Althea There are things you can replace, and others you cannot.
That's a line from the song Althea, a Grateful Dead classic, that is part of the inspiration for the lovely guitar on this page that we custom built for Jim.
"When I first contacted Alembic," Jim wrote to us after receiving Althea, "I was looking to build an instrument that I could cherish and have true pride of ownership knowing that this guitar is one of a kind."
The muse for Jim has been Jerry Garcia's Rosebud guitar (built by Doug Irwin after he left Alembic). "I love music and have greatly admired Jerry Garcia, and his 'Rosebud' is a symbol of his talented improvised style and clean, crisp tones that have inspired me and many musicians.
althea "I wanted to take this symbol and build upon it to create something unique to me, while preserving what 'Rosebud' inspires to those who admire Jerry. After exploring various ideas with Susan, I decided on a general idea and let Alembic fill in the blanks. I had very high expectations and was simply blown away as the process progressed. The inlay work is breath taking, Althea's image in the medallion shimmers like jewelry against the dark onyx background and the Coco Bolo grains seem to flow with the rose vine and leaves."
wood The carved top of Althea is a thick 1/2" bookmatch of Coco Bolo. When there's a piece of Coco Bolo lumber in front of you, it can sometimes be daunting to decide where to cut it. Other times, the wood itself suggests the proper placement. Here, the grain "pinches" in toward the bridge, and on the horns it curves right along with the shape of the body, almost suggesting the roots of the rose on the fingerboard.
peghead peghead
The peghead on Althea, just like every other Tribute guitar, is faced with a veneer of Ebony. We love how it continues the lush color from the fingerboard.
For the back of the peghead, we selected a coordinating veneer of Coco Bolo with closely spaced grain similar to the back of the body. It's also a peek at the neck laminates: Western Flame Maple, Purpleheart, and Cherry.
inlay inlay inlay inlay
It sounds easy enough - just add a long-stemmed rose down the center of the fingerboard between the Florentine Scrolls. Well, it's not quite that easy. Susan spends many hours drawing (the old-fashioned kind with a real pencil), erasing, redrawing, and redesigning before Mica can make the artwork for the cutlines on the inlay materials.
Of course, the cutting of the inlay parts and the actual inlaying takes James considerable time as well. Between all the hands, there's no less than 50 hours of work in the rose alone. But all that effort is worth it, the rose looks as if it grew right into the fingerboard. And the falling petals? They represent what cannot be replaced.
sandwich Even though this is the standard lamination sandwich for the Tribute guitar, that doesn't mean it's not an amazing feature. The Flame Maple core shows off its strong figuring. On either side is a laminate of Vermilion and a thin pinstripe veneer of Maple before the Coco Bolo caps. So pretty!

tailpiece With the large medallion inlay, our standard "bird" shaped tailpiece was not going to fit. This gently curved tailpiece is perfectly suited to wrap around the oval inlay, and the top key-hole style string anchors keep the ball ends secure.
Continuouswood backplate Jim specifically wanted a small Ebony binding around each of the continuous wood backplates. We make the plates in our normal fashion, with the scroll saw to cut the plate before we glue up the body. This reserved piece of wood is then resawn and sanded to form 2-3 veneers. Layered with Maple and Purpleheart, the plate is a little adventure in custom plywood.
With the binding, the last step is to glue a thin strip of Ebony all around each plate. It's fairly tedious, and takes great patience to get it just right. It even took more of the secret ingredient to complete this task.
logo Tribute guitars have an inlaid logo with mother of pearl and abalone as a standard feature. Jim asked us to add the eight Alembic rays behind the cloud. These are inlaid in beautiful blue-green paua abalone shell from New Zealand. The color is arresting against the Ebony front veneer.

inlay detail "The aesthetics are so stunning that just to sit down and study her is a joy in itself. However, nothing compares to the excitement of playing this instrument. The tone is so crisp and pure. I have many very fine guitars, but after playing Althea these guitars are simply underwhelming. I guess it's like driving a Ferrari after driving a fleet of Fords and Chevys."
Thanks, Jim. Working with you was a true pleasure. Your input and appreciation of what we do is what inspires us. Thanks for your patience and encouragement through the process. Althea touched each of us here at Alembic.

Front Back


  • Tribute 6-string guitar
  • Carved Coco Bolo top
  • Coco Bolo back
  • Flame Maple body core
  • Vermilion and Maple accent laminates
  • Florentine Scrolls fingerboard inlay
  • Custom long-stem rose with falling petals fingerboard inlay
  • "Althea" nameplate inlay
  • Althea skeletal figure medallion inlay
  • Inlaid sterling silver Alembic logo mother of pearl and abalone
  • Alembic rays inlaid in paua abalone
  • Continuous wood backplates, bound in Ebony
  • Custom "Keyhole" tailpiece
  • Tribute electronics
  • Sold by: Altlanta Bass Gallery
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Text and photos of guitar by Mica Wickersham Thomas, © 2010 Alembic, Inc.

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