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Rickenbacker 360-12

a semi-dozen electric

OK, SO I no longer have any fingerprints on my left hand. We all know that beauty has its price, and as far as I'm concerned a few ounces of epidermis is a small amount to pay for the gorgeous noises which this guitar has produced over the last two days...

When they say in their catalogue that "nothing else sounds or plays like a Rickenbacker", they're not joking. At their recent relaunching show at the American Embassy, I tried virtually the whole range of Rickenbacker's current models, and can wholeheartedly vouch for their... er... 'individuality'. The 3/4-scale models, like the 320, are described as "designed for increased speed", though to my hands they felt under-sized and awkward, and not at all suited for fast fingerwork. Didn't like them, but they did sound... sort of Rickenbackery...

The full-scale six strings, both solid and hollow body, with their "incredibly thin and fast necks" also had that... sound. And that 'playability'!??). These guitars are hard work. It's not coincidence that finger-wizards of the ilk of Hendrix, Peter Green, Clapton, Van Halen, etc, haven't used Rickenbackers.

I picked the 360-12 from the current range of Rickenbackers partly because of my interest in twelve-string guitars and partly because of its extreme good looks. Its wide, flat body with twin cutaways curving out to elegantly pointed horns is balanced by a full-scale 24 fret neck with an ordinary sized head; the mounting of the machine heads at right angles to each other saves space and does away with the need for aesthetically dissatisfying double-sized headstocks.

It takes practice working out which string is which before you can become proficient at tuning in the dark (unlike the Aria's intelligent arrangement of large and small keys), but with the solidity that the 360 showed while in my possession, this should not be a problem: it went out of tune twice in two days of intensive playing and travelling — and then only one string.

The 360 has Rickenbacker's odd double scratch-plate arrangement — the area nearest the neck is raised — and also their patented volume/tone control configuration. This rejoices in the name "Rick-O-Sound" and, judging by the problems I had making it work (cheap racist joke coming), it could easily have its maker's name. The normal two volume and tones plus three-way toggle are joined by a fifth control: the Knob With No Name. This darling little device, which is positioned slightly to the rear of the other four, is reputed to be for "rapid tone presets"; it acts nominally as a balance between the front and back pick-ups, seeming to attenuate the amount of front p/u noise.

As for the pick-ups themselves, they are remarkably primitive-looking single coil affairs plonked (and I use that word advisedly) straight onto the top of the body. I did not attempt to adjust them. The neck position gives a warm rumbly sound that is too muffled to be of great use, while the bridge p/u is almost too weedy for words. Only when the two are combined does the guitar come into its own, and actually start sounding like a Rickenbacker.

The bridge, which is hidden under a protective arch (removable), has six saddles each handling a pair of strings. I had no opportunity to check their intonation, as the neck itself was slightly out of adjustment, which put the action out, rather annoyingly.

The strings are seated in a rigid and rather handsome 'R'-shaped tailpiece, which curls around the edge of the contoured body under the strap button. The strings themselves are worthy of mention as they are flat-wound — something of an oddity nowadays. According to Rickenbacker boss, John Hall, flat-wound are still used as they exert less force on the neck. They feel strange, especially for a six or twelve-string.

The neck has the distinctive light-brown rosewood bound fingerboard concealing Rickenbacker's effective, trusty double truss-rod design. According to that catalogue (which reads like it was written for the Japanese market), "the rods may be field replaced in a matter of minutes if necessary".

While I wasn't willing to take a guitar with a £715 price tag out into the country, I did perform a few experiments within the privacy of my own home. As you probably know, when playing twelve-string guitars, it is necessary to hold down pairs of strings, where normally only one would do. Even though the pairs are placed close together, they understandably require more space than single strings; therefore one expects twelve-string fingerboards to be wider than six-string fingerboards. But this is not always the case: finding that I was having a little trouble holding chord shapes on the 360-12 without muffling strings with stray bits of finger, I decided to measure the width of the neck. From the bottom E up to the top E, eleven strings away, is 34mm on the Rickenbacker. This is not a great distance when you compare it with the 40mm of a Les Paul, and the 35mm of a Stratocaster: more space, and fewer strings. Hmmm...

Underneath those strings, the contours of the neck are equally 'individual' in their styling. They run from thin and deep (just like me) at the head, to broad and shallow where the neck butts onto the body. Before you become used to this, it does make the player very conscious of the neck in his hand; this can be disconcerting.

The Rickenbacker 360-12 that I played was in truth neither an easy nor a comfortable instrument to play. The size and shape of the neck preclude the possibility of the kind of clumsy but quick fingering you could get away with on a normal six string. The extra precision required to make the guitar work efficiently alters the player's attitude to chords and lead lines, and changes the 'normal' way he/she would express themselves (from a smile to a frown).

If any other guitar behaved like this, it would be down the repair shop within the hour, but the Rickenbacker has a reputation that can support its awkwardness until the player can come to terms with using it. Then the full opulence of the Rickenbacker's sound wipes out the memory of those moments of pain and frustration: the 360-12 is the lushest, richest sounding guitar I have ever played. Those peculiar pick-ups give an amazing clarity, which picks out the hard ringing tones of the individual strings with both warmth and brightness. The physical size of the machine begins to make sense relative to the enormity of the sound it produces.

Rickenbackers are not easy guitars to get to know. Their relative unavailability in the UK has given them a reputation for exclusivity, which is enhanced by their awkwardness, which in turn enhances their reputation. Combine that with an almost complete absence of Rickenbacker copies (except for basses) in this country, and you have the makings of a legend, and a great sales pitch: at the relaunch of Rickenbacker in this country the company president, John Hall, told me that they were severely restricting the number of dealerships they were offering in Britain, thus maintaining as far as possible their image.

I am pleased to be able to report that there is some substance behind the Rickenbacker legend: I fell in love with the 360-12. But they wouldn't let us stay together...

360-12 semi acoustic: £715

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A Christmas Carol

One Two Testing - Copyright: IPC Magazines Ltd, Northern & Shell Ltd.


One Two Testing - Jan 1985

Gear in this article:

Guitar > Rickenbacker > 360/12

Gear Tags:

Electric Guitar

Review by Jon Lewin

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