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Alembic Club » Alembic Basses & Guitars » Archive: 2007 » Archive through January 09, 2007 » Purpleheart Vs. Walnut « Previous Next »

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Username: 5stringho

Post Number: 34
Registered: 11-2006
Posted on Wednesday, December 20, 2006 - 4:41 am:   Edit Post

Hey, Gang.

Trying to decide on an MK Standard or Deluxe(Cash IS an issue!) I will probably go with Cocobolo on the top either way (I LOVE my Coco Excel!!) Since I have no stocking dealers where I can try out different models, I need some advice from knowledgeable Alembecians. Is there REALLY any noticeable tone difference between Maple/Walnut laminates or with Maple/Purpleheart? I have the Maple/ Walnut combination on my Excel, and it sounds great, but it is a set-neck. Would I get a more noticeable tone difference from the Coco top instead of the Standard Maple, or would it not make much difference on a neck-thru model, since most of the tone qualities come from the neck laminates? I know Alembic says the top wood on their Basses has less effect on tone than other Basses, so is the Coco purely cosmetic (It sure is PERRRRTY!)?
Anyway, comment and suggestions are welcome and appreciated. I need to make a decision B4 the end of the year, so I can order B4 the dreaded price increase :-(! Thanxxx, Mike.......
Username: apdavis

Post Number: 68
Registered: 5-2004
Posted on Wednesday, December 20, 2006 - 7:13 am:   Edit Post

Shoot for an ebony laminate. One ebony stringer if you can afford it.
Senior Member
Username: bob

Post Number: 782
Registered: 11-2002
Posted on Wednesday, December 20, 2006 - 10:08 am:   Edit Post

veneers: very thin strips, like the walnut you have in your Excel, and what comes standard on the MK Standard.

laminates: big hefty chunks of wood, like the purpleheart you get with the Deluxe.

I don't recall seeing much discussion here about the tonal merits of the veneers. They may help slightly with neck stability, and add a little visual interest, but we don't hear about people choosing different veneers for tone.

Laminates are a completely different story. There is enough wood here to make a significant difference. Purpleheart is very good, but assuming you're going for a 5 string (low B), which would normally have three laminates, you should seriously consider dipping into future savings or whatever to make one of them ebony.

Even with a neck-through, the general consensus seems quite clear that the top wood will make a difference, especially if you're comparing woods as different as maple and coco bolo. I'll let others try to comment on the tone, and just say that it is certainly not merely cosmetic.

(think of how much you're saving by beating the price increase... go for the Deluxe with "free" coco, throw in an upgrade for one ebony lam, and you'll never look back :-)
Advanced Member
Username: tbrannon

Post Number: 264
Registered: 11-2004
Posted on Wednesday, December 20, 2006 - 10:17 am:   Edit Post

I'm not speaking out of personal experience (my Rogue is an all Maple w/ walnut veneers), but from all accounts, ebony sure makes a difference.

How about a single ebony lam in a neck similar to the one Eric had built recently?
Advanced Member
Username: rklisme

Post Number: 321
Registered: 5-2004
Posted on Wednesday, December 20, 2006 - 10:30 am:   Edit Post


I can tell you that the top matters greatly if you can hear it! In fact every laminate added be it neck or body, shapes the tone. It is a shame you can't get to a dealer to listen to the complex differences between instruments. Mica, has a wonderful ear and can tell you almost exactly what tonal qualities you will achieve with different combinations. I have several different Alembics with different wood recipes and they all are very unique! It would be easy for me to tell you to get purple heart over walnut and others would tell you to get ebony over purpleheart or some combination of all the above, I think the final choice needs to come from your ears! I know this really doesn't help you much but I think as players with different styles and ears you can't just add this or that without hearing it first. The best thing you can do in your case is talk to Mica and tell her the style of music you play and what you want to achieve with your instrument and she can give you your best answer. Good luck with your purchase!

