By Michael Russell

Alongside guitar names like Gibson and Fender, you can’t mention the best of the best without adding the name of Rickenbacker. This company has been around since 1931, but it wasn’t until 1956, on its 25th anniversary, when Rickenbacker began to make a name for itself in the world of guitars.

That year, Rickenbacker introduced the Combo 400. Guitar collectors call it the guitar with the butterfly style body. But Rickenbacker didn’t stop there. That same year they added a solid body electric bass guitar. The one thing about these guitars that made them different from any other guitar was that they had necks that extended from the head to the bass of the body. Today they call this neck through body construction. Rickenbacker was the first company to make guitars like this and soon came to be a trademark of the company.

During the 1950s, Rickenbacker had many popular models. Probably the most popular were the hollow body six string Capri models. This guitar was first unleashed on the world in 1958. The guitar itself was designed by Roger Rossmeisl. There were three models of this guitar and each one had a different body style.

But it wasn’t until the 1960s that Rickenbacker has sealed its name in rock and roll history when its guitars got permanently fastened to the British invasion of the mid 60s. This invasion came in the form of the greatest rock band of all time, the Beatles. The groups featured several Rickenbacker guitars in its arsenal. Before the Beatles called it quits for good, John Lennon had owned four Rickenbacker guitars himself. The guitars had become so attached to the Beatles that one of the models was known as the “Beatlebacker”. Never in history had one guitar been so identified with one particular group or person.

It wasn’t long though until Rickenbacker made its way to a number of groups. Roger McGuinn of the Byrds bought himself a Rickenbacker after seeing the Beatles movie “A Hard Day’s Night”. The sound of the guitar that McGuinn bought actually became the trademark of the Byrds’ sound. Other groups and artists that latched onto the Rickenbacker were Pete Townsend of The Who, John Fogerty of Creedence Clearwater Revival and John Kay of Steppenwolf. By the late 60s there was a six week waiting period just to get one of these guitars. They were beyond popular. They were a true phenomenon.

By the 1970s, Rickenbacker started making guitars with detachable necks. They even matched slanted frets to match the angle of the player’s hand. They also started making their famous double neck models that became quite standard. Other groups started jumping on the Rickenbacker bandwagon like Tom Petty and R.E.M.

Currently, Rickenbacker is as popular as it ever was. More current groups like Oasis, Pearl Jam, Radiohead and U2 all use Rickenbacker guitars to get their patented sound.

If you want to get an idea of just how popular Rickenbacker is, George Harrison of The Beatles was once asked what guitar he played and he answered, “Of course it’s a Rickenbacker”.

Could there have been any other answer?

Michael Russell Your Independent guide to Guitars

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