Paul Weller: The perfect guitar for The Jam
It had fallen out of fashion, but the Rickenbacker, with its Swinging Sixties, Carnaby Street vibe, not to mention its unique jangly chime, was the obvious choice for The Jam, says Paul Alcantara
Friday 10 February 2006
The guitar company was founded in Los Angeles by a Swiss tool and dye maker Adolph Rickenbacker - a distant cousin of the celebrated First World War flying ace Eddie Rickenbacker. In the early 1930s, Adolph developed the first commercially successful electric guitar, a cast aluminium Hawaiian model.
It was three decades later, however, that the brand became famous, with a series of thin, hollow-body electrics designed by a German emigrant, Roger Rossmeisl, whose father was also a guitar maker. Initially marketed as the Capri series, the guitars featured a novel construction in which a solid body was partly hollowed-out from the rear, the electronics were installed, and then a wooden back was fitted. The German heritage is evident in the Teutonic design: "cat's eye" sound holes, triangular markers and recessed top carve. With its plain cosmetic appearance, the twin pickup 330 (which initially retailed at a modest $259.50) was the workhorse of the full-size range, while the more rounded 360 was a more upmarket version costing $50 more.
By the mid-1960s, Rickenbacker was in the enviable position of having its instruments in the hands of all three of the guitar-playing Beatles. Lennon's three-quarter-sized model 325 was bought in Hamburg in 1960, while McCartney acquired his left-handed 4001S bass (later used on Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band) in 1965.
As a result of the Fab Four's endorsement, numerous other Beat-era bands adopted the brand. Gerry Marsden (Gerry and The Pacemakers), Hilton Valentine (The Animals), Denny Laine (The Moody Blues) and the Kinks bass-player Peter Quaife all played Rics at one time or another. Roger McGuinn of The Byrds cites George Harrison's use of a Ric 360-12 as the reason he abandoned his acoustic in favour of a Rickenbacker 12-string - in the process giving birth to the folk/rock movement. But after The Beatles, the most visible proponent of the brand was The Who's Pete Townshend - although he was, of course, as famous for smashing Rickenbackers as for playing them.
The arrival of Jimi Hendrix and the advent of blues-based rock spelled the end of the line for the jangly pop sound of the Sixties. Heavier sounds required new gear and so Rickenbackers and amplifiers such as Vox AC-30s were cast aside in favour of Gibson Les Pauls and Marshall Stacks - until they became as much part of The Jam's image as the spray-paint logo, bowling shoes and target insignia.
Although arguably not the most versatile of guitars, Rickenbackers possess a unique, jangly chime that can't be duplicated on any other guitar; think of the celebrated opening chord to The Beatles' "A Hard Day's Night", or the introduction to The Byrds' version of Dylan's "Mr Tambourine Man". But it is not just their sound that ensures Rickenbackers enduring popularity among players and collectors alike; the Rickenbacker look - the antithesis of metal and heavy rock - immediately conjures up the Swinging Sixties and Carnaby Street cool.
In the wake of Weller, Rickenbackers enjoyed a renaissance in the 1980s, when Susanna Hoffs (The Bangles), Peter Buck (REM) and Tom Petty began using them. More recently, Rickenbackers have reappeared in the hands of musicians in some of the most credible bands around, including Pete Doherty and Carl Barât when they were in The Libertines, Bob Hardy, the Franz Ferdinand bassist, and Chris Urbanowicz of the Editors.
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