Rickenbacker Bass Claims Its Place Among Music Legends

Play like the classic rock ‘n’ roll legends with the iconic Rickenbacker bass guitar. With its distinct tone that works well with certain genres of music — particularly the sounds of classic rock from the ’60s and ’70s — this guitar is a special gem in the assortment of instruments a good bass player should own. 

This brand is probably not the guitar of choice for players in the early stages of their musical careers, nor for those who like to play hard rock, funk, jazz, or some blues. However, if you want an instrument that complements your dedication and gives you that high clear twang of the old classic rock legends, this one is perfect. Rickenbacker guitars allow you to rock out like all of your favorite legendary players. 

The Art of Making A Rickenbacker

A really good guitar is not one you will be able to find in every store or on every corner. It is like a piece of artwork that takes many hours of love and dedication to create. 

Craftsmen use special cured tone woods (often cured for more than two years). They softly sand and shape the wood to create the beautiful guitar you see in the store. Rickenbacker is not a quickly mass produced instrument. They are lovingly hand-crafted and finished with a glossy layered finish that also takes time.   

Every Rickenbacker goes through many quality inspections before it goes to market, which further contributes to the high price tag of these guitars. The least expensive models on the market range from $1,500 to $3,000. The more expensive ones range from $4,000 to more than $5,000. 

A good classic rock bass guitar player usually considers themself lucky to have one of these instruments in their closet of musical equipment. It may not be a guitar that a musician daily picks up and strums, but it is a popular choice if they wants to produce the fine sounds of old school rock. guitar making

Are Rickenbackers Worth It?

The Rickenbacker is a true blue American-made guitar. The company has made guitars for nearly 90 years. However, the brand did not gain popularity until the era of rock ‘n’ roll . It has been a historical icon in the music industry ever since.

While Rickenbacker electric bass guitars may be more expensive than other brands, many bass players swear by them. They say these guitars are well worth the money for their unique sound, iconic good looks, and rich historical background. This is why Rickenbackers are the electric bass guitar of choice of many expert musicians. 

Just as not every car model is perfect for every driver, not every musician enjoys playing the Rickenbacker electric bass guitar. Some say this instrument can be challenging to play. Others believe that the guitar’s overall tone could be better. 

The truth is that this electric guitar’s playability is a matter of personal preference, experience, playing style, genre, and comfort. There are many considerations when making this sort of purchase. 

The Story Behind the Guitar

Rickenbacker was the first company to make an electric guitar. It started way back in the 1920s, when musician George D. Beauchamp and electrical engineer Adolph Rickenbacker made the first electric guitar that didn’t get drowned out by other instruments. The pair founded Rickenbacker as a company. 

The popular electric Rickenbacker guitar, with its current sound and tone, didn’t become well-known until the 1960s and ’70s, when The Beatles drew attention to the guitar and its special sound. It was a turning point for the company when John Lennon started using a Rickenbacker 325 during live performances. George Harrison also favored the Rickenbacker.

The design and sound soon became a cornerstone for musicians of the era. The brand became just as legendary as the music innovators who played these guitars. Today, these guitars inspire musicians to play classic rock tunes or create that twangy sound of the era. 

John Fogerty recently reunited with his old Rickenbacker guitar, which he played at Woodstock. He had lost it when his band Credence Clearwater Revival broke up. His wife recently found it and bought it for him.

“I started playing the solo in ‘Green River,’ and the hairs stood up on the back of my neck,” Fogerty  claimed.

The Rickenbacker 330  red orange white whole image

Photo source: Musiciansfriend.com

Who Plays Rickenbacker?

There is a long list of legendary musicians who have played Rickenbacker guitars. The sound became the favorite of the 1960s when The Beatles — Paul, John, AND George — started using them. Afterward, other famous musicians like Joe Walsh, Tom Petty, and Pete Townshend played them.

Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Famer Chris Squire, who was a bass player for several progressive rock bands during his career, often preferred the Rickenbacker guitar for its bright sound, which he wanted in the progressive rock movement. Geddy Lee and Lemmy Kilminster are also legendary guitar bass players who love the sound of the Rickenbacker guitars.

Although many guitarists love these guitars, there is a longer list of English musicians than Americans ones who choose to rock out on the Rickenbacker. 

