Although Fender and Gibson have rightly earned their place as significant manufacturers and designers of electric guitars, not too many people know that it was actually Rickenbacker who produced the world’s first general production electric guitars (in 1932). These guitars were actually electric Hawaiian guitars, which were nicknamed “frying pans” because of their circular bodies and long necks. Technically, these electric guitars were lap steel guitars, but they were nevertheless the first production electric guitars.
Rickenbacker, however, is best known for its double-cutaway semi-acoustic guitars that debuted in the late 1950s, including the famed Rickenbacker 300 series. Perhaps its most celebrated innovation from the time is the electric 12-string guitar with an innovative headstock design that allowed all twelve machine heads to fit on a standard length headstock, thus avoiding the elongated (and somewhat unattractive) design associated with traditional 12 string designs. When both George Harrison and John Lennon started using Rickenbacker guitars, their popularity increased exponentially. As a result of the Beatles’ influence, numerous artists began using Rickenbacker instruments. The jangly, open sound became a hallmark sound of such groups as the Byrds and the Beach Boys.
Rickenbackers have several distinctive features. As just mentioned, they are renowned for their chime and jangle, particularly the twelve string models. Several Rickenbacker models are also outfitted with a second output jack that allows the guitar to be connected to different amplifiers and effects units. Interestingly, Rickenbackers also use a double truss rod (as opposed to just one) to allow for correction of wide varieties of twists and curvatures in the neck.
From the Beatles to Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, the distinctive Rickenbacker sound is an unmistakable sound that has helped define pop and rock music.