Rickenbacker plays a key part in modern guitar history. The primary founding individual was Adolph Rickenbacher (1886‑1976), a Swiss‑born immigrant who came to Wisconsin, America in 1891 following the death of his parents. By 1918, Adolph had moved to California and in 1925 set up the Rickenbacher Manufacturing Company, a tool and die business manufacturing metal and plastic products. Rickenbacher later changed the ‘h’ in his surname to a ‘k’, partly to ‘Anglicise’ it and partly to capitalise on the fame of his cousin and WWI flying ace, Eddie Rickenbacker.

The other founder was American performer and inventor George Beauchamp (pronounced Beechum) (1899‑1941). As an artist, Beauchamp needed to make guitars louder to be heard in the big bands of the era. Beauchamp and luthier John Dopyera formed the National String Instrument Corporation in 1927 to produce tri-cone resonator guitars under the National brand. During the late 1920s, Rickenbacker manufactured metal guitar bodies for National. After a falling out in 1929, Dopyera and his brothers left National and formed the Dobro Manufacturing Company and Beauchamp was fired as part of a shakeup at National and he needed a new venture.

Beauchamp’s quest for more volume had led him to explore the idea of using an electro‑magnetic pickup to amplify vibrating metal strings and he embarked on a mission to prove the concept. In 1931, Richenbacher and Beauchamp became business partners and, with colleague Paul Barth, founded the Ro-Pat-In Corporation (ElectRo-Patent-Instruments) in Los Angeles, USA. Ro-Pat-In’s aim was to produce fully‑electric musical instruments.

The key milestone occurred in 1932, when Rickenbacker became the first company to make a production solid bodied electric guitar, comprising a metal Hawaiian lap steel guitar using an innovative ‘horseshoe’ pickup wrapped around the guitar strings. These guitars were, perhaps unkindly, nicknamed “frying pans” because of their shape – small circular bodies and long necks. These inventions were eventually patented by Rickenbacker in 1934. Naturally, Rickenbacker also pioneered and produced amplifiers that were needed to go with their new electric guitars.

Ro-Pat-In’s name was changed to Electro String Instrument Corporation in 1933. The company used the Rickenbacher brand from 1934 (and finally Rickenbacker from 1950), although early instruments appeared with the ‘Electro’ logo. Uptake in the depression era was slow but the company persevered and a few thousand ‘frying pans’ were produced until manufacture stopped in 1939. Aluminium often caused tuning problems under harsh stage conditions, so Rickenbacker also experimented with other materials, including Bakelite and wood, as well as designing more traditional guitar body shapes. Rickenbacker also developed other electric instruments. George Beauchamp left Rickenbacker in 1940 to follow other pursuits and died the following year, largely unrecognised at the time for his innovations.

It wasn’t until the late 1950s that Rickenbacker’s fortunes took a major upturn. In 1953, Rickenbacker sold his company to businessman F.C. Hall (1909-1999), founder and CEO of Radio-Tel. Under Hall’s leadership, the company introduced innovative guitar models, which proved popular with bands during the emerging rock ‘n’ roll era. In an inspired move, Halll hired ambitious guitar maker Roger Rossmeisl (1927-1979) in 1954. Rossmeisl was responsible for the design of Rickenbacker’s guitars including a number of iconic instruments released in the late 1950s. Rossmeisl’s output included the ‘Capri’ 300 series guitars (from 1958) and the equally influential 4000 series basses (from 1957) – both designs are still in production today. Rickenbacker’s association with, particularly, The Beatles and The Byrds in the 1960s, cemented the brand’s place in guitar history.

Rickenbacker, now known as the Rickenbacker International Corporation (RIC) since 1984, remains a private company and has its headquarters based at Santa Ana, California, USA.

1974 Rickenbacker 480
1974 Rickenbacker 480

Rickenbacker’s official website is… Rickenbacker.com

Check out the Rickenbacker page on Wikipedia… Wikipedia.org

Famous Rickenbacker instruments include… “Frying Pan”, Capri/300 Series, Combo 400 Series, Combo 600 Series, 4000 Series (bass)

Some famous Rickenbacker guitar players include… Peter Buck (R.E.M.), Geezer Butler (Black Sabbath), Pete Doherty (The Libertines), The Edge (U2), John Entwhistle (The Who), John Fogerty (Creedence Clearwater Revival), Bruce Foxton (The Jam), Glenn Frey (Eagles), Noel Gallagher (Oasis), George Harrison (The Beatles), Susanna Hoffs (The Bangles), Peter Hook (New Order), Steve Howe (Yes), Brian Jones (The Rolling Stones), John Kay (Steppenwolf), Lemmy (Motörhead), Geddy Lee (Rush), John Lennon (The Beatles), Phil Lynott (Thin Lizzy), Roger McGuinn (The Byrds), Johnny Marr (The Smiths), Tom Petty, Sergio Pizzorno (Kasabian), Chris Squire (Yes), Pete Townshend (The Who), Paul Weller (The Jam)

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