Imagine the early Beatles-style tones derived from this classic combination of a 1970 Rickenbacker 381 and a Vox AC30 Top Boost from 1965.
F.C. Hall, owner of Radio & Television Equipment Co. (Radio-Tel), purchased the Electro String Company from Adolph Rickenbacker in 1953. Hall revamped the business and focused on electric standard guitars, rather than steels. These electric guitars were slow sellers at first, but they continued to increase in popularity as the 1950s progressed. In early 1954, German guitar-maker Roger Rossmeisl was hired, and his unique European designs gave Rickenbacker guitars the distinctive look that continues today.
In 1958, Rossmeisl created the Thick Body Series, models 380 to 394. This group included electrics and acoustics and had deeper bodies than standard Rickenbacker electrics. Models 380 to 384 were double-cutaways, with carved arched tops and carved backs. The two-pickup model 381 was used by session ace James Burton in late ’59 to field test its electronics. The 381 was discarded by the company for a while in the early ’60s, but it resurfaced by the late 1960s as an instrument favored by John Kay of Steppenwolf.
The control set on the 381 consists of two volume controls, two tone dials, a mix knob, and a 3-way toggle switch. This is the first year Rickenbacker used Hi-Gain single-coil pickups.
This month’s 1970 Rick 381 has the classic features associated with this model. These include a checkerboard-bound bird’s-eye maple, German-carve top and back, a bound maple neck, a gloss-finished rosewood fretboard with large triangle-shaped inlays, a slash soundhole, an “R” tailpiece, and new-for-1970 Hi-Gain single-coil pickups. This example has a deep unfaded version of Rickenbacker’s most popular color, fireglo. It also has stereo and mono outputs. The original list price was $498. The current value for one in excellent all-original condition is $3,500.
This 381 still has its original Rick-O-Sound stereo output and mono out. With a stereo cable, the Rick-O-Sound out splits the neck and bridge pickups into two signals—especially cool with a stereo-to-double-mono Y cable and two amps.
The amp behind the guitar is a 1965 Vox AC30 Top Boost. It has two 12-inch speakers and three channels. The channels are Vib/Trem, Normal, and Brilliant. Each channel has its own volume control, and the Vib/Trem channel also has a knob to adjust speed and a knob to switch from vibrato to tremolo. The tone section of the control panel has a treble, bass, and cut dial. The current value for this amp is $3,500.
Sources for this article include Rickenbacker Electric 12-String: The Story of the Guitars, the Music, and the Great Players by Tony Bacon, The Complete History of Rickenbacker Guitars by Richard R. Smith, The Rickenbacker Book: A Complete History of Rickenbacker Electric Guitars by Tony Bacon and Paul Day, and Vox Amplifiers: The JMI Years by Jim Elyea.