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The first company to produce an electric guitar, the Frying Pan (which was in reality a lap-steel guitar), Rickenbacker is now synonymous with twelve string guitars and electric basses.
Rickenbacker began producing basses in 1957 with the 4000 series. These instruments used single coil pickups to reproduce the higher frequency spectrum that became known as the Rickenbacker bass sound. Despite the use of single coil pickups, Rickenbacker basses are noted for strong sustain in the lowest notes as a result of the use of through-body neck construction.
The single piece of wood extends from the headstock to the tail of the guitar and is considerably more expensive to manufacture than a bolt-on neck. Bassists like the absence of a neck heel (where the screws in a bolt-on neck go), allowing more comfortable playing of the upper registers. Also, with the tuning pegs, frets, pickups, bridge and tailpiece all mounted on the single piece of wood, sustain is enhanced as is the instruments ability to stay in tune.
Chris Squire, bassist for progressive rock group Yes, uses Rickenbacker basses almost exclusively, as does Geddy Lee of Rush. Paul McCartney uses Rickenbacker basses in addition to his trademark Hofner, and The Who’s John Entwistle used Rickenbacker basses to get his trademark sound.
Its Trademark Rock Sound
As with most Rickenbacker guitars, the basses feature two output jacks for connecting to different amplifiers or effects devices at the same time. Routing the bridge pickup through a guitar amp and the neck pickup through a bass amp produces a solid bottom end together with the bright, metallic high frequency overtones that define the Rickenbacker sound.
Rickenbacker basses are an iconic part of the hard rock scene, though much less apparent in other musical genres. They are beautiful musical instruments, but they aren’t cheap, starting at a little under two thousand dollars.