Due to the passing of Robert Frates at the end of September, the staff (most of us are related to him) was not able to complete our normal tasks. A new Featured Custom will be ready on November 1. We thank you for your understanding.

Steve's Alembird Steve probably didn't need another bass. He has a nice collection including several custom Alembics. For a few years, he'd been after Susan to have us build an Alembic version of a Gibson Thunderbird bass. There were things he liked about the Thunderbird - the cool shape, the heavy sound, but he wanted his version to be impeccably made with a killer Quilted Maple top and the clean sound he has grown accustomed to with his Alembic basses. Here's how Steve explains it:
The idea behind this project was to violate the laws of nature by marrying my 2 favorite basses -- Alembics and old T-Birds. I love the T-Bird's body shape, so I didn't want to modify it too much. I also wanted to capture the essence of the T-Bird's tone, which is largely a function of it's all-mahagony neck and body, and the unique placement of the 2 pickups -- so we copied those things, too. Then, we added the versatility of Alembic electronics and the overall quality and vibe that they build into everything.
neck lams The heart of replicating the Thunderbird's tone is the Mahogany neck. Lower density than our standard Maple neck, Mahogany imparts a deeper sound that is never over-bright. For visual interest, we added Maple pinstripe veneers between the Mahogany laminates. The tinted finish deepens the natural color of the wood.
Reverse Elan peghead Susan suggested using a reverse Elan peghead for this project. It's smaller than Thunderbird's but keeps a similar vibe. Matching Quilted Maple veneers decorate both the front and back of the peghead, which Bob has painted the same 3-tone Tobaccoburst finish as the body. The smaller size of the peghead greatly improves the balance of the instrument, which according to Steve is not neck heavy and is very comfortable the play.
Peghead back Another contributing factor to the balance is the weight of the machine heads themselves. Since we were trying for the best balance possible without drasticaly changing the look of the bass, Hipshot Ultra Light tuners help ease some of the mass at the far end of the bass.
fingerboard Steve specified a Rosewood fingerboard for this project. It's unusual for us, and we don't keep a huge amount of Rosewood fingerboards in stock. We ordered some Rosewood for fingerboards and even milled it for this bass. Then we discovered a lonely little board sitting way in the back corner. Too small for a top, it was the perfect size for Steve's Alembird, and we were glad to finally have a home for this special piece of wood.
Abalone oval inlays add an Alembic touch.
Lower horn The contoured shape on the top right along the edge of the fingerboard was an interesting construction challenge. We used a very thin 1/8" laminate just for the beautiful figure. This thin top was flexible enough for Mike to clamp to the already carved contour in the Mahogany body. It was an important decision to use such a thin top since a thicker laminate would increase the brightness, and that was something that Steve wanted to avoid in this project.
Since the Tunderbird's truss rod access is at the peghead, we elected to use a continuous wood truss rod cover located at the pickup end of the fingerboard to help retain the idea of the bass.
Wood The 5A grade Quilted Maple is a knockout. It's hard to believe the undulating figure is sanded flat because it has so much dimension. Our first attempt wasn't what Steve had envisioned, but he was able to direct Bob to get the finish just right. He wanted the darkest colors just along the edge, with amber across most of the top so as not to obscure this delightful wood.

Backplate Of course the custom body shape requires a custom backplate. This form follows the contours and looks as it should: designed specifically for the purpose.

Bridge Chrome hardware all around on the Alembird. We love the way it looks with the finish, plus there's no brass cleaning in this bass' future.
Steve - it's always a pleasure to work for a dear friend. We thoroughly enjoyed this project, and appreciate your perseverance during the design and build process. It is our sincere hope you will enjoy this "blending" of some of your favorite instruments for all of your days.

Front Back


  • Custom Signature Standard 5-string
  • 5A thin Quilted Maple top
  • 3-tone Tobaccoburst finish
  • Custom Alembird body shape
  • 34" 5-piece Mahogany neck with Maple pinstripes
  • Old stock Brazilian Rosewood fingerboard with Abalone oval inlays
  • Reverse Elan peghead shape
  • Hipshot Ultra Light tuners
  • Signature electronics
  • Continuous wood truss rod cover
  • Chrome plated hardware
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Text and Photographs of bass © 2005 Alembic, Inc.
Gibson and Thunderbird are trademarks of Gibson USA.
Hipshot and Ultra Light are trademarks of Hipshot Products.

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