Alembic Inc

Alembic is an American manufacturer of high-end electric basses, guitars and preamps. Founded in 1969, they began manufacturing pre-amps before building complete instruments.

Alembic Inc
IndustryMusical instruments
FounderOwsley Stanley
Ron Wickersham
Rick Turner
Bob Matthews
HeadquartersSanta Rosa, California
Area served
Key people
Owsley Stanley
Ron Wickersham
ProductsElectric guitar, Preamplifier, Bass guitar
WebsiteAlembic website
Alembic Dragon's Breath custom bass
Alembic "Dragon's Breath" Custom Bass Guitar


The company was founded by Owsley Stanley as a workshop in the rehearsal room of the Grateful Dead in Novato, California, near San Francisco, to help improve the entire sound chain for the band's live recordings, from instruments to PA. Soon the group was active in sound recording, modifying and repairing guitars and basses, and PA systems. By 1970, Alembic was incorporated with three equal shareholders: Ron Wickersham, an electronics expert who came in from Ampex; Rick Turner, a guitarist turned luthier; and Bob Matthews, a recording engineer.[1]:35ff

Inspired by the wide frequency response of the Hagstrom Bi-sonic pickups installed in Phil Lesh and Jack Casady's Guild Starfire basses, Ron Wickersham and Rick Turner designed low-impedance pickups and electronics with greater bandwidth than the high-impedance pickups typical in electric guitars and basses of the time. To boost the low output of these pickups, Wickersham designed an active onboard preamp. Turner referred to this process as "Alembicizing".[1]:35ff

Phil Lesh's Alembicized Guild Starfire
Phil Lesh's "Alembicized"
Guild Starfire
Jack Casady's Alembicized Guild Starfire
Jack Casady's "Alembicized" Guild Starfire

The company's first instrument was a bass guitar, made in 1972 for Jack Casady.[1]:35ff This bass incorporated a massive electronics suite, with state variable filtering capability, and had pickups mounted on brass tubing so that their position could be adjusted. Financial problems (in the recording studio section) were alleviated after a 1973 story on the company in Rolling Stone, which generated enough cashflow for a standardized bass guitar line based on the Guild Starfire. At that time, the company had two locations—guitars and electronics were built in Cotati, and the main office was in Sebastopol.[1]:35ff 1973 was also the year that Stanley Clarke, then with Return to Forever, replaced his Gibson EB-2 with an Alembic, increasing Alembic's profile. Their bass guitars were expensive, costing up to three times as much as a new Fender bass. According to Tony Bacon and Barry Moorhouse, it was Alembic that started the trend of high-quality, high-price bass guitars.[1]:35ff In 1974, Matthews left the company. The recording studio had been sold, as was a retail store in San Francisco where they had sold high-end audio equipment besides their own electronics and instruments.[2]

The first production Alembic instruments were less ornate, and incorporated the PF-5 electronics circuit, later replaced by the PF-6. The pickups were single-coil, with an active hum-cancelling coil mounted between the pickups. This configuration gave the player the fidelity of single-coil pickups without their inherent noise, and is used to this day. The basses and guitars built using this configuration would later become known as the Series I and II, and were available in a variety of scale lengths and body shapes.

In 1976, Alembic built what is believed to be the first modern five string bass (tuned BEADG) for bassist Jimmy Johnson.[1]:57,58ff Alembic's January 21, 1977 price list described the five string bass as a "standard" model, available for $50 more than its four string bass.

In 1977, Alembic presented the world's first graphite neck basses with necks supplied by Geoff Gould (later founder of Modulus Guitars) at a trade show; it was bought by John McVie of Fleetwood Mac.[1]:35ff Production of graphite-necked instruments ceased in 1985.

In 1978, Rick Turner left the company to found Turner Guitars.[1]:35ff

In 1979, the Distillate, a more affordable model, was introduced in bass and guitar versions.


Through the 1980s, Alembic introduced several new models. These included the Spoiler, Elan, and Europa basses, and the Electrum and California Special guitars. Alembic's model line has continued to expand to the present day, with models such as the Epic, Orion, Excel, and Darling being introduced.

2006 Custom Neck through Orion fretless guitar
2006 neck through Orion Fretless
2010 Elan 5 Jason Newsted style
1983 Spoiler
1988 Alembic Spoiler Coco Bolo guitar
1988 Spoiler
1990 Elan

The instruments

Key design elements from the earliest instruments are still present in Alembic’s instruments today.

Most Alembic basses and guitars are constructed around a laminated neck that runs through the body of the instrument, using various combinations of often exotic woods such as Zebrawood or Cocobolo. They feature active electronics and brass hardware.[1]:35ff

A variety of body shapes have been introduced. The Standard Point, the iconic Alembic body shape, was conceived to force players to put the instrument in a stand, as headstock repairs resulting from falls were the most common repair performed by the company in its early days. Newer body shapes have been introduced to improve ergonomics and to designate new models.

Alembic instruments can be ordered with a wide variety of custom features, including complex inlays and LED position markers in the neck.

All Alembic instruments incorporate the proprietary Alembic active electronics, with various options for tone controls and pickup configurations available and are made in Alembic's factory in Santa Rosa, California.


While Alembic has largely eschewed celebrity endorsements, the company has made two exceptions to this rule. Stanley Clarke was given a specially inlaid instrument to celebrate 30 years of working together. Mark King, in 1986, received two 34"-scale Series 2 basses and then ordered two more in identical woods with 32" scale.


