Orion Nebula

Orion Nebula Keith's primary reason for ordering this bass was to add a fretless to his arsenal. "I have been playing a little more jazz (as opposed to rock and fusion) and felt a fretless would have a better feel to it. I am happy with my 5 string Orion (1st Alembic) and Brown Bass (2nd Alembic) so decided why not have you folks make a fretless."
So the planning began. Susan and Valentino spoke with Keith about what his visual and sonic goals were for this project. After their conversations, Keith said, "I wanted to have more of the midrangy (is that a word?) growl, so I decided a set neck with Ash body would be the way to go."
Compared to the other Alembics in his collection, Keith told me, "This bass is a little more special since I had more involvement in its construction. I appreciate and enjoyed the time I had talking with Susan on the whether to go with ghost frets, side lines or not, the weather in northern CA, etc. All of this adds up to the Orion Nebula being something a little bit more than my other basses. It was also this process that let me decide (with my better half's approval) to try to go for another custom in a year or two."
Wood Since the wood was the inspiration for the moniker, we should start there. This is an exceptional piece of Spalted Maple. It's got flame figure as its base, then it's overlayed with exciting black spalting streaks. And sometimes, you get these interesting color shifts, we've heard others call it "ambrosia" color, we just think it's pretty. "I was really wowed by the spalted maple top. Both Susan and Valentino had said you had some really nice stuff and they weren't kidding," Keith later told us.
Spalted Maple is normal Maple that is partially decayed. The black lines mark the margin of a fungal invasion. Once the moisture is low enough, the decay is arrested. If you've stopped it early enough, you get a lovely painting in wood by Nature. If you don't, you get a pile of once-wood.
TRC To keep more of the Spalted Maple visible, Keith opted for the continuous wood truss rod cover. This is cut out before the top is glued in place. Then, Chip makes a neat little stack of Maple and Purpleheart veneers that is faced on both sides with Spalted Maple veneer made from that original cut.
It's a really neat little feature which looks quite appropriate on this bass.
Peghead Peghead
Custom made Spalted Maple veneer for the front peghead decoration. Frequently we use commercially available veneers for pegheads, but when the wood is as unique as this one, we make our own.
We slice a thin sheet on the bandsaw, then sand it to the desired thickness. Or should we say thinness in the case of a veneer?
Keith's D'Addario Chromes are also evident in this photo. The flatwound strings are very nice to the Ebony fingerboard, and produce exactly the fretless tone Keith had in mind.
Ash When we asked Keith how this bass compared to other Alembics he has tried. "They all seem to have their own unique voice," he started, "this bass is a fretless. I can hit harmonics easily, get that growly MWAH or surprisingly quite a bright slapping tone."
We love how Ash body wood is aligned. Those concentric circles bring a smile every time. Plus, the Ash offers a slightly punchier tone, which is excellent for the fretless "growl" that Keith wants.
Electronics East Meets West electronics offer more versatility than the standard Orion packge of volume, pan, bass, treble controls. In the EMW set, we add a filter and Q switch to the mix. Having more options right on board the bass is great for playing situations where the music needs totally different sounds in the same song.
"I went with the EMW electronics somewhat out of curiosity and I am happy I did. I already had an idea of what the pan, filter and Q switch would sound like from my 5 string Orion. I did not know what the basic Orion electronics would sound like since I had never heard them. With the 5 string there are times I would like to boost the lows or highs without having to change the amplifier. The EMW appeared to give me this ability and I believe I was correct. I am able to get lots of growl and MWAH."
Sidelines Sidelines are what we call these tiny inlays of Maple. These mark where inlaid fretlines or "ghost frets" would be, except that the surface of the fingerboard can be left blank and free of anything that would influence the sound. When you slide over different materials on a fretless, like inlays or fretlines, the character of the sound can change.
Leaving the board blank keeps the sound safe, and has a very clean look, which compliments the wild top wood.
We had a great time making this bass, and were so happy to find this crazy-cool top to build an instrument where it would take center stage in the design. Keith's simple, but ever-so custom fretless was a perfect match. Thanks for having us make the Orion Nebula for you, Keith.

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  • Orion 4-string bass
  • EMW Electronics
  • Fretless with sidelines
  • Spalted Maple top
  • Continuous wood truss rod cover
  • Brass backplates
  • Ash body
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Text and Photographs of bass © 2006 Alembic, Inc.
Orion Nebula photo by the Hubble Space Telescope

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