Have Rickenbacker Guitars Lost Their Popularity?

Has the old Corvette lost its popularity? What about the Porche or the Classic TransAm? Like these classic cars, the Rickenbacker hasn’t lost its following — albeit that following is from musicians who like the specific sound. 

Why aren’t there that many Rickenbackers on the market? No one knows for sure, but it’s probably because of the Rickenbacker craftmanship. Much time and effort is put into making each and every guitar. The company doesn’t produce as many instruments as other manufacturers. They believe that the fewer Ricks there are on the market, the more valuable the guitars are. 

What Is the Design Like? 

Some of the world’s most famous musicians have long favored these guitars for their design and specific sound qualities. Bass guitarists use them either for certain pieces in their performances or as their primary instrument during live shows and recordings. The design and sound transport its player back to the golden age of classic rock music.

Because they are favored by so many music legends, Rickenbacker takes special care in its design. From the body to the headstock, the guitar has the following defining characteristics:

The Rickenbacker 330  red orange white in case

Photo source: Musiciansfriend.com

Signature Headstock

Rickenbackers have signature headstocks (the top part of the guitar). They are known for their smooth, organic curves and the printed Rickenbacker logo with a curved pennant underneath. 

Another defining feature is the 12-string electric guitar. Rickenbacker designers place the extra tuners for these strings on the back of the headstock. Other guitars have the extra six strings lined up on each side.  


The neck on the Rickenbacker guitar is a single piece that goes from the headstock to the guitar’s body. Other companies create the neckpiece and then the headstock. The purpose of making a single piece is to have better resonance.

A single neck-through design makes the neck and frets more durable and able to better hold the bridge, the saddles, and pickups. The neck is very thin, but craftsmen do not thin nor thicken it as it comes closer to the body as Gibson models do.

For players who enjoy the design, this unique quality offers a distinctive sound. However, other players suggest that the way these guitars are built makes it hard to solo with them, which is why many lead guitarists choose other guitar options. Blues and jazz soloists specifically often choose other brands.

Rickenbacker guitars are beautiful and special attention is given to the neck. Fingerboards are made of rosewood — the most expensive and exclusive tone wood on the market — and each board is decorated with pearloid triangle inlays.


The iconic design uses a double-cutaway body with a crescent moon shape on each guitar. They have a two-level pickguard. The first is to give the hand rest while playing, and the lower level holds electronics like the two single coil pickups and five knobs for adjusting the volume, pickup, and balance. 

Some models have two inputs — the mono, and stereo — and players can purchase either a solid or hollow body guitar.

Colors and Finish

Rickenbacker guitars come in three colors: Fireglo (red), Jetglo (black), and Mapleglo (a natural Maple brown). Each of the guitars is layered with a glossy attractive finish. There are no other colors for the brand. 

How Is the Build Quality? 

Rickenbacker outshines other manufacturers when it comes to build quality. The craftsmanship, materials, and parts are top of the line. Of course, there is a premium price to pay, which is well worth it if you want an exceptional guitar. 

The Sound Design 

The sound, of course, is the most important feature of any electric bass guitar. The Rickenbacker guitar has a bright, clean tone and a nice overdrive. However, the gain sound could be better. This sound is one of the reasons why many players may not choose the Rickenbacker as their first choice. This guitar remains, however, one of the best bass guitars for that exceptional classic rock ‘n’ roll sound. 

Even the physical design is made to emphasize this classic bright tone, reminiscent of the great music of The Beatles. The Rickenbacker 12-string guitar was the secret weapon George Harrison introduced into The Beatles’s live performances in 1964.The Rickenbacker 330  red orange white


The tone of the Rickenbacker is known to be bright and crisp, with newer models able to handle more of the crunchy rock ‘n’ roll sounds of the 2020s. If you want to know the Rickenbacker tone, listen to the electric guitar sounds of the Beach Boys or The Beatles’s songs from particular time periods. 

Every note is distinctly separated between strings, and it doesn’t have that thin screech many “too bright” instruments have.

If you are looking for this specific sound for some of your musical pieces, or if your band usually offers a clean, bright sound, strumming a Rickenbacker will mix well with other instruments in the band. It is exceptional for traditional rock or for giving the distinct rock ‘n’ roll sound to mix with new types of sound. 


