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Rickenbacker Bass Guitars

Updated on June 27, 2013


Rickenbacker International Corporation, also known as Rickenbacker, is an electric guitar manufacturer, notable for putting the world's first electric guitars into general production in 1932. All production takes place at its headquarters in Santa Ana, California.

Rickenbacker 4001 bass
Rickenbacker 4001 bass

Rickenbacker Bass Guitars

The 4000 series were the first Rickenbacker bass guitars, production beginning in 1957. The 4000 was followed by the very popular 4001 (in 1961), the 4002 (limited edition bass introduced in 1977), the 4008 (an 8-string model introduced in the mid-1970s), the 4003 (in 1979, replacing the 4001 entirely in 1986 and still in production in 2010), and most recently the 4004 series. There was also the 4005, a hollow-bodied bass guitar (discontinued in 1984); it did not resemble any of the other 4000 series basses, but rather the new style 360-370 guitars. The 4001S (introduced 1964) was basically a 4001 but with no binding and dot fingerboard inlays. It was exported to England as the RM1999. However, Paul McCartney received the very first 4001S (his was left-handed, and later modified to include a "zero fret").

Rickenbacker basses have a distinctive tone. The 4000 bass has neck-through construction for more solid sustain due to more rigidity. The sustain at the bottom end is particularly striking, and by routing the two outputs from the stereo "Rick-O-Sound" output, the brighter bridge pick up through a guitar rig and the bassier neck pickup through a bass setup, a particularly distinctive bass sound is produced. The 3000 series made from the mid-1970s to mid-1980s were cheaper instruments with bolt-on 21 fret necks. There was also a set neck 4000 version in 75 & 76 (neck set like a Gibson Les Paul) which had a 20-fret neck, dot inlays, no binding (similar to the 4001S) but only a single bridge position mono pickup.

Pre-dating McCartney's usage, some of the earliest Rickenbacker bass players were Roger Waters of Pink Floyd, John Entwistle of The Who, and Peter Quaife of The Kinks.

Rickenbacker basses became a staple of 1970s hard rock and were featured on countless recordings of the decade. A good example is Roger Glover, who used a Rickenbacker bass on the Machine Head and Who Do We Think We Are albums by Deep Purple in the seventies. Glover's 4001 was modified, however, to include a pair of Fender Jazz Bass pickups replacing the stock neck pickup. His successor in Deep Purple, Glenn Hughes, also employed a 4001, but very soon changed to a Fender Precision Bass. Another good example is Geddy Lee of Rush, who used a 4001 bass with a modified bridge from around 1975 to 1984, and was seen using a Ric bass again on Rush's 2007 tour. Lee also occasionally used a double-neck Ric instrument, the Rickenbacker 4080 bass/guitar. One more example is Geezer Butler of Black Sabbath who used a 4001 bass for Black Sabbath's Never Say Die tour.

These instruments were also widely used among progressive rock bassists, notably Yes's Chris Squire, P-Funk's Cordell "Boogie" Mosson, Genesis' Mike Rutherford, Renaissance's Jon Camp, The Frame's Clint "Father Goose" Wilson, and Cobol Tongue's Rory Hinkel, among others. Another notable player was Rod Deas of rockabilly exponents Showaddywaddy.

Rickenbacker basses were not as visible among the punk/new wave explosion of the late 1970s and early 1980s; however, there were some notable users: Glen Matlock of the Sex Pistols played a Rickenbacker during his tenure with the band, allegedly stolen, like all the Pistols' equipment, from David Bowie's band. Kira Roessler (Black Flag, now dos) also plays a Rickenbacker. Barry Adamson of Magazine used a 4001 on most early recordings. A lot of 80's underground/alternative bands also used Rickenbacker basses, such as Sex Gang Children, Play Dead and Joy Division (although Bassist Peter Hook used a Hondo clone). Brent Liles of Social Distortion played a fretless 4001.

Lemmy Kilmister of Hawkwind and Motörhead has played a Rickenbacker almost his entire professional career, and has his own limited edition Rickenbacker, the 4004LK. Cliff Burton of Metallica played a 4001 bass modified with a Gibson EB-O pickup in the bass position, a Dimarzio Jazz bass pickup in the treble position, and a hot-output stratocaster pickup inside the bridge mute cavity(was wired to a push-pull pot), early in his career in Metallica, until switching to an Aria.

John Jennings of The Ruts used Rickenbacker bass from many of The Ruts' recording sessions. The bass was loaned to him by Phil Lynott of Thin Lizzy.

