8 of the greatest Rickenbacker players of all time

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8 of the greatest Rickenbacker players of all time

Rickenbacker Tom Petty
Words by Harry Connell

Over the years there have been many artists who have taken a liking to the “frying-pans” that we know and love - with their long neck and circular body shape, they truly are unique. 

Credited as the first known maker of electric guitars (a steel guitar in 1932) there’s no doubt the Rickenbacker name is associated with greatness.

Here are 8 of the most iconic Rickenbacker players throughout the years.

Lemmy Kilmister 

Perhaps better known as just Lemmy, this rock legend was Motörhead’s lead singer, founder and bassist, as well as a member of Hawkwind from 1971 to 1975. 

Widely appreciated for his use of his Rickenbacker bass, Lemmy had an incredibly unique style that created a driving rhythmic rumble—playing it more like an electric guitar than a bass. 

He used heavy distortion and power chords on overdriven Marshall tube stacks, to really pack a punch. 

Lemmy first used a Rickenbacker that belonged to Dave Anderson during his Hawkwind days, and when Anderson failed to show up for a gig, he took his place. 

He used a few different basses over the years, but from 1996 onwards his go-to became the 4004LK signature model, which was part of an extremely limited run. 

It sported all gold hardware, hand carved body wings and three HB1 humbucker pick-ups, to add to that signature growling tone. 

Read up on all the latest interviews, features and columns here.

John Lennon 

Lennon found his natural finish Capri 325 hanging in the window of a guitar shop in Hamburg in 1960, while out and about with George Harrison. 

The 325 model, designed by German luthier Roger Rossmeisl, quickly became associated with the sound of the Beatles throughout the early 60s, heard on songs like “I Want To Hold Your Hand” and “All My Loving”. 

It wasn’t selling overly well before Lennon began using it, and given the style of the 325 was somewhat strange (not to mention its student sized 20 ¾ inch scale length) it’s fair to say it was a bit of an odd choice, but following that iconic Beatles run of the ‘60s it became one of Rickenbacker’s most desirable models. 

From 1989 up until 1993, Rickenbacker made a Lennon signature model dubbed the 355 JL, built with an Easter Hard Rock maple body, and featuring a rosewood fretboard and a trapeze tailpiece. 

Tom Petty

Both Petty and fellow Heartbreakers band member Mike Campbell were big fans of Ricks. 

While the Florida legend owned and played several guitars over the years (his main choice being a 1964 starburst Strat), it’s worth noting that he used a number of Rickenbacker models from 1979 onwards. 

In 1981, he played an iconic 362/12 double neck while performing on the cult sketch comedy show Fridays, and he can be seen posing with a 1963 Fireglo 620/12 on the cover of 1979’s Damn The Torpedoes.

In ‘91 they released a signature model, the limited edition 660/12TP, which Petty used a version tuned down a half step for live performances of ‘American Girl’.

Paul McCartney

The 4001S-LH was McCartney’s bass of choice from 1965 up until the late 80s. 

After his departure from the Beatles in 1970, it continued to be his go-to with Wings and in his solo career.

When the Beatles released their split Paperback Writer/Rain single in 1966, the unmistakeable warmth of Paul’s Rickenbacker really established itself as a signature sound during that time.

As the band changed direction visually over the years, so too did Paul’s 4001S, going from factory sunburst, to a mix of psychedelic blues and reds in 1967, before returning to a natural finish.

Peter Buck

Buck once said that he’d used his Jetglo 360 Rick on every record R.E.M. had ever done. 

The co-founder and lead guitarist was playing a Fender Telecaster until 1980, his first Rick being a blonde 360 he purchased at a music store in his hometown. 

The following year while at guitar shop in Connecticut, Buck asked a staff member if they had any Rickenbackers in stock, and they pulled out the Jetglo 360 that would eventually make its way onto every R.E.M. record besides the first single. 

The deluxe semi-hollow body was a staple piece both live and in the studio since the release of Chronic Town in 1982. 

On September 9, 2008, after a show in Helsinki, it was actually stolen from the stage, but thankfully returned anonymously just over a week later.

Roger McGuinn

The Byrds’ co-founder’s fascination with Rickenbacker guitars started when he saw George Harrison’s 12 string in ‘A Hard Day’s Night’, the 1964 musical comedy starring the Beatles themselves. 

Enamoured with the look and sound, he went out in search of the same model, but to no avail – instead settling on a 360 in Maple Glow. 

McGuinn helped popularise Rickenbacker, who were still an obscure American brand at that time, associating that big, bold jangling sound with absolute classics such as “Mr Tamborine Man” and “Turn! Turn! Turn!” 

Although the Rock and Roll Hall of Famer has played other guitars over the years, he’s still the undisputed king of the Rick 12.

Chris Squire

For many guitar enthusiasts, when they hear the name Chris Squire, they’ll think of a Ricky.

Best known as the bassist and backing vocalist of the progressive rock band Yes, Squire was influential for later generations of bass players, and his trademark was the Rickenbacker 4001. 

While he did record and perform with several other basses over the years, his cream-colored 1964 model is iconic, and really helped form his signature style and sound. 

In 1965, while working at a Boosey & Hawkes shop in London’s West, Squire used his staff discount to purchase a 4001, and the rest is history.

From 1991 to 2000, Rickenbacker produced a signature model in a limited 1000 unit run, in his name – the 4001CS. 

A tribute to the icon, it featured a contoured neck through body construction with solid Eastern Rock Maple, and that famous Rickenbacker tailpiece. 

George Harrison

Surprise, another Beatle on this list. 

While George sported many iconic guitars over the years, I feel it’s only right to mention his use of the 360/12, even if it never did never become a favourite. 

In winter of 1964, Owner of Rickenbacker, Francis C. Hall, caught wind that the Beatles would be in NYC, as they were set to perform on The Ed Sullivan Show.

He arranged a meeting to show them some new instruments, one of which was the prototype of the 360/12. 

Unfortunately, George was sick at the time and could not attend, Lennon did however, and thought the guitar would be perfect for him. 

The model gained a fair bit of worldwide attention through its use on many Beatles records, such as the distinctive guitar sound on “I Call Your Name”, which was recorded in 1964. 

Twice as many strings resulted in those iconic ‘jangly’ sounds that have become a staple of that time.

Keep reading about Paul’s famous Rickenbacker 4001S here.