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Username: jigme

Post Number: 24
Registered: 7-2004
Posted on Monday, November 07, 2005 - 8:00 pm:   Edit Post

This is my "Poor Man's Alembic"! OK Alembic lovers, I need some good advice. This is my '72 Pbass with Series I guts. I bought it in '79 in Petaluma. I haven't found a sound I LOVE! I blame it on the Alembic guts. My complaint is I find it harsh and nasal-sounding. I've kept it so long because I believe that somewhere in here lies a beautiful sounding, versatile instrument.

I am thinking of trying Fred Hammond's Dark Star pups in it for a rounder, warmer yet articulate sound.

The body is heavily routed. This would allow experimentation without cutting out the body further. The existing pup holes would only need slight enlarging. I would have to have a luthier do all this work ($$).

I think I have several options:

1) Sell it as is, put the $$ towards a bass I really want. This is appealing because I'm not crazy about the neck.

2) Put in the Dark Star pups. Pro's: I get to keep a bass that's been with me a long time, I can try different pup positions, lower cash outlay. Con's: huge neck, and the pguard kinda floats which bugs me.

3) Keep it. Play it through tubes to get a decent sound.

Some would say if you're not in love with it, sell it and start fresh. Hard because I'm attached to it, and if I do replace the pups, being an older piece of wood it may sound better than a newer instrument.

Any recommendations, including ways to pull out a better sound, are appreciated.

Senior Member
Username: kungfusheriff

Post Number: 405
Registered: 8-2003
Posted on Monday, November 07, 2005 - 9:01 pm:   Edit Post

Man. That's what it looks like. We've talked about your Woods amp, right?
I'd say possibilities 3 to 1 in decending order--getting a new amp is always fun, and Dark Stars would be historically Alembic-appropriate if the tolerances match up, but for a last resort sell the tube amp and save up for a stem-to-stern Alembic.
Username: davehouck

Post Number: 2535
Registered: 5-2002
Posted on Monday, November 07, 2005 - 9:17 pm:   Edit Post

In the picture, the pickups don't look like Series pickups; the adjustment screws don't look right. Also, I don't see the hum-cancelling pickup; perhaps it's beneath the pickguard.

That said, my first thought is that Series pickups and electronics are matched to each other. Thus it would seem that replacing the pickups, if they are indeed Series pickups, might not be the best choice.
Username: phys49

Post Number: 28
Registered: 4-2005
Posted on Tuesday, November 08, 2005 - 5:48 am:   Edit Post

The pickup locations play a large roll in the harmonic content of the signal.These pickups are in the region of the string where the high and mid harmonics are more prominent in the mix.
This generally gives a less muddy sound at the expense of some loss of bottom end.
It sounds like the Alembic electronics and pickups are producing a realistic interpretation of the string motion at the pickup location.
I assume you have tried eq at the amp.
As for the neck issue, I can't justify keeping a bass that has a neck I hate. I understand you may have other sentimental reasons for keeping it. I have sold or returned several basses because of the neck. I can't play my best on a neck that is too large for my hands and I don't enjoy playing in a mediocre fashion.
I hope some of this is helpful.
Username: jigme

Post Number: 25
Registered: 7-2004
Posted on Tuesday, November 08, 2005 - 6:44 am:   Edit Post

kungfu - you are correct Sir! We have talked about my Woods amp before, and different strings as well. I'm confused - you are saying you think the best alternative is #1, right?

dave - I'm not considering running the DS's thru the tone controls, I don't think it would work. The hum-cancelling pup is beneath the pickguard. I was told by a repairman that it was still effective this way. Is that wrong? RE: The Series I pups--you're right, they're not the modern Series I. My hunch is that these are early electronics.

phys49 - thanks for the insight. When I first bought this the neck pup was close to the neck. I had it moved to get more punch and I could move it towards the neck again.

I appreciate the intelligent responses!
Username: jigme

Post Number: 26
Registered: 7-2004
Posted on Tuesday, November 08, 2005 - 6:47 am:   Edit Post

The question it all boils down to is how much tinkering do you do before calling it quits?

