in my back yard? Cool, ain't it!
Post Number: 84
|Posted on Tuesday, August 22, 2006 - 2:27 am: |
No, I'm not thinking of a Custom at the moment. I just like to read good, solid advice from people that like to share their experiences with the rest of the Club members.
As for gigging, I,ve just got back from gigging in Lanzarote as a duo witht e singer/guitarist in the 4 piece band. We've been offered 7 nights a week if we want it, so just waiting to see what is happening!
BTW, you know the situation when you wish you had taken your camera with you in the evening(as opposed to during the day), well there was a musical evening on at the harbour. One group of about 25 people were on stage, and yes----you guessed it------the bass player had a 6 string Europa!!--sounded cool as anything. That pic would have gone well with the rest of the ones I took , still--maybe next time.