Alembic Inc

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Alembic Inc
Industry Musical instruments
Founded 1969
Founder Owsley Stanley
Ron Wickersham
Rick Turner
Bob Matthews
Headquarters Santa Rosa, California
Area served
Key people
Owsley Stanley
Ron Wickersham
Products Electric guitar, Preamplifier, Bass guitar
Website Alembic website
Alembic "Dragon's Breath" Custom Bass Guitar

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.


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]

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]

Phil Lesh'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] 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.[citation needed] 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] 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] 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] 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] Production of graphite-necked instruments ceased in 1985.

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

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 neck through Orion Fretless
2010 Elan 5 Jason Newsted style
1983 Spoiler
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—whatever Turner found on the market that he liked. They feature active electronics and brass hardware.[1]

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.

All Alembic instruments are made in Alembic's factory in Santa Rosa, California.

No endorsements

Alembic has always followed a strict "no endorsement" policy: artists have always had to pay for their instruments. According to Susan Wickersham, co-founder and CEO, "the most successful artists can afford to pay for their instruments – but if we gave them endorsement deals the cost of those instruments would have to be recovered from customers who are far less able to afford it".[citation needed]

Alembic 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.[citation needed]


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 1.6 1.7 1.8 Bacon, Tony; Moorhouse, Barry (2008). The Bass Book: A Complete Illustrated History of Bass Guitars. Hal Leonard. p. 35ff. ISBN 9780879309244. Retrieved 25 August 2012.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles> Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "BaconMoorhouse" defined multiple times with different content
  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.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

Further reading

External links