Bruce Foxton of The Jam played a Rickenbacker 4001 (and initially an Ibanez 4001-style replica, until he could afford the real thing) through the group's first two albums (both released in 1977), in part because the band strived to emulate the "mod" look and sound of the 1960s and the Rickenbacker label had the ultimate mod pedigree thanks to Pete Townshend's use of Rickenbacker guitars. (The Jam's guitarist, Paul Weller, played Rickenbacker guitars throughout the group's existence.) Paul Simonon of The Clash used a black Rickenbacker that he received as a gift from Patti Smith, but later would switch to a Precision Bass. Former Stone Roses bassist Gary "Mani" Mounfield used a Rickenbacker 4005 bass covered in Jackson Pollock-style drip paint during the band's peak period (1989–90). John Taylor of Duran Duran occasionally used a Rickenbacker around the time of the bands first album. Jerry Only played a modified SB4001 in the early days of The Misfits, before switching to Rand (and later Gothic Customs) Annihilator basses. Karl Alvarez of Descendents and All used a Rickenbacker Bass in 1985. Brian Helicopter of The Shapes was also an early punk adopter of the 4001 bass in 1977, and still uses them to this day. Guy Thomas of the Vulcan Creedlers plays a mid 70s 4001. Frank Watkins of the early death metal band Obituary used a Rickenbacker 4001. Paul D'Amour of early Tool fame played a 4001CS Chris Squire signature. Jesse F. Keeler, formerly of Death from Above 1979 is known to use a slightly modded white Rickenbacker 4003 to achieve his synthy sound. Chris Ross, formerly of Wolfmother is known to use a mapleglo Rickenbacker 4001 bass in which he gets his distinctive fuzzy tone along with various pedal equipment. Steve Smith of The Vapors used a 1970s model 4001. Chris Wolstenholme of Muse plays a 4003 which can be seen on the HAARP DVD, being used at the Wembley concerts.Leon Wilkerson of Lynyrd Skynyrd frequently used a 4001 on their recordings. Even Kurt Cobain was said to have a lefty Rickenbacker 4001. Mike Mills of REM used a black 4001 bass on their early recordings and tours. Mike Mesaro of the Smithereens was another noted Rickenbacker bass user, who had a limited edition collector's model made for him.

In recent times, many bass players have continued to play Rickenbackers. (see "Ric" players section below)

Paul McCartney in the studio with the Beatles recording using his Rickenbacker bass
Paul McCartney in the studio with the Beatles recording using his Rickenbacker bass

Rickenbacker bass players

Peter Hook of Joy Division and New Order

Gaye Advert of The Adverts

Martin Eric Ain of Celtic Frost

Chris Baio of Vampire Weekend

Lou Barlow of Dinosaur Jr

Guy Berryman of Coldplay

Zeta Bosio of Soda Stereo

Miles Billington of Andy Marchel and the Cocaine Rainbow

Syd Boyle of Shoes for December

Cliff Burton of Metallica

Al Cisneros of Sleep and Om

Joey DeMaio of Manowar

Steve DiGiorgio of bands such as Sadus, Dark Hall & Testament

Dave Dreiwitz of Ween

Brian Egeness of Die Kreuzen

John Entwistle of The Who

Adam Steele of The Novellos

Carly Dulson of This Is Seb Clarke

Bruce Foxton of The Jam

Nikolai Fraiture of the Strokes

Simon Galup of The Cure

Roger Glover of Deep Purple

John Hassall of The Libertines

Hellmut Hattler of Kraan

Glenn Hughes of Deep Purple

Maurice Gibb of The Bee Gees

Alfio Perino of Levitica

Martin "Youth" Glover of Killing Joke

Martin Gordon of Sparks and Jet

Graham Gouldman of 10cc

Bob Hardy of Franz Ferdinand

Rick James

Tony James of Generation X

André 3000 of Outkast

Mike Brucato of The Boston Thieves

Geezer Butler of Black Sabbath

Eric Judy of Modest Mouse

Jesse F. Keeler of Death From Above 1979

Steve Kille of Dead Meadow

Jack Lawrence of The Raconteurs

Marc Lazare of Rockfour

Geddy Lee of Rush

Russell Leetch of Editors

Lemmy of Motörhead

Brent Liles of Social Distortion and Agent Orange

Philip Lynott of Thin Lizzy

Glen Matlock of the Sex Pistols

Paul McCartney of The Beatles & Wings

Dave Meros of Spock's Beard

Mike Mesaros of The Smithereens

Mike Mills of R.E.M.

Gary "Mani" Mounfield of Primal Scream & ex-The Stone Roses

William Mysterious (born Alastair Donaldson) of The Rezillos

Nick Oliveri of Queens of the Stone Age

Jerry Only of The Misfits

Prescott Niles of The Knack

Tracy Pew of The Birthday Party

Scott Pilgrim of Sex Bob-Omb* Scott Pilgrim is a fictional character.

Steve Priest of Sweet

Peter Quaife of The Kinks

Scott Reeder of Kyuss

Michael Rutherford of Genesis

Timothy B Schmit of The Eagles

Kira Roessler of Black Flag and Dos

Chris Ross of Wolfmother

Paul Simonon of The Clash

Chris Squire of Yes

Tommy Stinson of The Replacements

Mark Stoermer of The Killers

Chris Taylor of Grizzly Bear

John Taylor of Duran Duran

Fred Turner of Bachman–Turner Overdrive

Roger Waters of Pink Floyd

Kieren Webster of The View

Josephine Wiggs of The Breeders

Christopher Wolstenholme of Muse

Allen Woody of Gov't Mule and The Allman Brothers Band

Bill Wyman of The Rolling Stones

Jesse F. Keeler of Death From Above 1979

Ian Kane of The Chakras

John Deacon of Queen

Troy Sanders of Mastodon

Own a Rickenbacker bass? Leave a comment telling us what you like about it.

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    • JoolsObsidian LM profile image

      JoolsObsidian LM 5 years ago

      .Great lens!

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      The neck is just perfectly shaped. It is also a very comfortable stage instrument, and sounds distinctively excellent both live and recorded. Of course my bias may be due to the fact I've been playing Ricks since 1978.

    • Ronlove LM profile image

      Ronlove LM 6 years ago

      Good lens

    • adamfrench profile image

      adamfrench 6 years ago

      Great Information