Grateful Dead Music Forum

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 #149768  by jackevorkian
 Sun Nov 22, 2015 9:12 pm
I've been sitting on this butchered early 60's Epiphone Rivoli for a while now. I'm not a bass player...just a guitar player that dabbles with the bass for fun. This is a super easy and comfortable bass to play, especially for a guitar player, and I have always envisioned making it a little more Phil-ish. Currently, the neck is very muddy and the p-bass pickup is oddly placed and terribly executed. I think I'm looking for the same thing I look for in a guitar: big, full frequency and very clear tone.

I don't think it is necessary to go active, filters, etc given that I just mess around on this for fun...but I do want to do it justice. Are Novak Bisonics/Darkstars the only other Phil-ish option, or are there more things to consider? Also, any thing else that I should look for or be aware of for electronics, pots, caps, etc?

 #149770  by zambiland
 Mon Nov 23, 2015 12:55 am
Nice bass! You have a number of different options. EMGs, Dark Stars, Alembic, etc. I'd get some good full range pickups on there, a set of Pyramid Golds, and perhaps the Hipshot replacement bridge that fits that bass. That would give you a good start.
 #149773  by jackevorkian
 Mon Nov 23, 2015 5:29 am
zambiland wrote:Nice bass! You have a number of different options. EMGs, Dark Stars, Alembic, etc. I'd get some good full range pickups on there, a set of Pyramid Golds, and perhaps the Hipshot replacement bridge that fits that bass. That would give you a good start.
Thanks for the response. Could you expand on the 'number of options' for the specifically what I should look at, pros and cons of each? I know very little about what is out there for bass. I had ruled out Alembics due to price and that I don't know that I need to go with active electronics, since this is mostly just a utility bass for a non bass player such as myself to have around. What are the passive options besides the Novaks? Thanks!
 #149775  by Rusty the Scoob
 Mon Nov 23, 2015 7:43 am
Edwin covered it perfectly, that's exactly where I'd start.

There are plenty of passive pickup options that can work. Barts tend to be smooth, for example... do some reading here and you'll be ahead of the game: In general skinny pickups like on a J-bass pick up a narrow, tight frequency range while wide pickups like your neck pickup pick up a wider, fatter range of frequencies, which is why it sounds muddy in the neck position.

Personally I'd go straight to the Novak/BiSonics for this bass. They have a nice flange or lip that'll cover up any imprecise routing such as what it'll take to repair that P-pickup rout, and they're a known, proven good option. Most replacement pickups are either soapbar shaped, requiring a nice clean professional rout, or Fender or Musicman replacements requiring even more precise routing, with a less predictable outcome on a bass like this.
 #149780  by zambiland
 Mon Nov 23, 2015 10:21 am
aiq wrote:No personal experience, my basses are stock and only used for home recording.

I do know I like the sound of Oakley, Lesh, and Cassidy the best in jam rock. Those Dark Stars are pricey tho'.
Yeah, Alembic pickups aren't much more. It's the electronics that get spendy. I do know at least one player who had a full Alembic rig in his Starfire but swapped it out to EMG. He's very happy. He's more of a Casady guy than Lesh guy, but it's all in the ballpark.

The other option from getting routes that don't have any extra space in them is to use pickup mounting rings. That's what I have on my Starfire with Alembic pickups, although having them built and properly carved to match the top of the bass was even more expensive than the pickups.
 #149782  by jackevorkian
 Mon Nov 23, 2015 1:05 pm
Thanks for the input.

So which EMG's and which Alembics should I look at? As far as I can tell, the only Alembics for sale on their website are $1k+ for a pair...but I guess that includes electronics? Are there just plain old passive Alembic pickups available somewhere? I feel like the Novaks could be the best (not sure what I am basing that on, however) but do want to consider all the options.

I'm thinking about sending this out to Brian at IO Guitars to actually have the work done.
 #149783  by zambiland
 Mon Nov 23, 2015 1:34 pm

I hope Phil doesn't mind if I post a pic of him and his EMG equipped Starfire. I think he moved on to some other pickups at this point, though. He liked everything about them, except that the high end was apparently a bit brittle. They are the HB model, as far as I know.

Alembic has all kinds of options, so you'd be best off just calling them. I think all of their pickups work best with a preamp, but you can use other preamps (although I really like theirs).

Bartolini made some pickups back in the day, the GB model, as replacements for Guild humbuckers. I had a pair but sold them earlier this year. They were pretty nice pickups. I don't know if they will still make them. It took me 18 months to get them after I placed my order. Hopefully they have a quicker turnaround these days.

It's too bad David Schwab tanked his pickup business. His pickups would be very cool in a Starfire.

But, for classic, pre-1971 tone, the Novaks are the best bet, followed by Alembic. Preamping is probably key, so you'd want to cut a nice big door in the back to install electronics and shield everything nicely.

And again, Pyramid Gold strings are also a big part of the sound. Thomastik flats get close, but they don't quite nail the midrange.
 #149801  by zambiland
 Tue Nov 24, 2015 10:11 am
jackevorkian wrote:At what point in the circuit is the preamp wired in? Is it post volume and tone pots, or is it right after the pickups? I'm wondering if it might be possible to just get a preamp pedal of some sort.
One of the biggest benefits of active electronics, and one of the things that the Alembic crew focused on, was isolating the pickup from all the circuitry that followed the pickup. So, that means putting the preamp as close to the pickup as possible. Initially, that meant soldering the components directly to the pickup output posts on the Guild/Hagstrom BiSonics. They noticed that they lost about an octave of high frequencies for every foot of wire (or something like that). But, you may not care as much, so a preamp pedal could be fine, especially if you use a short run of very low capacitance cable, the likes of which may not have been available back in the day.

There's no real right or wrong here, whatever sounds good to you is good, but these instruments ended up a certain way for a reason after a lot of time and effort was put into it. My experience is that I've wasted some time, effort, and expense reinventing the wheel.
 #151798  by hieronymous7
 Thu Apr 14, 2016 1:08 pm
Any advances made with this instrument? I think it's pretty amazing - the Rivolis are coveted in some circles - given that it's already been hacked into, you can have fun modding it.

My suggestion would be Alembic Activators - they can be found in P-Bass form, that way you could just drop them in (for the most part). Brand-new they are very expensive but sometimes they can be found used for reasonable prices - just make sure it's not only the pickups but also the preamp. Biggest problem would be where to put the battery - you might need to have a control panel carved out of the back.

I'm also a fan of the mudbuckers like your neck pickup. Sure it's muddy, but it can give some really high-powered low-frequency rumble that works great for some kinds of music. If it were me, I would consider wiring the mudbucker and P pickups with separate outputs to run to two separate preamps/amps. That's what I did with my Telecaster Bass - the Fender sidewinder in the neck with an Alembic P wired separately - kind of unnecessary but fun!

Hope you are having fun with it!