Rickenbacker makes great guitars.
The Rickenbacker International Corporation (RIC) was originally the Electro String Instrument Corporation, founded in 1931 in Los Angeles. The company was started by Adolph Rickenbacker and George D. Beauchamp and made the world's first modern electric guitars. Today they are played by thousands of guitar and bass players who recognize quality when they see it.
The Rickenbacker web site maintains a current listing of the models available, but for your pleasure, here are brief explanantions for each series.
- 300 Series Electric Guitars: Semi-acoustic guitars, 24 frets, a couple options in pickups/electronics; one model is even wired for stereo output. Most models available in six- or twelve-string.
- 600 Series Electric Guitars: Mostly neck-through, 24 frets, two humbucker pickups; several models are made of rare woods. Two twelve-string models available.
- 700 Series Acoustic Guitars: Beautiful spruce tops, rosewood or maple sides and back. Two dreadnought models and one jazz body model.
- 4000 Series Electric Basses: Solid, long sustain, neck-through, wired for stereo. A fretless model, a five-string model, and some rare woods. Killer basses; wish I could afford one.
- C Series Guitars: Classic semihollow guitars and neck-through basses. Most guitars have 3 pickups; the basses have horseshoe pickups.
- Limited Edition Guitars and Basses: Currently, the signature series offers only the Lemmy bass, a line of only 60 with a beautiful neck-through walnut body, three humbuckers and gold-finished hardware. Contains descriptions of the fantastic discontinued signature models.
- Vintage Reissue Guitars and Basses: Reissues of old classics. Models vary greatly; there is even a mandolin.
"Every instrument bearing the Rickenbacker name was produced in our own factory in California, U.S.A."
Rickenbacker instruments are some of the best available. The luthiers employed by Rickenbackers are experienced guitar players themselves, so they know what to look for and how to create the best possible instrument.
Wood blanks are aged under specific condifions to guarantee quality for years and years. Eastern hardrock maple is used most often for guitar construction, with walnut, vermillion and shedua used for accents. Rosewood fingerboards are standard on traditional instruments; maple fingerboards are used in newer guitars. Neck-through-body construction gives Rick basses a sturdy feel and a solid, powerful sound. Dual truss rods counteract both neck bow and neck twist. Side binding, which has been abandoned by many guitar manufacturers, is standard on all deluxe models. Some models are even fretted by hand with a hammer, instead of with a fretting machine.
The instrument is hand-sanded before being painted, and Rickenbacker's finishing system does not use the cover-alls polyester or nitrocellulose. The guitars are hand-painted as well, and are inspected carefully before the clear coat is applied. The coat is wet-sanded by hand between layers, and buffed by hand when the coating process is done.
Rickenbacker has been making its own tools and guitar parts since 1931, and uses only these tools (with the notable exception of Schaller keywinds) to equip its guitars. American-made electronics are installed by hand, and the parts assembly is fitted and adjusted by hand.
The Early Years
In the 1920s, George Beauchamp began looking for a way to amplify the sound of his guitar. After seeing a guitar with an amplifying horn, he began looking for someone to make him one and eventually met John Dopyera, a violin repairman. After a few test models, Dopyera and his brother Rudy came up with a metal body guitar with aluminum resonators (called the "tri-cone"). It worked well enough that Beauchamp took it and the Sol Hoopii Trio to a party thrown by his millionaire cousin-in-law, Ted Kleinmeyer, who was so excited about the tri-cone prototype that he gave Beauchamp a check for $12,000 quite a lot of money at that time.
With Kleinmeyer's money, Beauchamp set to work producing the guitars immediately. He hired some of the best craftsmen available (including members of his and the Dopyeras' families), and got equipment from a tool and die shop owned by Adolph Rickenbacker ("Rick"), near where the new factory, the National Company, was located.
Adolph Rickenbacker was a Swiss production engineer, with experience in many manufacturing techniques. He owned one of the largest deep-drawing presses on the West Coast and was soon made an engineer for the National Company.
