Grateful Dead Music Forum

A place to talk about the music of the Grateful Dead 

 #87442  by Rick Turner
 Fri Oct 01, 2010 4:15 pm
Well, I'm still building guitars and basses because I'm virtually unemployable doing anything else!

It's a dirty job, but, hey, somebody's got to do it...

It is interesting being able to pull off things now that I thought of years ago, but didn't have either the skill, materials, or tools to do what I can do now. Though it isn't quite current, an example would be that Guild Bluesbird bass that Phil gave to Dan Schwartz that didn't work until I figured out how to make really good individual string piezo pickups. The bass was built in 1969 by Guild, we (Alembic) gave it a go around 1972, and it didn't make the cut. Phil gave it to Dan, and then close to 20 years later, I finally nailed the pickup system that could work with that bass...oh, and the string design, too.

The Wall of Sound was kind of like that. I heard Bear propose it in 1969 including eliminating monitors and putting the entire PA behind the band, and everyone thought he was out of his mind...well, never mind that! But it wasn't 'til several years later that we figured out how to do it. He was right; we just needed a few years to figure out some of the devilish details.
 #88336  by CoolBreeze
 Fri Oct 22, 2010 8:14 am
I just got done listening to a soundboard of Jerry playing Peanut in St Louis, at the Fox Theater- ... eatre.html

Gosh that guitar sounds GREAT! Actually the whole show is pretty fantastic. I'm a fan of smaller-bodied guitars, in general.

Plus, St Louis is my home, and the Fox is a venue extraordinaire. I had line tickets to see them there in 86- but that show got canceled when Jerry got sick.

Really nice to be able to put the Peanut together with this show!!!! :P
 #88515  by Larry Robinson
 Tue Oct 26, 2010 12:07 pm
Someone asked about the decisions leading up to the final design on Alembic guitar #1, and I had to respond. Even though I wasn't there until 1975 I've had extensive conversations with Rick and Frank about what was going on back then. Prior to building guitars together They worked at Satterlee and Chapin's music store in San Francisco doing repair work. Rick had come from the East coast and Frank had been apprenticed to a violin maker named Mr. Lundt in Santa Cruz starting at age 13. The first whole instruments built as Alembics were made in a basement on Judah St, with a recording studio on the floor above, and monitors in the basement so while they worked, Rick and Frank could listen to CC&N , Santana, the Dead end others while they were recording.
Not much in the way of formal design process was happening. It was more like, "Hey, I bet this would look cool!" Lighter weight or better balance was likely an afterthought.
Another related post comes to mind here. I've heard it said that all the Alembics were team built. When I started out there, it had only been a few months that Voldemars "Bob" Redins had been hired as the shop foreman, and about a week after I started the company had a big party because they had just hit #200 in instrument serial numbers. After Frank and Rick worked together for a year, Doug Irwin showed up with a guitar he had made on his kitchen table, and on the strength of that, as well as a government program that paid half his wages, they hired Doug. The first few years were about everyone building what they wanted to and putting an Alembic logo on it, which is why you'll see such disparity in the early ones. Even after the production line got going there was a process by which we each got to build a custom order for a customer from start to finish. Obviously, we didn't make the harness or pickups, but my first one was a doublenecked bass that you'll still see floating around on Ebay occasionally. I did the inlays, sprayed the finish on it, made the custom hardware and set it up.
Another fine builder before my time there was Bruce BecVar, who was the first modern luthier to have an electric guitar in the NY Metropolitan Museum's collection.
One of my all time favorite Alembic's was this one, built for Johnny Winter by Rick.
Winter Alembic.jpg
Winter Alembic.jpg (105.94 KiB) Viewed 1908 times
 #88517  by tigerstrat
 Tue Oct 26, 2010 12:21 pm
Awesome, I can totally picture JW shredding that axe. Great story, Larry!
 #88521  by Tennessee Jedi
 Tue Oct 26, 2010 12:35 pm
Whoa - inlays are cool - mythological animals
Love the thing that the strings go thru that looks like flame ....
How cool would that be to have the Dead jamming upstairs while you work ?
Keep them stories coming !
 #88537  by Larry Robinson
 Tue Oct 26, 2010 5:25 pm
Sorry, my bad typing. I meant CS&N, not CC&N, whoever they are...
Here's another see through guitar, Alembic #10. They originally didn't have serial numbers, but after one got ripped off and they couldn't tell the police what the number was, Rick went out and bought a set of letter and number stamps.
Alembic 10.gif
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Here's #12. A lot of the early ones had a tung oil finish. Frank says that he and Rick had only a few hand tools between them to begin with and had to go up to Olema in Marin County to use John Bowers' bandsaw. John was the road manager for Jesse Colin Young's band, and also made beautiful organic shaped furniture.
Alembic #12.jpg
Alembic #12.jpg (40.9 KiB) Viewed 1877 times
And here's a bass Frank made in the mid 1970s. A beautiful schedua top and back, and he did the inlays too.
Alembic Fuller 2.jpg
Alembic Fuller 2.jpg (73.02 KiB) Viewed 1877 times
 #88540  by tigerstrat
 Tue Oct 26, 2010 5:44 pm
Those basses are jaw-droppers!!
 #88551  by Larry Robinson
 Wed Oct 27, 2010 6:55 am
Normally I wouldn't put up my own work here unless it was relevant to the post issue, but I have received a request from this thread to show this inlay, which has just been completed for a guitar Dan Ransom is building.
IMG_1293e.jpg (160.55 KiB) Viewed 1825 times
 #88554  by tcsned
 Wed Oct 27, 2010 7:10 am
that is just awesome Larry! Thanks for sharing and thanks for all the historical info too - it's great to have you guys contributing to these discussions!