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i Bacon, Tony; Moorhouse, Barry (2008). The Bass Book: A Complete Illustrated History of Bass Guitars. Hal Leonard. ISBN 9780879309244. Retrieved 25 August 2012.
  2. ^ Roberts, James H.; Roberts, Jim (2003). American Basses: An Illustrated History & Player's Guide. Hal Leonard. p. 14. ISBN 9780879307219. Retrieved 26 August 2012.

Further reading

External links

Gibson Explorer

The Gibson Explorer is a type of electric guitar that made its debut in 1958. The Explorer offered a radical, "futuristic" body design, much like its siblings: the Flying V, which was released the same year, and the Moderne, which was designed in 1957 but not released until 1982. The Explorer was the final development of a prototype design that, years later, Gibson marketed under the name Futura.

The Explorer's initial run was unsuccessful, and the model was discontinued in 1963. In 1976, Gibson began reissuing the Explorer after other guitar companies had success selling similar designs. The Explorer became especially popular among the hard rock and heavy metal musicians of the 1970s and 1980s.

Grateful Dead

The Grateful Dead was an American rock band formed in 1965 in Palo Alto, California. Ranging from quintet to septet, the band is known for its eclectic style, which fused elements of rock, folk, country, bluegrass, blues, gospel, modal jazz, reggae, experimental music, psychedelia, and space rock, for live performances of lengthy instrumental jams, and for their devoted fan base, known as "Deadheads". "Their music", writes Lenny Kaye, "touches on ground that most other groups don't even know exists". These various influences were distilled into a diverse and psychedelic whole that made the Grateful Dead "the pioneering Godfathers of the jam band world". The band was ranked 57th by Rolling Stone magazine in its The Greatest Artists of All Time issue. The band was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1994 and a recording of their May 8, 1977, performance at Cornell University's Barton Hall was added to the National Recording Registry of the Library of Congress in 2012. The Grateful Dead have sold more than 35 million albums worldwide.

The Grateful Dead was founded in the San Francisco Bay Area amid the rise of the counterculture of the 1960s. The founding members were Jerry Garcia (lead guitar, vocals), Bob Weir (rhythm guitar, vocals), Ron "Pigpen" McKernan (keyboards, harmonica, vocals), Phil Lesh (bass, vocals), and Bill Kreutzmann (drums). Members of the Grateful Dead had played together in various San Francisco bands, including Mother McCree's Uptown Jug Champions and the Warlocks. Lesh was the last member to join the Warlocks before they became the Grateful Dead; he replaced Dana Morgan Jr., who had played bass for a few gigs. Drummer Mickey Hart and non-performing lyricist Robert Hunter joined in 1967. With the exception of McKernan, who died in 1973, and Hart, who took time off from 1971 to 1974, the core of the band stayed together for its entire 30-year history. The other official members of the band are Tom Constanten (keyboards; 1968–1970), John Perry Barlow (nonperforming lyricist; 1971–1995), Keith Godchaux (keyboards; 1971–1979), Donna Godchaux (vocals; 1972–1979), Brent Mydland (keyboards, vocals; 1979–1990), and Vince Welnick (keyboards, vocals; 1990–1995). Bruce Hornsby (accordion, piano, vocals) was a touring member from 1990 to 1992, as well as a guest with the band on occasion before and after the tours.

After the death of Garcia in 1995, former members of the band, along with other musicians, toured as the Other Ones in 1998, 2000, and 2002, and the Dead in 2003, 2004, and 2009. In 2015, the four surviving core members marked the band's 50th anniversary in a series of concerts that were billed as their last performances together. There have also been several spin-offs featuring one or more core members, such as Dead & Company, Furthur, the Rhythm Devils, Phil Lesh and Friends, RatDog, and Billy & the Kids.

Rick Turner (luthier)

Rick Turner (born July 30, 1943) is an American builder of guitars and basses.

Tiger (guitar)

Tiger was Jerry Garcia's main guitar from 1979 to 1989. It was built by Sonoma County luthier Doug Irwin. After the instrument was commissioned by Garcia in 1973 following delivery of Wolf (his first major Irwin guitar), Irwin was assisted from 1974 to 1977 by apprentice luthier Thomas Lieber, who devised the body design and later became known in his own right for designing instruments used by Pete Sears, Stanley Clarke and Chris Stein. According to Lieber, he and Irwin conceived the instrument as "our generation's Les Paul." Throughout the design and construction process, it was provisionally designated "the Garcia" in homage to Paul's eponymous instrument. Upon commissioning the instrument, Garcia enjoined Irwin to "make it the way he thought was best, and not worry about cost."The Tiger is named after the tiger inlaid on the preamp cover located on the guitar's top, just behind the tailpiece. The body features several layers of wood laminated together face-to-face in a configuration referred to as a "hippie sandwich" by employees of Alembic Inc., where Irwin worked for a brief period in the early 1970s. The combination of several heavy varieties of wood, plus solid brass binding and hardware results in an unusually heavy instrument that tips the scales at 13½ pounds. After Garcia began using a new Irwin guitar (known as Rosebud) in December 1989, Tiger became his backup guitar. Due to a problem with Rosebud during the Grateful Dead concert on July 9, 1995, Tiger was the last guitar Garcia played publicly.

Tony Bunn

Robert Anthony Bunn, also known as Tony Bunn, (born November 18, 1957) is an American bassist, composer, producer, and writer.

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