The Rickenbacker guitars use two types of tuners: Schaller’s and Vintage tuners. 

Schallers: The newer Schaller tuners are better as they are precise and smooth. They are a nice combination of good design and smooth action. They offer great precision and longevity. 

Vintage: The vintage tuners are light which is an advantage on a 12-string guitar. 

Pickups are high-end, but they remove the gain levels — even when there are high-gain single coils as in the Rickenbacker 620. The truth is that the Rickenbacker guitars don’t do as well with high gains as other brands. 

Regarding the knobs, everything is tight and made of high-quality materials. No detail is spared here. The tone and volume knobs are wider, and you can use one for each pickup. The fifth knob is the Rickenbacker signature knob. It is a potentiometer for neck pickup and volume. 

What About Playability?

As a bass player, you have probably heard the Rickenbacker sound, especially the Rickenbacker 4001 preferred by Paul McCartney — the third of the four Beatles to play a Rickenbacker. From 1964 to 1980, this instrument reigned supreme.

It only had the signature two-pickup design, but it resonated with clear notes above all others. At that time, everyone wanted a Rickenbacker. Now musicians use the Rickenbacker when they want to recreate the era’s sounds or when they seek those bright and crunchy tones. 

This guitar doesn’t do so well with other genres of music because it doesn’t do well with a high gain. Many modern musicians feel this limits the Rickenbacker’s playability. Even so, the brand remains a premium one and is still in high demand for guitarists looking for an instrument with a unique sound. 

The one exception here is blues. If you want to play blues and can adapt your fingers to the neck and frets, you’ll have a great sound for those sparky rhythms, but getting used to the neck size can be a challenge at first. 

360 tan and white guitar

Photo source: Musiciansfriend.com

Best Models 

Although there are many Rickenbacker models available, some are discontinued. Others, while interesting, are not the most popular. Check out these models that are the most popular among bass guitarists.

The Rickenbacker 330 and 360

The most popular Rickenbacker models are the 330 and 360. These are baseline Rickenbacker models with price ranges from $1,500 to $3,000.

Both the 330 and 360 are similar in tone, but their appearance is the difference. Both models have a hollow body and Maple tone wood for a clean, balanced tone and rich acoustics. They sparkle those shimmering ’60s tones and give the player access to all 24 frets.

The 330 has a standard dot inlay design and a 24 3/4 inch scale length with the trademark Rickenbacker soundhole. The 360 model has triangular inlays with round edges and binding on the back edges. 

The Rickenbacker 400 

The Rickenbacker 400 series has not been as popular as its counterparts. This series resulted from the company’s attempts to make a quality guitar at a low price. They are discontinued and were made as solid-body guitars available from the 1950s to the late ’80s. All were beautiful instruments with a Maple tone wood body and a rosewood fingerboard. The specifications varied over the decades and some are incredibly rare and expensive today. 

The Rickenbacker 620

The 620 model is the best of its rock ‘n’ roll models. It is a solid body and two high-gain single coil pickups. It is very lightweight and is made with a Maple body. This guitar has 24 frets and five knobs with two output jacks: a mono and a stereo. The guitar outputs the pickups as a separate signal.

If you want a Rickenbacker that brings out the best of those high tones and crunch, the 620 is it. Of course, this is also one of Rickenbacker’s most expensive guitars. Because of the craftsmanship, fine details, and precise sound, these models start at around $3,000 and go up to more than $5,000. The Rickenbacker 620

Final Thoughts

Rickenbacker may not be the go-to bass guitar for every electric bass guitar player, but it remains a solid additional instrument to any player’s gear. They are beautiful instruments with an unequaled sound preferred by many. While traditionally not a soloist’s instrument, they can be very useful when a bass guitarist needs those clear, high notes. 

The only downside to the Rickenbacker is that it does not offer the versatility most musicians need from their instruments today. This is a primary reason why many musicians do not bother even attempting the Rickenbacker.

The Rickenbacker tone is sometiems considered too bright and does not always work well with every genre of music. The brand has a very specific sound: It is very specialized and has a very special feeling which, like the brand’s signature neck design, takes some getting used to. Still, the Rickenbacker remains a timeless classic with much to offer those who prefer its specific attributes.

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