Is there a Beauty inside the this Beast?
Username: davehouck

Post Number: 2536
Registered: 5-2002
Posted on Tuesday, November 08, 2005 - 7:18 am:   Edit Post

Jeffrey; no, it's not wrong. The hum-cancelling pickup will work hidden beneath the pickguard.

Perry has a good point. You may want to take some precise measurements of pickup placement on a Series bass as measured from the 20th fret and try to replicate that placement. It looks like the bridge pickup needs to go back toward the bridge a little and that the neck pickup needs to go toward the neck some.

One easy thing you could try is to lower the pickup heights. That should clean up the tone a little.

Another thing to try. Roll the neck filter all the way to the low end and the bridge filter all the way to the high end. Cut the Q's off on both. Turn the neck volume all the way down. Play a few lines and slowly bring the neck volume back up til you get a nice balance between low end and high end. This technique should reduce the "harsh and nasal-sounding" tone you have and produce a "rounder, warmer yet articulate sound".

Also, check out this post in the Must Reads for technical information on pickup placement; and as referenced in the thread linked to in that post, check out this very graphic representation of the effects of pickup placement here.
Senior Member
Username: 811952

Post Number: 552
Registered: 10-2003
Posted on Tuesday, November 08, 2005 - 7:50 am:   Edit Post


If the body has been heavily routed, then it will never sound the same as other otherwise similar basses. Geddy Lee had his favorite P-bass cut down to a teardrop shape and lamented that it sounded like total crap forever after. I think probably the Alembic/P-bass combo, while well intentioned, was never meant to be and adversely affects the finer properties of both the actual tone of the physical instrument and what remaining tone the Alembic guts are able to transduce. I'd say sell it to someone who wants some old Alembic guts to play with and get yourself an Excel maybe...

John (wishing he had some Propeller Porter right about now)
Senior Member
Username: kmh364

Post Number: 1196
Registered: 9-2003
Posted on Tuesday, November 08, 2005 - 8:08 am:   Edit Post

There should be a way to save this pup. Warmoth sells replacement Fender-licensed bodies. Get an ash or alder or mahogany or rosewood, or...etc. one and get the thing routed so the electronics are in the right spot. I can't imagine any combo of woods, no matter how crappy they are, that can't be overcome at least to a certain degree by powerful active electronics like Series Alembic stuff. Regardless, no matter what you do, it WON'T sound much like a P-Bass with those electronics in it

Or maybe the electronics need to be properly set-up a la Ron W. the Wizard.

H*ll, what do I know, It's just my $0.02, LOL!
Intermediate Member
Username: dfung60

Post Number: 109
Registered: 5-2002
Posted on Tuesday, November 08, 2005 - 10:53 am:   Edit Post

I think the first step is to evaluate how it sound when not plugged in and especially to compare it to the unplugged sound of a bass that you do like the amplified sound of. If you put your ear against it while playing and it sound sort of thin then, then spending more money on changing it is probably not going to be that productive.

For what it's worth (and it probably ain't worth much), I don't care much for these early 70's Fenders. I remember them being really heavy (ash) and the thick finish. They're worth a lot now because the older ones sell for so much more, but it seems to me that Fender had it nailed in the 60's and lost their mind from the 70's to the late 80's.

To me, these 70's Fenders sound sort of thin and cold. I'd be willing to bet that you Series electronics are telling you a truth that you'd rather not hear. Changing pickups may shift the balance a little, but I doubt that it will be a transformation.

I wouldn't be all that concerned about the pickup position or previous routing. Part of the "Alembic Sound" is due to pickup positioning, but it's going to be dominated by the active electronics, thru-neck structure, and laminated neck. Moving the pickups will make a change in the harmonic structure, but it will be relatively minor. Since we fret the necks to play, this means that the optimum tone on your bass just happens to be at a different fret.

Routing a lot of wood out of a body can change the tone a lot too, but since you've always had this bass this way, that's a non-issue.

