Dragon's Breath

Stan's Series II It's been just over thirty years that Stanley Clarke and Alembic have been working together. Thirty years is a long time. It's almost as long as we've been crafting instruments. He's never had a huge collection of Alembics: maybe four or five at a time, a seemingly small collection for such a reknowned artist. We've never done endorsements like other companies, and Stanley has been a very good customer for all these years.
Over the years servicing his basses we noticed they had been modified. He had a local repairman strip the finish from the neck and carve it smaller, very small in fact with a nut width of just 1.4 inches. We said, "Stanley - don't do that - let us custom make your necks." When we built him 2 new basses a few years ago, we suggested to make them with his favorite neck dimensions, and he was very happy with the results. When he first played the Dragon's Breath, the very first thing he said after feeling the neck from the heel to the nut was, "this is my neck."
Since the inlay is such a dominant feature on this bass, let's start with a closer look at Susan's design and Mike's handiwork.
Dragon breath
For the Dragon's Breath we inlaid black Tahitian mother of pearl. The smoky color and almost magical opalescence are perfect!

Dragon face
The face of the Dragon is golden mother of pearl with white mother of pearl for the beard. Her mouth is lined in custom cast red acrylic and her teeth are made from ivory recovered from an antique piano that was being discarded. Her piercing eyes are blue topaz.

Dragon feet
Several kinds of natural and laminated abalone form the sinuous body of the Dragon. The talons are inlaid in sterling silver, as well as the ridges down the back.

Dragon wing
The furled wing is composed of golden agoya shell with inlaid ribbing of sterling silver flanked with ebony veneers.
Dragon tail
More abalone for the rest of the body.
Dragon tail
Abalone body is capped with a finial of sterling silver at the tail.
Quilted Coco Bolo To celebrate our thirty years of colaboration there was only one choice for the wood - Quilted Coco Bolo. The piece chosen was meant for Stanley's bass as it barely fit the Small Standard body. We would have loved to make it a bookmatch to center, but the size of the wood didn't allow for that option.
Not only is the wood absolutely beautiful, it's also very dense and oily. These attributes exaggerate the natural sonic properties expected with Coco Bolo. Instruments we've made with Quilted Coco Bolo tops and backs have even more defined bass response, dampened mids and pure crystaline highs. The tone is clean and clear, and very piano-like. It's not known what causes a tree to exhibit this type of figuring. Our Coco Bolo supplier, who's worked with us for twenty years, called Susan from the mill in Mexico when this log was split open. He'd only seen quilted figuring sporadically., and never across a whole board. We've only ever seen these few boards of Quilted Coco Bolo in all our years of building.
backplate With such a rare and beautiful back laminate, it would be a crime to do anything other than continuous wood backplates. These miniature construction projects take many steps to create. Before assembling the body, the plate placement is mapped and drawn on the board that will be the back laminate. Bob uses a scroll saw to cut out the plate and reserves the fallout piece. Chip then proceeds with the body construction.
Meanwhile, the fallout piece is resawed and converted to veneers. We then make a custom plywood stack, starting and ending with the Quilted Coco Bolo, with alternating layers of Purpleheart and Maple inside. With symmetrical construction, the plate remains strong. After shaping and fitting, the plates go through the finishing process exactly the same way as the bass does.
Peghead With rare woods like Quilted Coco Bolo, there isn't a commercial supply of veneer available, so we make our own. We slice a thin piece with the bandsaw, then sand it to the desired thickness. For Series II basses, we bookmatch the front veneer. When you enlarge the picture on the left, take your time enjoying the symmetry created by this technique.
Quilted Coco Bolo is only on the front and back of the peghead, the interior veneers are Maple and Purpleheart.
When Stanley was recording Vertu', Mica met him at the studio and brought him a 25th Anniversary Sterling bass. After spending a couple of days with that bass, he was a believer in the power of Ebony - "so much sustain," he kept telling us. It was only natural to include them on this bass.
Inlaid logo with rays Sterling silver logo is inlaid under the finish with mother of pearl and abalone. James fitted this logo with a few abalone rays. The inlay almost appears as hovering over the deep figure of the wood. Everyone who sees it in person seems compelled to run their fingers across the surface to confirm that it is completely flat.
Quilted Coco Bolo Another shot of the back, this time, the upper horn. It's easy to get lost tracing out the curls and burl in this wood. It's very dark, and has little contrast, making it extremely difficult to photograph. To show off any detail, very bright lighting is required.
sandwish We've made several basses for Stanley with a Vermilion body, here you can see how it is framed with Maple accent laminates and capped with the Quilted Coco Bolo. You just knew there would nice little side LEDs in red, didn't you?
knob These are the regular Swiss-made collet knobs we use on our instruments, but we've replaced the usual plastic cap with our handmade abalone version. The collet knobs are extremely secure, a real necessity for a performing artist. The light texture make them easy to adjust even in hot stage settings.
tailpiece Another great feature for a performing artist is the gold plated hardware. Of course it's beautiful, but it's also protecting the brass from corroding, which sweat will do on unfinished brass parts. The plating will keep it's beautiful lustre with very little effort, something we're sure Stanley's tech appreciates very much!
Ultimate straplock You're not imagining things, there are no strap pins or locks or holders of any sort on the bass. Stanley has always screwed his strap directly to the bass, and doesn't need any facility to remove the strap. A large woodscrew and washer do the trick, and are his "ultimate straplock."
logo After working together for so long, we felt something very special needed to be done to mark the occasion. This bass embodies the loyalty Stanley has shown to Alembic and our dedication to bringing to him the best bass to showcase his tremendous talent. We presented him with this instrument in recognition of our association and the immeasurable impact he has had on the bass community and to music as a whole. Our wish is that this new instrument will continue to inspire.

Thank you so much for everything, Stanley.

Front Stan Surprise


  • Series II 4-string bass
  • Quilted Coco Bolo top and back
  • Vermilion core
  • Maple accent laminates
  • Continuous wood backplates
  • Chinese Dragon fingerboard inlay
  • Side LEDs in red
  • 24K goldplated hardware
  • Maple and Ebony neck
  • Abalone capped control knobs
  • Inlaid logo with rays
  • Polyester gloss finish with satin neck feel
  • Presented to Stanley Clarke in honor of our 30th anniversary together.
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Photograph of rain at the base of Mt. Talyor © 2004 Mica Wickersham
Photographs of bass © 2004 Alembic, Inc.
Original artwork © 2004 Susan L. Wickersham

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