Rickenbacker is one of the oldest, if not the first, electric guitar brands, developing the first amplified string instruments in 1931. The firm is headquartered in Santa Ana, California, and all of its products are manufactured there. The company manufactures most of its production within the United States, a characteristic that determines the high quality of the products and their prices.
1966 Rickenbacker 330-12
Rickenbacker entered the history books when the Beatles John Lennon and George Harrison bought their Rickenbacker guitars in Hamburg in 1960. From there they became iconic instruments and one of the most recognized brands in the world. Let’s take a look at its history.
History Of Rickenbacker Guitars
It was the year 1931, and the Swiss-American electronic engineer Adolph Rickenbacher decided to create the company Ro-Pat-In Corporation, whose name came from Electro-Patent-Instruments, together with his partners George Beauchamp and Paul Barth.
It was Rickenbacher himself who suggested shortly after changing the name to Rickenbacker, thus capitalizing on the fame of his distant cousin, Eddie Rickenbacker, an American flying ace and World War I military hero, and using his duly Americanized last name.
Rickenbacker 325 c64 Jetglo head
The first electric guitar to be marketed in the world was the Rickenbacker Frying Pan model developed by George Beauchamp and launched in 1931. It was actually a Hawaiian guitar in the shape of a frying pan (hence its name) to which they had added two magnetic pickups that allowed it to be connected to an amplifier. After a year, the brand went one step further with the appearance of the Electro Spanish, now with the shape and measurements of a classical Spanish guitar and which, unlike the Frying Pan, could be played standing up. In the 1930s and 1940s, Rickenbacker models dominated the limited market for electrified instruments, but the company preferred to stay on the platform when the rock’n’roll train began its irrepressible march in the mid-’50s. But when the time came, in 1958, Rickenbacker launched the 325, the first semi-hollow body guitar in the Capri series; an instrument that, unforeseen by anyone at the time, was going to change the course of popular music.
In 1960, the then-unknown John Lennon saw the Rickenbacker 325 on the cover of a record by jazz musician Toots Thielemans and, captivated by its short neck, decided to buy one during the Beatles’ first trip to Hamburg. The same guitar, already customized and repainted black, is the one Lennon wielded in the tremendous first appearance of the quartet on the Ed Sullivan television show, in February 1964. By then, George Harrison, who played a Gretsch that day, had also gotten himself a Rickenbacker, model 425. Aware of the enormous commercial potential that would have to associate the name of his firm with the four from Liverpool, the then owner, and general manager of the company, Francis C. Hall, took advantage of that Beatle’s trip to New York to give them some new instruments, including a fresh-from-the-oven Rickenbacker 360 12-string that ended up in Harrison’s hands.
The rest is history, The Beatles turned the guitars of the Californian brand into a glittering pop icon. From there, it was the Byrds who gave nature to what would henceforth be known as the ‘Rickenbacker sound’. Roger McGuinn and his bandmates had been trying to figure out how the Beatles managed to get that peculiar sound out of their instruments for some time when they attended a screening of ‘A hard day’s night’ at a Los Angeles cinema and at minute 13 of the film the mystery was solved: what Harrison was playing on ‘I should have known better’ was a 12-string guitar. It didn’t take long for McGuinn to pick up a Rickenbacker 360/12 and make his jingle the hallmark of the band. A sound with a supernatural quality, which opened the doors of pop paradise to rock’n’roll, and which has had a colossal influence on several generations of guitarists.
Pete Townshend, who got hold of his first Rickenbacker in early 1964 (and soon destroyed it), quickly understood that the guitar’s layout allowed him to mount very thick strings and attack them fiercely without losing chord clarity. This, together with the fact that the ‘Ric’s’ half-box body tended to release feedback if it was placed at the same height as the amplifiers, was decisive in modeling the explosive guitar sound of the first Who, based on a forceful succession of open chords and ‘power chords’ bathed in ‘feedback’. Townshend’s energetic way of playing had a decisive influence on the genesis of power pop.
At the beginning of the 70s, Rickenbacker guitars fell into disuse, although not the basses, which were part of the characteristic sound of the decade. However, this was not for long, since at the end of that time and during the 80s, Rickenbacker was reborn as a symbol of many New Wave and jangle pop bands. Among the musicians who resurrected these guitars was Paul Weller of The Jam, also Johnny Marr of The Smiths, and Peter Buck of R.E.M.