I don't think you can do better than a set of Series electronics on a bass you love, and you're lucky to have them. I have a lot of crazy basses, but one of the craziest is a custom Modulus 12-string bass (4x3 strings, a la Cheap Trick). It's totally nuts - thru body 35" scale with a double thick quilt maple top with a lot of carving. I had wanted to have Modulus build it with a set of Series electronics but that would have driven the crazy cost into the "definitely insane" range (the electronics set alone was more than most people would spend on a fine instrument). I also thought about sacrificing one of my Series bass' electronics for the project but that was too painful to think about. I still wonder what that would have sounded like...

So, it seems to me that you better sell this bass of yours. And when you're ready to do that, please don't forget to send me your address so I can haul it away for you.

David Fung
Advanced Member
Username: jlpicard

Post Number: 243
Registered: 7-2002
Posted on Tuesday, November 08, 2005 - 9:23 pm:   Edit Post

Well, It just goes to show you that the magic that is an Alembic is definitely more than the sum of it's parts. You can have great pickups or electronics but you need to get every aspect of the instrument right in order to have a successful design. IMHO, Alembic does this like no one else. Since you have a great deal of attachment to this bass, I would try to return it to it's original form as much as possible. The design works because Leo chose these particular elements to work together for a reason, just like Alembic has put certain elements together. Though worlds apart, both are successful designs, but not neccessarily interchangeable or to everyones' taste. Once you have accomplished that, sell the alembic pups'and put the money toward the real deal! I promise, once you play a real Series bass you'll never look back. And..you'll have the best of both worlds; the classic Fender tone and the entire tonal universe that is Alembic.
Michael DeVincenzo
Senior Member
Username: kungfusheriff

Post Number: 408
Registered: 8-2003
Posted on Tuesday, November 08, 2005 - 11:05 pm:   Edit Post

Nice to hear from you, but sorry you're having the same problem. You've got me backwards--buy a new amp first, sell her last. Sorry, dfung--I had the same thought, but J and his bass have been together a long time.
Senior Member
Username: dela217

Post Number: 552
Registered: 6-2002
Posted on Wednesday, November 09, 2005 - 6:36 am:   Edit Post

Harsh and nasal sounding? I can't imagine. One thing that could contribute to the nasal sound is the pickups could possibly be out of phase. Does it sound nasaly with just one pickup selected? It could be just a simple fix if that is the case! I hope this helps, it did the trick for me on one of my Alembics. For some reason when the pickups were made, the polarity was switched. On the type of electronics in your bass, it is not easy to switch the polarity of a pickup without changing the connection on the PF-6 card. But, when you do this, I think it may mess with the effectiveness of the hum cancelling system. Just a thought.

Senior Member
Username: 811952

Post Number: 553
Registered: 10-2003
Posted on Wednesday, November 09, 2005 - 7:57 am:   Edit Post

Ooh yeah.. One of the magnets might be reversed from the other, which would put the pickups out of phase. If that's the case, then you'd need also to reverse the polarity of an appropriate section of the hum-canceller circuitry, right?
Username: jigme

Post Number: 27
Registered: 7-2004
Posted on Friday, November 11, 2005 - 12:36 pm:   Edit Post

Guys, guys guys...I am overwhelmed with all the thoughtful replies and large amount of technical help. Wow! I can't respond to all of your great ideas so I'll summarize.

1) You've confirmed my belief that the pups are worthy, and that through further tweaking or putting these in a new body I may get what I want.

2) After talking with M. Doaln, and reading your posts about the pups, I think there may be some electrical problems. I may send the bass to Michael

3) My current plans are to try a neck with t rosewood board, and send it to M. Dolan if neeeded.

My attachment to this bass is strong, maybe stupidly so. But, I think it is unique and still has potential that I haven't pulled out, even after all these years. I have never played a real Alembic for a true test drive, so I don't know what I'm missing. This may be as close as I ever get!!

If I sell the bass or the pups I'll post it here.

