Upon discovering about the Rickenbacker guitar, I thought I have a solid knowledge of various guitar sounds whether it is channeled through special effects such as distortion or just a straight, clean tone from the amplifier. Likewise, I could imagine what sounds would coming out from the guitarist if I were to watch a concert without any sound. However, I was absolutely wrong, yet I do not feel any sense of dejection. Instead I was soothed by the warm, gentle sound of the 12-string Rickenbacker. Johnny Marr, guitarist of The Smiths describes the Rick in a BBC documentary interview as the key of “turning your daydreams into sound” (The Story of the Guitar). The unique tone of the Rick—almost synonymous with the words chime, jangle and whole—has permeated its long roots of influence into modern music. Though it is widely agreed that rock music wouldn’t have blossomed as it is now in the absence of the Rickenbacker, it is not quite as acknowledged as Fender or Gibson. Therefore I feel it is very important to discuss about the influence of the Rickenbacker in modern music history.
Surprisingly, the first production electric guitar isn’t made by Fender or Gibson, but under Adolph Rickenbacker in 1931. In the era of Hawaiian music popularity, Adolph decided to focus on the resonating guitar, designed to make sound waves louder by maximizing their resonating capabilities to meet the volume demands in large audiences. Then he collaborated with George Beauchamp, who thought of the usage of magnetic pickups, to create their first ever electric lap steel guitar nicknamed the “Frying Pan” because of its shape. To this date, the Rickenbacker Model A-25 and Model BD are still considered as the best lap steels guitar ever made. Afterwards, the 1940s oversaw the genesis of rock music that increased the production and sale of regular electric guitars. Seeing this, the Rickenbacker Company followed suit by shifting focus to hollow-body and solid body electric and bass.
The very first time George Harrison strummed the first opening chord for “A Hard Days Night”, people across Britain were stupefied to hear such complexity of the electric 12-string guitar with such bright jangly tone. Moreover, it was not only Harrison who was seen using the Rickenbacker, Bacon says that John Lennon was also fond of the Rickenbacker Capri 325 and commonly seen live with it. His Capri 325 was repainted almost 3 times due of the heavy wear on the body. Similarly, Eriksson notes that bassist Paul McCartney also used a Rickenbacker 4001S in numerous studio album recording sessions such as Rubber Soul, Revolver and Strawberry Fields Forever, until the end of 1968.
As a contemporary of the Beatles, Roger McGuinn of the Byrds was also popular and exceptionally influential on his 12-string Rickenbacker 360. Wallace Baine, writer for the weekly Sunday Column of the Santa Cruz Sentinel, on his article “Hey, Mr. Rickenbacker Man”, writes about how The Byrds’ Bob Dylan cover, Mr. Tambourine Man and Turn, Turn, Turn displayed McGuinn’s signature Rickenbacker sound. This is where the word “jingle-jangle” was coined by journalists to describe the tone of the Rick (Santa Cruz Sentinel). It was taken from one of the verses of the album’s opening track, “Mr. Tambourine Man”.
He further explains that The Byrds’ sound was even borrowed by cotemporaries such as the Rolling Stones and the Beatles (Baine). Frank Kocher, writer for San Diego Troubadour said in his article “Jingle-Jangle Revolution: How Rickenbacker Guitars Changed Music”, writes about two prominent tracks from the 60s, “My Generation” by infamous rock band The Who and “Sounds of Silence” by folk legends Simon and Garfunkel are both played on a Rickenbacker (San Diego Troubadour). This shows how influential the guitar is to venture outside of its usual jangle territory. Later that, the music industry was dominated by hard, distortion-driven rock—the type of music that the Ricks wasn’t known for. Afterwards, their popularity waned in the 1970s. Nobody at that period would expect a second resurgence of the brand that would inspire a whole new genre dubbed jangle pop. That is how important and special the Rickenbacker is—no other guitar has a genre based directly on its sound.
Later, the 1980s was enriched with the resurgence of the brand. Tom Petty was a great fan of 12-string Rickenbackers, exemplified in in an interview of Tom Petty by our author Bacon himself asking for his 12-string favourite track. Tom Petty replies, “It’s ‘The Waiting’—that’s a very 12-string intro, and it’s the one that really sticks out” (Bacon 164). When he appeared on the cover of Damn The Torpedoes with his Rickenbacker 620/12, it caused a leap in popularity for Rick 12 strings. Afterwards, it was the band R.E.M that would champion the Rickenbackers. Take any song from the band’s early repertoire, and you can hear the sound of the nostalgic jangle—as illustrated in the four chords of “Radio Free Europe”.