Advanced Member
Username: echo008

Post Number: 346
Registered: 2-2003
Posted on Wednesday, December 20, 2006 - 1:01 pm:   Edit Post

My old brown bass had a
mahogany-maple-walnut neck with a walnut top/myrtle body.... and it sounded thunderous.
definitely thicker than my current Stanley Deluxe (maple/2 purpleheart lams with Rosewood top/mahogany body). Both had ebony boards

you might want to look at other wood combos as well at least briefly.

I love my SCD but ....Damm I really miss that Brown Bass ....
good luck and congrats on your new Bass
- Tom
Advanced Member
Username: tbrannon

Post Number: 265
Registered: 11-2004
Posted on Wednesday, December 20, 2006 - 1:09 pm:   Edit Post


I think Rory has the best advice and calling the folks at Alembic is the course of action that I'll take when the day comes for me to plan my first custom.

Good luck- let us know what you decide on.

Advanced Member
Username: the_8_string_king

Post Number: 259
Registered: 9-2005
Posted on Wednesday, December 20, 2006 - 5:50 pm:   Edit Post

Hi, 'Ho. (I simply couldn't resist!)

First, I'm ignorant of how to do links... but, if you haven't done/discovered this... (1) go to the main page, then (2) click "the products", then (3) click "basses", then (4) click "wood samples", then scroll down a little and click "body woods."

Then you'll find info on the various body wood options -as well as info on their effect on a basses sound. Just in case you don't know, they offer maple and mahagoney as body woods (the main two, I think), but also vermillion, purpleheart, walnut, myrtle, and ash. (Some of these cost extra).

The point is, in shaping your sound, you have several variables/choices. Alembic sez the neck laminates are the biggest influence on the sound... then the body, then the top (and/or back, if applicable).

Mica has told me that purpleheart is stiffer as a neck laminate than walnut. I get the impression it's a lot stiffer...? (Ask around to clarify). My understanding is that a purpleheart fortified neck would tend to be much more stable. Depending on where you live/play, and intend to live/play, this could be a big factor.

They say that both as a body wood, and as a top or back laminate, walnut seems to somehow really capture and convey the subtlest nuances and detail of technique/playing... they call it a "fast attack"... I would assume that having it in the neck (as a laminate, not a thin veneer) would have the same effect?

Anyway, you should check this out if you haven't already.

I must totally agree that adding ebony in the neck is essential; and Alembic confirmed, prior to my ordering my second custom on December first (a Coco Bolo Mark King Deluxe) that adding a single ebony laminate is the single biggest thing you can do to influence (and upgrade) your sound.

Since I ordered what to my knowledge was the first Alembic with a combination of maple, purpleheart, and ebony, the combination has become both proven, and popular. As another member suggested, if you were to get the 7 piece alternating maple/purpleheart neck, and then swap/upgrade the center purpleheart lam to ebony, it would kick some serious butt. The effect of ebony as a neck laminate can not be underestimated. It's mind-blowing. They tell me it's even more significant than Coco Bolo, although as I understand it, this is the next recommendation on the list.

There's a picture of a really cool little custom Essense in the Showcase, either in Essense or Custom basses. I think it's "Stoney's Custom Essense". It has a gorgeous dark Walnut BODY, with Tulipwood as a topwood (and it's one of the Coco Bolo family woods, with the same sound).

I've heard people rave about the Coco Bolo sound for years... but since I've never played one plugged in, I really can't say anything first-hand. But it is their house recipe; that, and the fact that Alembic sez it'll produce a very different sound from my Maple/Ebony-dominated 8-String custom Europa -sold me on the combo -although I've upgraded to an extra-cool custom neck that also includes Mahogany and Vermillion too!

Good luck, and I look forward to seeing what you decide. I think bassjigga/Dave has or is placing his order before the increase too, so we'll probably become "bass brothers", watching our instruments in the FTC threads together.