Thanks everyone. The technical knowledge here is very impressive!
Username: terryc

Post Number: 24
Registered: 11-2004
Posted on Thursday, January 12, 2006 - 7:13 am:   Edit Post

Strange..I put an Alembic P/J combination with twin vols bass & treble on my first bass - a 1983 Squier Precision and it transformed the sound in an instant. My son uses it now for his Thrice style band as I have a MK Standard Bubinga topped bass. I did install and route the body for the jazz pickup and I tell you I used it for years and it sounded the biz.
Maybe this PU arrangement is meant for Series basses only and that is why it doesn't sound as good as expected..I mean horses for courses you know as we say in England. I am a totally Alembic devotee as I find it hard to fault any of there products especially the pick ups who are designed by the Wizard of Tone.

Terry C UK
Username: trekster

Post Number: 62
Registered: 7-2004
Posted on Thursday, January 12, 2006 - 10:20 am:   Edit Post

Here's my .02 .. I agree with the idea of replacing the body, with routing that is more appropriate.. as far as pickup spacing, since these are humbuckers, maybe have the pickups space like the Music Man Sabre?

The Warmoth idea is a great one; since you can specify wood and finish. You won't be able to get the hippie sandwich out of them, but since that is another debate as far as body doing the tonal shaping I'll stop there. They can do tops; so a mahogany or ash body with a maple or other top is very doable, and they can back route the control cavity. They probably won't do the pickup routing since those PU's are not a standard -- perhaps you can get Alembic to make you a couple of templates for PU routing and do it yourself? Hmmm....

Senior Member
Username: 811952

Post Number: 617
Registered: 10-2003
Posted on Thursday, January 12, 2006 - 10:27 am:   Edit Post

They aren't humbuckers, just large single coils. That's why they need the humcanceller.

Intermediate Member
Username: s_wood

Post Number: 175
Registered: 5-2002
Posted on Thursday, January 12, 2006 - 10:59 am:   Edit Post

Maybe I am missing something, but if you don't like the sound and you don't like the way the bass feels (because of the neck), what else is there? What's the point of keeping it?

I totally agree with David's opinions about 70's P-Basses. They tend to weigh a ton. For a neck through bass (like an Alembic!) that can be a good thing as far as tone goes, but with a bolt-on like a P-Bass the extra mass makes no sense since it competes with the tonal concept of a bolt-on bass.
It's kind of like drinking a $150 bottle of killer cabernet while eating the spiciest Cajun Voodoo shrimp you can find! Plus, the finish on those 70's basses looks like the stuff on the floor of a bowling alley lane, and it just smothers the tone. As you have observed, the necks from that time period are just huge, and often unplayable.

The Alembic electronics are letting you hear what your bass really sounds like, and as you have reminded us that is not always a good thing!

Disclaimer: I really hate the Fender bass sound. Always have, always will.
Senior Member
Username: bigredbass

Post Number: 555
Registered: 9-2002
Posted on Friday, January 13, 2006 - 6:56 pm:   Edit Post

I am the proud owner of three basses, not as I need three, but because there is a LOT of sentiment involved, so I understand attachment.

BUT . . . if one of them had a sound I hated and a neck like a plank, I'd do the right thing: LEAVE it under the bed and ONLY drag it out when the loved one who got it for me was around.

I would think it very likely that the S1 electronics would need a look-see by ALEMBIC or someone VERY qualified. I'd be surprised if the original installation was done by ALEMBIC and who knows what's going on by now since 1979.

Working right, the ALEMBIC p/u's will give you EXACTLY what's going on, no preset curves, built in EQ, nothing but the truth. This is sound is not for everyone, and often a surprise to newcomers after most everything else. But you've lived with this for a long time, so who knows . . .

The real question is WHAT do you want to sound like? Are there any basses you've tried that fit the bill? Any particular tone on a particular record that sticks out in your mind?

Then you must remember that your 'instrument' is the total of all the links in the chain:
the strings
the pickups
the bass
your physical playing style(fingers, picks, slaps)
the cable(s)
the effects
the amp
the cabinet(s)
the speaker(s)

plus the room, the band you play with, your experience level, etc.