Unfortunately, in 1928 the rift between Beauchamp and John Dopyera became too much and when Kleinmeyer lost a good deal of his money and came to Beauchamp for support, Dopyera quit to form his own company (the Dobro Corporation). Kleinmeyer sold his interest in the company to Louis Dopyera, and before long Beauchamp and a few other employees had been fired.
In 1925, Beauchamp had started toying with combining a guitar and a microphone/PA system, creating a single-string test guitar from a 2×4 and a phonograph pickup. After leaving National, he continued experimenting and attended night school to learn more about electronics.
In 1930, the one of the things holding electric guitars back was the problem of how to translate the vibration of a string into an electric current, which could then be amplified. After months of experiments, Beauchamp combined two horseshoe magnets and a pole for each string to concentrate the magnetic field, and he had a working design. He then got in contact with Harry Watson (who had been National's factory superintendent) to carve a neck and body to fit the pickup into. After a few hours of woodworking, the first electric guitar, a lap steel called the Frying Pan, was created.
Beauchamp turned to Rick for help manufacturing the guitar. The new company was initially called Ro-Pat-In Corporation, but was soon changed to Electro String. Rick was President, Beauchamp was Secretary and the guitars were called Rickenbackers (the name was already well known, since Rick was related to Eddie Rickenbacker, and easier to pronounce than Beauchamp). Production began in a rented shop at 6071 South Western Ave., Los Angeles in 1931.
Despite the fact that the company just got going at the worst of the Great Depression, by 1935 they were fighting off patent infringers left and right. The Hawaiian guitar (also a lap steel) was the most accepted 1930s Rickenbacker. The Frying Pan, produced for twenty years, was available with six or seven strings and in two scale lengths (22½" or 25"). They also produced the Model BD (first called Bakelite Model D), with both volume and tone controls by the late 1930s.
The company's first Spanish guitar was a flattop hollow body with small F holes, and a bound neck joined at the 14th fret. The Ken Roberts Model came out in the mid 1930s and had a bound neck joined at the 17th fret, F holes, and a Kauffman vibrato tailpiece. The 1930s and 1940s saw two arch top models: the SP, with a maple body, spruce top, bound rosewood neck and built-in horseshoe pickup; and the S-59 with a blonde finish and a detachable horseshoe pickup. The detachable pickup, called the Rickenbacker Electro Peerless Adjustable unit, was also sold separately and would fit on most F hole arch top guitars. The Bakelite Model B Spanish guitar was the best seller at the time, eliminating the acoustic feedback that was the biggest problem of large body electric guitars at the time.
Electro String also produced amplifiers, with design engineer Ralph Robertson. Robertson developed the circuitry for a line that, in 1941, had at least four models in production.
By the early 1940s, Beauchamp had decided to call it quits with the music industry and pursue his love of fishing. He sold his shares of the company to its bookkeeper, Harold Kinney, and used the money to try and manufacture a fishing lure he designed. Unfortunately, he had a heart attack not long afterwards while on a deep sea fishing expedition. Rick, without too much faith in the company's future, held onto it until 1953 when he sold it to Francis C. Hall.
The Modern Years
Francis Hall had started a battery recharging business as a kid and was manufacturing batteries at home by the age of 18. The company grew into an electronics distribution company called the Radio and Television Equipment Company (RTEC or Radio-Tele), and after World War II was distributing steel guitar and amplifier sets made by Leo Fender. In 1946, RTEC was Fender's only distributor and Hall set out to build a national distribution network. He was only happy to take over Electro String in 1953, just when rock music was getting big and guitars were in demand. As the rock movement used Spanish-style guitars, Hall began producing the Combo 600 and 800 guitars, designed by Paul Barth. The 600 model was similar to previous Electro Spanish models, but the 800 had a two coil pickup.