P.S. IMO, it's worth it to upgrade to 3-position Qs. I think it's $125 or $150 retail (per switch)... confirm.
Username: 5stringho

Post Number: 35
Registered: 11-2006
Posted on Wednesday, December 20, 2006 - 7:56 pm:   Edit Post

Hey, Everybody,

Thank you all for the wonderful advice and insights. Please keep it coming! I am going to call Mica or Valentino and get their views, also. This may be my last Bass, so I want to make it the right choice! Thanks again to everybody, Mike...
Intermediate Member
Username: wayne

Post Number: 138
Registered: 5-2002
Posted on Wednesday, December 20, 2006 - 8:06 pm:   Edit Post

I've owned and or played old and new instruments of all three neck "flavors". There is a distinct difference in each.

The Maple with Walnut pinstripes is the least gutsy. Has a more common bass tone (if anything Alembic is common). It's more what people are used to hearing.

Purpleheart laminates are the next step up. Significantly stiffer, therefore more energy remains in the strings - better lows, thicker tone.

Ebony...ahhhh....sweet Ebony. Thunderous. The first time I played my Ebony laminate neck Alembic live was in the church orchestra. My wife plays violin, so she's not an aficionado of the lows. BUT, when I had the opportunity to hit a low D, not a B, not even a C, just a measley little ole D, her heard whipped around to stare at the sound it produced.

To paraphrase Mica: With Ebony in the neck, the fundamental decays at the same rate as the secondary harmonic.

I didn't catch if you're looking at 4 or 5 strings. I know we 5-stringers go on and on about the impact on the low B. It is just as dramatic on the E. I personally think the Ebony also helps with the pristine, "bell-tone" highs I get out of my basses.

Well, I've rambled enough. Boil it down: They all sound great. They all have monster sustain (comparatively speaking). They are all just different.

For me and several others here, the choice will always be Ebony. I would definitely recommend, as others have, to have a conversation with Mica, Val, or Susan. Describe to them what tone you're looking for - or what you feel is missing from what you have. You will be amazed how quickly they can point you in the right direction with complete confidence.

Best of luck to you....and Merry Christmas y'all!!

Intermediate Member
Username: wayne

Post Number: 139
Registered: 5-2002
Posted on Wednesday, December 20, 2006 - 8:10 pm:   Edit Post

One more item: regarding the top wood not making a difference. It does. Just not as much as the neck. I was so sure of the effect, I had Coco accent laminates put under my Maple top and back just to get some of that Coco tone in there.

Senior Member
Username: keith_h

Post Number: 644
Registered: 2-2005
Posted on Thursday, December 21, 2006 - 3:37 am:   Edit Post

From my experience the top woods do have an effect on the tone. I was able to listen to and play Dave Houck's Series 1 basses. The maple topped bass was definitely brighter than the walnut topped bass.

Username: bassjigga

Post Number: 84
Registered: 8-2005
Posted on Thursday, December 21, 2006 - 3:37 pm:   Edit Post


As others have already stated the best thing is to call and talk to Susan. She's really the expert on this stuff. I've only played the stock maple/walnut pinstripe neck of my Essence 4, but I am ordering a custom fretless 5 which will have an ebony laminate in the center and two vermillion laminates, with the main wood being maple. When cost is an issue 1 ebony lam is a good way to go. They say you can get most of the effect with just one. I added vermillion to mine since it's a fretless - vermillion brings a nice warmth to the tone. And for me the brightness of maple is a bass staple.

Mine's going to have a macassar ebony top. It's close to the same hardness/density of coco bolo. Both are good for producing strong lows and highs.

Not sure how much that helps but there ya go.

Intermediate Member
Username: trekster

Post Number: 134
Registered: 7-2004
Posted on Friday, December 22, 2006 - 4:40 am:   Edit Post

Lemme ask something.. has Alembic ever done a neck with laminates that are thicker than 1/4 inch? I've been wondering how a neck with a 1/2 or 3/4 inch center ebony lam would look/sound.

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