Little Bear

Jonathan's Little Bear Jonathan was already talking to Valentino about having a custom built guitar when he realized that he needed a reference point, since he hadn't yet played an Alembic, though he liked the styling and enjoyed the sound he'd heard on recordings. A stroke of kismet, and he was the owner of a cool little Burl Redwood Orion. His experiences with that instrument cemented his resolve to have a custom built, but how to decide?
With nearly infinity options, it's sometimes difficult to pare it down to a clear purpose for the guitar, a reason for being. Then Jonathan made a critical decision that was to shape every subsequent decision: a celebration of his daughter, nicknamed "Bear."
Bear Claw inlay The bear claw inlay at the first fret is mother or pearl, with sterling silver claws. Mica made a mock-up of Susan's design and we submitted it to Jonathan for approval. He loved it, and the rest of the design could proceed. The claw of the Little Bear is the central feature we based other design details around.
Peghead We redesigned the Knobby peghead to a slightly smaller size to coordinate with the body shape better. It's delicate proportions and flowing curves are echoed in the body. Each aspect getting considered individually, and also as it impacts the whole guitar is paramount. What fun is an instrument with stuff just "stuck" together, when you can actually design something that is new and wonderful? We say go for the joy!
peghead back Chip selected Coco Bolo veneers that match the color and pattern of the body laminates. Interior veneers are Maple and Walnut, four on each side, plus the Coco Bolo for a total of ten veneers in the peghead. There are actually 25 separate pieces of wood in the peghead alone. These 24 glue joints are engineered to provide the strength needed in this, the smallest area of the guitar with all the string tension.
Logo The Alembic logo is cast by an extremely talented local jeweller in bronze. Mother of pearl and abalone are inlaid behind the logo, then the whole thing is inlaid flush with the top of the peghead before the finish is applied.
Once the guitar has all the finish sprayed on it, and we complete the final rubout and buffing, the logo is enhanced by the finish. It's also below the surface, so it's completely invisible to the touch. The particular piece of abalone in this inlay is absolutely electric.
Bear inlay We have our own way of doing most things. This nameplate is no exception. We take the artwork and transfer it to a large, thick piece of mother of pearl. James meticulously cuts the letters by hand with a jeweller's saw, straight through the whole piece.
Once the letters are cut in this manner, we fill the open spaces with a mixture of optically clear epoxy and ebony dust (collected from levelling fingerboards). We do this for good looks today, but also in the future. Someday, this guitar will need to be refretted. When its time comes, the repairperson can relevel the fingerboard and still preserve the original inlay, since the design extends down into the fingerboard.
Coco Bolo Coco Bolo not only appears fabulous, but imparts a complex mixture of dark, rich bass response and clear highs. Even though the body shape is rather small (especially compared to traditional Alembics), the character and grain of the Coco Bolo still looks striking.
After he'd had the guitar for a little while, Jonathan wrote to us:

Words can hardly describe how special The Little Bear is to me. You were entrusted with the daunting task of trying to capture the essence of my precious daughter in an inanimate object...brass and wood somehow replacing flesh and bone. It needed to be beautiful, delicate and, above all else, full of personality. Your collective endeavor succeeded in creating no less than just that.

Jonathan - What a pleasure it was to craft this guitar for you. We loved it so much, we are making a new model based on it (the Darling), and the serial number code will help us remember who dreamed about it first, "JL." We're also looking forward to our next project, to celebrate the birth of your son. Congratulations!

Front Back


  • Darling 6-string guitar
  • Coco Bolo top and back
  • Maple and Purpleheart pinstripes
  • Maple neck with Purpleheart laminates
  • Custom Bear Claw fingerboard inlay
  • Custom Bear nameplate inlay
  • Mini-Knobby peghead
  • Inlaid logo with shell
  • Purchased from
    Terry Allen at Guitar Showcase
featured custom

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Photograph of Thanksgiving sunset © 2004 Bill Thomas
Text and Photographs of guitar © 2005 Alembic, Inc.
Original artwork © 2004 Susan L. Wickersham

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