Rickenbacker 360/12 Guitar
Rickenbacker guitars have been absent from these shores for quite some time, having lacked a UK distributor. However, a new company called Golico have set things to right and are now handling distribution of these 'classic' instruments — and judging by their crowded stand at the recent British Music Fair, are managing very well indeed.
The Rickenbacker guitar 'sound' has been an integral part of many bands' music — most notably The Beatles; and more recently Genesis, The Jam, Pretenders and even Rush.
The model reviewed here, part of their extensive 360 semi-acoustic range, is a twelve string guitar. This in itself is fairly unique as, apart from Shergold, very few manufacturers seem to build electric twelve strings these days.
Four standard finishes are available for the 360/12 — Fire-glo (red), Burgundy, Jet-glo (black) and our model, Azure-glo (blue). A choice of custom colours or natural finish can also be obtained at extra cost if requested.
The guitar body is 1¾" deep, neatly bound around the edges and carved from maple wood with a hand buffed finish. The semi-acoustic body design is the distinctive Rickenbacker shape having one large, dart-shaped, 'f-hole' on the top of the body.
The long scale neck has a four piece, laminated maple construction with a 24 fret, rosewood fingerboard that has pearl-style inlays. It is bound at both edges and coated in a fairly thick varnish. The supplied action on this guitar was set fairly low and it was quite easy to hold down a full bar chord with little thumb pressure being required. The neck itself is extremely narrow in comparison to many six string let alone twelve string guitars! The heel of the body begins around the 15th fret position which makes it a simple task to play chords in high inversions, but the narrow neck width and string spacing mean that it's difficult to hold down a chord past the 12th fret if your fingers are at all on the large size.
The nut on this model was well cut to accept the twelve strings (the octave string being the inner one of each pair, from the low E upwards). Nobody seemed to know from what the nut was made, but it appeared to be fashioned from either ebony or a carbon graphite substance. If this is the case, then it should help prevent excessive wear on the nut — something that can quite easily lead to unwanted fret buzz and bad intonation.
The headstock, once again, is the usual Rickenbacker shape and comes fitted with twelve, individual Kluson Deluxe, chrome-plated machine heads. These are laid out in two groups of six in order to keep the head mechanism as compact as possible. Six of the heads project at a 90° angle to the headstock (these control the normal string tuning), whilst the remainder are fitted to the side of the head (as is usual) and control the tuning of the octave (and unison) strings.
A clever arrangement, this, that overcomes the problems encountered with additional heads, namely, balance and space. The heads themselves were unusually stiff to turn but this will probably ease with continued use.
One problem that could be foreseen with the 360 would be on 'restringing'. Because the machine head barrels pass horizontally through the headstock, there are two grooves cut into the face to allow access to them. However it is practically impossible to thread a string through these barrels with other strings already fitted, as these simply get in the way. You really need to fit each octave string first before attaching the others, and this could well prove a nightmare job if you ever had to do it 'live'!
Finally, removing the white plastic decoration on the headstock reveals the two, separately adjustable, steel trussrods that enable neck tension to be adjusted, very accurately.
The whole guitar is some 39¼" long and 15¼" wide. A large area of the body is covered by a white plastic section, that acts as a pickguard. This houses five ridged control knobs for bass and treble, tone and volume. Between these is the smaller, fifth knob which appeared to act as an overall highpass filter tone control. Advancing this gradually reduced the bass content, creating a hollow, jangly sound. A three position toggle switch completes the pickup controls and is used to select between bass and treble pickups or a combination of the two.
Removing the previously mentioned plastic cover exposes the passive tonal circuitry. The pickups are earthed to the pots and bridge assembly, but there is no overall screening for this compartment — a minor point, but one that should never be overlooked on an instrument of this price.
The positioning of the pickups very close to the neck and bridge respectively, helps to create a slightly wider than normal tonal variation between pickups. The treble pickup produced an extremely bright, 'toppy' sound that is able to cut through any sound mix. The bass pickup, in contrast, produced a warm sound that proved ideal for sleazy, jazz chord meanderings, yet packed quite a punch when the amplifier level was wound up.
Cosmetically speaking, the pickups are chrome-plated with black plastic coatings that cover the pole pieces, preventing compensatory adjustments to string output levels from being made (if ever required). A novel feature of the pickup housing is the foam rubber wedge on which they are each mounted. One suspects that this is designed to cut down the transmission of vibrations, through the body, to the pickups in the hope of reducing natural feedback. Something that can plague any semi-acoustic when played at high sound levels.
The 360/12 is fitted with a chrome, 'R' shaped tailpiece that anchors the strings which then pass over the bridge saddles. There are six of these, one per pair of strings, which are curved to retain the action height of the strings over the cambered fingerboard. All saddles are adjustable forwards/backwards using the appropriate screw/spring mechanism. The bridge is chrome-plated, suspended on two threaded pillars which adjust the overall height, raising and lowering the string action (the height of the string from the fingerboard surface) by means of Allen — like screws. The bridge cover provides a convenient resting place for the palm of your right hand when dampening strings.
Since each string pair shares the same saddle, the intonation can never be set exactly for individual strings. This, however, is not too much of a problem on a twelve string guitar as slight mistuning between strings actually improves the overall 'chorus' effect that's produced when the guitar is strummed.
Finally, on the bottom edge of the body is a chrome plate containing two quarter inch jack sockets. One provides a normal mono signal output, the other a stereo signal when the optional Rick-O-Sound kit is wired in, producing extra tonal variations and noise reduction. Without this kit, which costs around £45, a heavily bass cut signal can be obtained from this socket when a mono jack plug is connected.
The problem with Rickenbacker guitars is that they produce such a characteristic 'sound' (especially true of this 12 string); so much so that you either love them or hate them.
The instrument in question does have its little idiosyncrasies and can be rather awkward for large fisted players, but when it comes to the crunch, the guitar does produce a 'beautiful' sound. That really, to my mind, is the dominant factor in the choice of any instrument — the sound — and you really need to experience it personally to draw your own conclusion.
As far as prices go, Golico don't have an actual RRP on their products, preferring to let each dealer set his own price. However, the guide price is £600 for the 360/12 guitar, so shop around for the best deal. For further details contact Trevor Smith of Golica Ltd., (Contact Details).
Review by Ian Gilby
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