So, WHERE does it sound 'nasal'? Through what amp? Always? Sometimes?

We can keep dialing this in for you if you like.

Myself, if I just had to have a Fender (ANY of you can shoot me, no questions asked, if I ever post about getting one), it would be too easy.
Fender these days is making just about any bass in that style you could imagine. Then there's all the Lulls, Sadowskys, etc., for something a little more custom. I will grant you that it's like building a Ford or Chevy hot rod: EVERYBODY makes custom parts for them. So for me, I'd pick out the Warmoth parts I want, then round up the bridge, keys, straplocks, pickups and so forth and build exactly what I wanted.

But for the life of me, a Fender bass with Series electronics would be the LAST thing I'd have ever thought of. But if this makes you happy, I'd be glad to keep digging in this for you.

J o e y
Username: keurosix

Post Number: 31
Registered: 10-2005
Posted on Tuesday, February 07, 2006 - 4:51 pm:   Edit Post

Sorry, better late than never.
Series electronics are worth about $4 grand right now! Don't sell the guitar if you have any kind of attachment to it. I think that you can make it work to it's best by adjusting and maybe enhancing what you have. Yes Warmouth and many other folks make necks and bodies to Fender spec, and you could replace the neck with a model of any year Fender neck you fancy. You could also get an exotic wood body for some sonic and visual enhancements. I would try to get it to work with what you got first. 1) contact Alembic, and get them to send you a brass adjustable nut, and a custom brass bridge block to get the strings vibing right. With a bolt-on, a lot of the string energy just disappears. These two additions will strengthen the fundamental of the string and maybe wipe out that thin raspy sound. 2) Then, work with the Pickup placement. You can hack up the cheesy plastic picguard, cause any sheet metal shop worth it's salt can make you a cool stst or brass replacement on their laser. (Just ask if you need help finding one.)I made a few this way, and went as far as laminating a nice veneer of birdseye maple on top. You want wood without flop? Lose the plastic. The metal guard acts as a real good shield for the electronics too. May even contribute to a cleaner truer sound. Just get the PU placement where you want it, and then bring the guard to the metal shop with a tracing of where you want the pickup cutouts to be instead of that gaping hole in the middle. You can have them make it out of 1/8" thick stock (3mm) which will correct the floppyness of the plastic one replaced. With these few refinements, you would put out a minimum of cash for the greatest return. Good Luck.
Please let me know what you do!
Username: keurosix

Post Number: 32
Registered: 10-2005
Posted on Thursday, February 09, 2006 - 8:45 pm:   Edit Post

Jeff, You hit on one thing: the rosewood fingerboard neck replacement. A maple fingerboard tends to be brighter sounding, and particularly uncharacteristic of the traditional Alembic sound with an ebony board. This could contribute to the "nasty" sound. Again, check into aftermarket necks for an ebony fingerboard. I can remember a long time ago Warmouth or another company was making completely custom necks for replacing Fenders and they offered a complete ebony neck, fingerboard and neck wood. It was VERY expensive, but imagine the SOUND? Don't forget, Alembics sound great because of ebony fingerboards, but also a lot of the customs have ebony neck laminates too, and their owners swear by the sonic benefit. Don't give up on your guitar, it's worth experimenting to get it right. You could even get 2 necks, one fretted and one fretless for whatever mood or gig strikes you.
Username: series_iii

Post Number: 23
Registered: 8-2005
Posted on Thursday, February 09, 2006 - 9:00 pm:   Edit Post

hey jeff i sent you a reply regarding your f-1x vs f-2b question. i got a bounce back saying your mailbox was over its limit. let me know if you get the message with attachement.
Username: peever

Post Number: 2
Registered: 2-2006
Posted on Saturday, February 18, 2006 - 12:00 am:   Edit Post

well if you want that alembic sound your never gonna get it with the bolt on neck of a fender,
id say sell it, go with an alembic if thats the tone your lookin for of course, but its always hard to let go of an instrument isnt it?

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