These soon paved the way for one of the most influential bands of all time: The Smiths. In “Jingle Jangle Johnny”, writer and guitarist Holly Flynn writes about how Johnny Marr the guitarist of the Smiths, for once had to live with the childish nickname “Jingle-Jangle Johnny” (99). Marr was “a self-confessed melody freak, constantly searching for new soundscapes and intricacies in his Rickenbackers” (Flynn 100). He was known for his right-hand picking technique—perfect for the jangle tone of the Rickenbacker. Correspondingly, Bacon writes about how “The Headmaster Ritual” from the 1985 album Meat is Murder and “Stop Me If You Think You’ve Heard This One Before” from Strangeways Here We Come was regarded as “peaks of jangle” (167). The latter was even written entirely on a Rickenbacker 12-string (Bacon 168). Flynn also writes about A Rickenbacker once belonged to Pete Townshend, guitarist of the aforementioned 60s band The Who ended up on the hands of Marr by perhaps divine intervention, considering The Who’s notorious reputation of instrument destruction in live performances. This Rick was featured on their eponymous debut album in 1984, on the track “Suffer Little Children” (Flynn 101).
In essence, The Smiths further reinforced the foundation for the second Rickenbacker resurgence since the first in 1960s by the Beatles. Jangle pop soon made its appearance on the late 80s, with Primal Scream going full Byrds-esque on their debut album, Sonic Flower Groove. Their early short track “Velocity Girl”, made famous by the compilation album C86 by NME, inspired more bands to follow the jangle route. The Stone Roses, another influential indie band from Manchester, England were listening intently to “Velocity Girl”, and subsequently recorded their eponymous debut album. Jann S. Wenner, writer for the famous music magazine Rolling Stone, in the 84th issue reviews The Stone Roses as one of the best albums in all time (1089). Then, the jangly tone of the Rickenbacker managed to remain relevant for the remnants of the 1980s.
The sound of The Stone Roses and Primal Scream would later influence another band considered integral to the development of the shoegaze genre—Ride. Andy Bell, the guitarist of Ride was famous for his combination of effects pedal and his 12-string Rickenbacker 360, giving out the psychedelic side of the Ricks. This was featured on their debut album Nowhere in 1990 and was also hailed as a masterpiece by the Rolling Stones magazine.
The said shoegaze era, albeit short-lived, was important to the development of modern rock music. The style was incorporated into many alternative rock genres in the 1990s. But then due to the explosive conglomeration of numerous genres of the late 20th century (regarded by some as the largest music revolution), the popularity of Rickenbacker waned as the bands who championed the Ricks also diminished in the storm. Though there are criticism about the actual contribution of the Rickenbacker as compared to Gibson and Fender in music, the overall impact of the brand is undeniable. Since its genesis, the Rickenbacker’s chain of influence remained unbroken from one era to another—even to present day. As everybody thought the guitar has now lost its place in modern rock, current famous musicians such as Ed O’Brien of Radiohead and Kevin Parker of Australia’s Tame Impala are seen using the Ricks incessantly in their studio albums and live appearances. After all, so long as humans are able to dream, the very instrument that manifests their daydreams into music will always be pertinent; the dreamy chime of Rickenbacker will keep on resonating—and never disappearing from history.
Bacon, Tony. Rickenbacker Electric 12-String: The Story Of The Guitars, The Music, And The Great Players. Backbeat Books, 2010. Print.
Baine, Wallace. “Hey, Mr. Rickenbacker Man: Roger Mcguinn’s Lasting Influence On Popular Music”. Santa Cruz Sentinel. N.p., 2015. Web. 29 June 2016.
Eriksson, Björn. “The Beatles And Their Rickenbacker Guitars”. Björn Eriksson’s Rickenbacker Page. N.p., 1999. Web.
Flynn, Holly. “Jingle Jangle Johnny”. Dynamic: A Johnny Marr Fanzine 2016: 98-102. Print.
Kocher, Frank. “Jingle-Jangle Revolution: How Rickenbacker Guitars Changed Music”. San Diego Troubadour. N.p., 2012. Web.
Wenner, Jann. “Album Reviews: The Stone Roses – The Stone Roses: Legacy Edition”. Rolling Stone 2009: 1089. Print.