There is no denying Rickenbacker’s status as one of the four or
five most important electric guitar companies of all time. Still,
for all the company’s iconic status, they are sometimes perceived
as misfits within the pantheon. While the Stratocaster and Les
Paul cemented Fender’s and Gibson’s reputations as the first choice
for legendary lead-guitar hotshots and gunslingers, Rickenbacker
remains, in the eyes of many players, a strummer’s guitar—fit for
rhythm kings and ill-suited for lead aces.
It’s a much-too-simple generalization that diminishes not
only the versatility of Rickenbacker guitars themselves, but also
the groundbreaking achievements of the guitarists who have
played them over the years. In a September 2010 interview with
Premier Guitar, the Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach praised their
smooth playability and build quality. “You can do anything with a
Rickenbacker,” he said. “Anything!”
And anyone who has witnessed Mike Campbell rip a Peter
Green-style lead, beheld Fugazi’s Guy Picciotto driving a raging,
off-kilter punk rhythm, or thrilled to Paul Weller slashing at a bellowing
Marshall with a Rick in hand can attest to the veracity of
Then there are the things only a Rick can do: Roger McGuinn’s
celestial 12-string excursions, Townshend’s ringing dots-and-dashes
power chords, Johnny Marr’s complex dancing-and-darting arpeggio
intros. Sure, other guitars might get you 80 to 90 percent there. But
there is something about the way materials, construction, electronics,
balance, and feel conspire in a Rickenbacker that is singular,
wholly original, and nearly impossible to reproduce.
It begins, perhaps, with the way Rickenbackers feel in hand.
There’s an almost acoustic-guitar-like tension that invites you to
simultaneously dig in, attack, or get delicate. But there is also an
incredible smoothness—the slickness of low frets, lacquered fretboards,
and low action—that invites bends, quick and aggressive
arpeggios, hammer-ons, and legato flurries. Then there are the
pickups. The toaster tops chime with pure crystalline beauty and
ring in perfect, succinct harmonic balance for rhythm work, and
the modern, high-gain single-coils veer from bell-like zing to highhorsepower
kerrang in a manner quite unlike any other pickup.
And those are just the musical strengths of a Rickenbacker. But
many discovered all this after being drawn to how Rickenbackers
look. The guitars display a perfect synthesis of classic Bavarian/
European design motifs and Jet Age Californiaisms, and it’s a look
that’s unmistakable even from a hundred yards away. Flash mod symbol,
punk jackhammer, herald of the British Invasion, and blonde
avatar of bangs-and-suede psychedelia from the West Coast—the
Rickenbacker sweeping-crescent profile is each of these and more.
Here we’ve collected a few rare images from Rickenbacker’s
archive, most never before published, to celebrate the company’s
80th anniversary (also be sure to check out our video tour of the
Rickenbacker factory at premierguitar.com).
In a way, it’s refreshing to see how little has changed over the
years. Many of these legendary shapes still roll out of the Santa
Ana, California, factory looking much like the very first specimens
of their breed—and each is still built as they always have been,
entirely in the USA.
Eight Decades of Rickenbacker
A fantastically rare—and perhaps one-of-a-kind—all-turquoise 330 stands alongside a set of mighty and super-stylish Transonic
amplifi ers. The solid-state Transonic line never achieved widespread success, but it remains forever associated with Jimmy
Page and the fi rst Led Zep tour in 1969. With built-in reverb, tremolo, and fuzz, Transonics actually sound amazing—and they
stand toe to toe with Voxes of the same era as some the coolest and most contraption-laden amps of the period.