Considering that the earliest solid electric guitar was developed by Adolph Rickenbacker, built from aluminium and nicknamed "the electric frying pan", it would be unfair not to review at least one of the latter-day six strings that bears his name.
It's the Rickenbacker basses and semi-acoustics that have lodged most firmly in the public mind. The semis were immortalised on thousands of Who posters, Paul Weller picked up the reins in the Jam, and they still look like no other guitar on the street.
The maple body has a single tear-shaped hole in the top and a unique rosey sunburst finish darkening through pink to a cheery red glow. The light brown rosewood neck is far from the ruddy hue favoured by other manufacturers and it carries 24 frets completing a full two octaves.
The black and silver knobs wouldn't be out of place on a battered valve radio and the R tailpiece might have been nicked from a Jukebox — but that's style. The white plastic scratchplate and control cover is another teardrop, in two layers.
The single pole pickups look like nothing on earth. Each has a foam surround separating it from the maple body, again to reduce vibration and microphony. The system appears to work as very little tapping on the scratchplate or surface finds its way down the lead and to the amp. The pole pieces are unadjustable round black lumps — like macho Aspirins, set on a black background — and the rest of the machinery is a highly polished chrome.
Nothing more orthodox happens down at the bridge. A chrome trough of six saddles is suspended above a sustain bar by four Allen-keyed bolts, one in each corner. A wrist guard runs over the top of the bridge for days when guitarists were frightened of slicing their arteries on the sharp edge of a saddle... cissies.
The feel is likewise unusual. It's a chunky neck, specially at the headstock, but the curved fingerboard is narrow, hardly varying in width from nut to body joint at the 22nd fret. The frets are low, thin and the board heavily lacquered.
And the sound... from another time altogether. At first it's dull, or appears so, but you've had your ears prejudiced by the bass and treble excesses of latter-day instruments where extremes of frequencies seem to be emphasised by amp and PA. The Ricky has a mellow flatness, an innocence of sound where each string seems content to work in its own precise area of harmonics and frequencies.
And the controls are hardly laid out with a Spock logicality. A bass and treble tone pair and a bass and treble volume pair are augmented by one more miniature knob in the same black and silver design. It acts as an attenuator, but also mixes the outputs of the various pickups. That's the effect soundwise; what it's doing electronically may be quite different.
It's an endearing piece of wood steeped in history and tradition; easy, but different to play and perhaps old fashioned, but still pertinent to today's sound. And it's not over expensive. The two pickup 330's can be got for around £350 and below in special deals, which is something to consider when you can pay upwards of £300 for an instrument by Japanese gents who were definitely not making electric frying pans in the thirties. But that's if you can find one. There's no British distributor right now. £589
Review by Paul Colbert
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