Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Rickenbacker is one of the oldest brand names in the manufacture of electric guitars. Their semi-acoustic guitars were made famous by The Beatles in the 1960s, while their bass guitars became a staple of 1970s rock.
The company was founded as the Electro String Instrument Corporation by Adolph Rickenbacher and George Beauchamp in 1931 to sell electric "Hawaiian" guitars designed by Beauchamp. These instruments, nicknamed "frying pans" due to their long necks and circular bodies, were the first solid-bodied electric guitars, though they were not standard guitars, but a lap-steel type. They had huge pickups with a pair of horseshoe magnets that arched over the top of the strings.
Rickenbacher (shortly afterwards changed to 'Rickenbacker' to avoid German connotations in light of the world wars) continued to specialize in steel guitars well into the 1950s, but with the rock and roll boom they shifted towards producing standard guitars, both acoustic and electric. In 1956 Rickenbacker introduced two instruments with the "neck through body" construction that was to become a standard feature of the company's products - the Combo 400 guitar and the model 4000 bass.
In 1959, Rickenbacker introduced its "Capri" series, including the double-cutaway semi-acoustic guitars which would become the famous 300 series. In 1960 in Hamburg the then-unknown John Lennon bought a 325 Capri, which he would use throughout the early days of The Beatles. By 1963 George Harrison had bought a 425, but continued to prefer his Gretsch "Country Gent".
In 1964 Rickenbacker developed an electric twelve-string guitar with an innovative headstock design that enabled all twelve machine heads to be fitted onto a standard-length headstock by alternately mounting each of the machine heads at right-angles to the other . The second model 360/12 ever made was given as a gift to Harrison. This instrument became a key part of the Beatles' sound on A Hard Day's Night and Help! and was used by Harrison throughout his life.
Rickenbackers were adopted by other 1960s notables, including Roger McGuinn of The Byrds and Pete Townshend of The Who, but they fell out of fashion in the 1970s, though Rickenbacker basses remained in favour. Later Rickenbacker guitar players include Tom Petty, Paul Weller of The Jam, Peter Buck of R.E.M., Dan Lukacinsky of The Suicide Machines, Johnny Marr of The Smiths, Tom Gabel of Against Me!, Lloyd Cole, Dave Gregory of XTC, Thom Yorke of Radiohead and Marty Willson-Piper of The Church.
The 4000 series were the first Rickenbacker bass guitars. The 4000 was followed by the very popular 4001 (in 1961), the 4002 (which was introduced in 1977, but discontinued after 100 or so models were produced), the 4003 (in about 1980), and most recently the 4004 series. These basses, along with the Fender basses, were a staple of 1970s and 1980s rock. The instrument has made a major contribution to rock music, having been used by artists including Chris Squire from Yes, Geddy Lee from Rush, Lemmy Kilmister from Motörhead, Cliff Burton from Metallica, Roger Glover from Deep Purple and Paul McCartney, to name a few.
The Rickenbacker basses have a distinctive tone. The 4000 bass has neck-through construction for more solid sustain due to more rigidity. The 3000 series made from the mid-1970s to mid-1980s were cheaper instruments with bolt-on necks. Paul McCartney used one on Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band and off-and-on afterwards.
Many Rickenbackers - both guitars and basses - are equipped with a "Rick-O-Sound" stereo output, which allows the different pickups of the instrument to be connected to different effects units or amplifiers. Another idiosyncrasy of Rickenbackers is the use of two truss rods (rather than the usual one) to correct twists, as well as curvature, in the neck.
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