Electro's 25th anniversary in 1956 was celebrated by the release of the Combo 400 model, a student guitar with a distinctive guitar body shape called a butterfly or tulip style. Soon a bass guitar joined the lineup as well. Both instruments had a revolutionary new design feature: the neck extended through the entire body of the guitar (now known as neck-through design) which produces a stronger guitar and a more solid sound.
The big news of the 1950s were the Capri models, a six-string hollow body designed by Roger Rossmeisl. There were three models, each with a different body style: a 2"-thick double cutaway body, a 3½"-thick single cutaway body, and a catchall for deeper bodies (including acoustic models). Options available on the Capris were a vibrato, two or three pickups, and deluxe fingerboard inlays and bindings or standard inlays and no bindings, with at least three color choices by 1959.
The Beatles helped fuel the success of Electro's guitars, not only by raising interest in rock music but by playing several Rickenbackers themselves John Lennon owned at least four before the group broke up, buying his first one (a Model 325) in Hamburg in 1960. Lennon played this guitar, after being refinished to black, in all concerts and recordings up to 1964. Paul McCartney got a twin-pickup Model 4001S bass (which resembles the Model 1999 later played by Chris Squire of Yes) after using the Hofner violin bass. George Harrison used a double-bound 360/12 (the second one made by the company!), bringing a new sound to the band that can be heard on "A Hard Day's Night." The Beatles sparked so much interest in Electro that many fans thought they were a British company because they had never heard of the company before.
The Byrds' Roger McGuinn (who was still called Jim then) bought a 360/12 after watching A Hard Day's Night, and made its bell-like tone a distinctive element of the band's sound; he even got the three-pickup 370/12 with custom wiring. As stars like Pete Townshend (The Who), John Fogerty (CCR) and John Kay (Steppenwolf) became fans of Rickenbacker guitars, the popularity of the brand grew until the waiting time for some models leaped from six weeks to six months or longer.
With such an increase in demand, changes in the company had to be made production of the guitars moved from the Electro String factory to a factory in Santa Ana with the space to produce more guitars. Also at this time, Hall's company changed its name from Radio and Television Equipment Company to Rickenbacker, Inc., a name that most people used anyway.
Also, several new guitar models were unveiled after the move, such as the Convertible, which could be changed from a twelve-string neck to a six-string neck, and the Model 331 (called the "Light Show Guitar"), which had frequency-reactive lights built into the body. Some other strange productions of the Rickenbacker company were the Bantar (a combination of an electric guitar and a five-string banjo) and the Banjoline (six-string with vibrato, tuned like a four-string tenor guitar). In the late 1960s, Rickenbacker introduced the hollow-body four-string (Model 4005) and six-string (Model 4005-6) basses, and produced several custom eight-string models.
In the 1970s, Rickenbacker started making guitars with detachable necks as well as redesigning both its single- and double-coil pickups. Slanted frets became a feature or available option on many models. Double-neck guitars were made a standard model at this time with the Model 4080 (bass/guitar) and the Model 362/12 (six-/twelve-string).
After F.C. Hall retired in 1984 and John and Cindalee Hall took over, the company has been known as RIC (Rickenbacker International Corporation), manufacturing and distributing Rickenbacker guitars and basses. While constantly creating new models, Rickenbacker also has several reissues of classic guitars from the company's long past, as well as signature models from ten well-known musicians (Tom Petty, John Lennon and Chris Squire, to name a few).
Rickenbacker's web site, www.rickenbacker.com, has more information on the company, guitars, and manufacturing process. You can find a Rick dealer near you, look up suggested pricing for each model, find out when a guitar was made based on its serial number, or even browse the catalog archive, which goes back to their first catalog. You will also find a color chart, available guitar options, a tour of the acoustic guitar shop and a news archive. Also worth noting is the owner's manual, electronics schematics, parts amd assembly diagrams and full warranty information available. They are even sorting through 50,000 photographs and documents collected over the years to create a visual gallery of the company's past.
1: Rickenbacker: http://www.rickenbacker.com/