1966 325 Semi-hollow John Lennon model, 3 pickups
Materials, Models, And Features Of Rickenbacker Guitars
Rickenbacker guitars are manufactured in a fairly traditional way, with high-quality standards, and therefore, these are models at a fairly high price.
They have some very particular characteristics, such as the use of maple wood for the construction of the body, which is rare and gives the instrument a very bright tone loaded with medium frequencies. The neck is also maple with a 10-inch-radius fingerboard, made of varnished rosewood or rosewood.
The rosewood on the fingerboard of the guitars is not usually varnished, and simply a little lemon oil is periodically applied to it to hydrate the wood.
We can also find some models built with walnut wood for the body, and with a maple neck and fingerboard.
Hollow-body or semi-acoustic-style Rickenbacker models feature a glued-in neck-to-body joint. And solid body electric guitars feature a neck that runs through the body of the guitar, known as a Neck-Thru joint.
The standard scale length used by the manufacturer is 24.75 inches, similar to models developed by Gibson such as the Les Paul or SG. Although the 325 model has a scale of only 21 inches.
Another distinctive feature of Rickenbacker is that the neck has a double soul to obtain greater stability to changes in humidity and temperature. This enables correcting even the torsion of the neck.
Rickenbacker would develop two types of single coil pickups known generally as single coils. A high-gain model to provide greater output is known as the Rickenbacker Assy 300. And another low output or vintage output model is named Assy Toaster or Toaster pickup, due to its resemblance to the appliance. Brilliant highs, but with a slightly sweeter tone than its high-gain sister.
The brand mounts two individual volume and tone controls for each pickup. The ones closest to the pickup selector adjust the sound of the neck pickup or bass mic. And those close to the Treble Boost control the bridge pickup.
The Treble Boost control is a treble enhancement, which will give us more presence if necessary.
Some models mount an additional stereo output.
Another of the peculiarities of the brand is to mount low and narrow frets on their fingerboards., which added to a wide and rounded neck, makes them very comfortable when placing chords, but more uncomfortable for soloing or fingerpicking. For this reason, the Rickenbackers are mainly used as rhythm or accompaniment guitar.
There are mainly two series of Rickenbacker electric guitars. The semi-acoustic guitars, that we can find in the 300 range, and the solid body models integrated into the 600 series.
In the 300 series, we have the Rickenbacker 330, with two high-output Assy 300 pickups, and the 340 with three pickups. The 360 and 370 are deluxe versions of the previous two models with rounded body edges and peaks, triangle neck inlays, and stereo output. With a walnut body, we have the W series, the 330W, and the 360 W.
All these models are also manufactured in the 12-string version, with a very unique headstock, crossed headstocks, and mixed lathes.
These guitars are quite comfortable, as the weight of the instrument is very well distributed, so the guitar is perfectly balanced.
In the 600 series, the two most classic models are the 620 with Assy 300 pickups and the 660 with Assy Toaster pickups. And also in a 12-string version. Although in this range we can find other models such as the Rickenbacker 650C Colorado.
Another classic series would be the C series, like the 325C58 and 325C64, with three toaster tabs. This Model has the singularity of having a very short scale of only 21 inches, about 53.3 cm for the 325C64, and 52.7 cm for the 325C58. These are very popular guitars for being the Rickenbacker model used by John Lennon in the Beatles.
Rickenbacker 1996 ad, 1965.
Price Range For Rickenbacker Guitars
As we have seen, all the brand’s guitars are made with top-quality materials, and under strict manufacturing standards. This makes its value high. The models start from 1500/2000 dollars for the most basic ones like the 6-string 360 MapleGlo, up to 5000 dollars for luxury models like the semi-hollow 1966 330.
This makes them not at all beginner-friendly guitars and places them among the most exclusive industrial brands.
Beyond having been overshadowed in sales by Fender and Gibson, the two most popular guitar brands in the world, Rickenbacker entered history through the front door and, being able to maintain its quality line over the years, is positioned today as one of the great brands of all time.