01 April 2012

The White Queen rules.

In the interests of informing prospective buyers of the Rickenbacker 4001 bass guitar, I posted a review of the instrument on the Musician's Friend web pages.

[Note: The current 4001 model offered by Rickenbacker is a 're-issue' of the 'original' 1964 model (URL: http://www.musiciansfriend.com/bass/rickenbacker-4001c64-c-series-electric-bass-guitar), the likes of which has been played by Paul McCartney, among others.]


I wanted one of these all my life-- to the point of making my own bass in 1977 which used two Gibson bass humbucker pickups, running through two channels of my Randall RB-120 bass head, to simulate the Rick sound (see below).

This is the Steverino Sinbird 'Mk 1'.
Played it pretty much the same as I play the Rick-- even same strings.

Finally in 1980 I ordered a lefthanded 4001 in custom high-gloss white.  It wasn't a stock Rickenbacker '-glo' colour so I waited 6 months for it.  But I have used the dickens out of it ever since.

I still run it through both channels on the RB-120, one channel at all treble and no bass and the other at all bass and no treble-- and all midrange cranked off.  This simulates the bass-and-treble stereo 'Rick-O-Sound' without the hassle of bi-amping on stage.  In 1980 I met Rick, the bass player in Cats On A Smooth Surface ('70s NJ-Shore band), who had a lefty 4001 and told me he set the neck pickup at '10' and the bridge one at '2' which emphasises the bass-and-treble effect.  The 4001's drawback is that the neck pickup does not adjust very high [closer under the strings], so you've got to compensate by rolling back the bridge one.  Thus my [Fender-style] P-bass, which is pretty stock, sounds much gutsier if I happen to merely switch guitars without altering the amp's channel volumes.

Setting the 4001's knobs at anything means having to approximate it because there are no numerals on them.  Right-handed instruments have controls that turn clockwise to attenuate (increase volume or tone).  I suspect that the Rickenbacker's knobs may be actually reversed (going anticlockwise to attenuate) but in all truth I have never figured it out and usually have to roll them both ways to check.  But I only do this once each gig and leave the volume ones set on '10' and '2' as ever and the tone ones wide-open.

I always used Rickenbacker flat-wound light-gauge strings-- as I play almost exclusively with a pick-- but not long ago switched to Rotosound Swing 66's, which are the classic 1970s sound of Phil Lynott, Sting and McCartney.  I use the 40-95 set [these are very light gauge for bass strings!] and do not recommend anything over the 45-105 set as the 4001's neck is slender and the truss rods will not need much attention unless you insist on heavy strings.

About 95% of the time I use a guitar pick rather than playing with fingers.  Even for the bass I don't use a heavy pick.  Flat-wounds provide a cleaner sound and the light gauge allows for some degree of delicacy.  I hate just slamming the guitar had and fast to make noise (I'm not in The Ramones).  Stage volume is what amps are made for.


I have not a single complaint about the quality of the instrument.  I have not adjusted the bridge in years but recently sent the guitar in for service and the tech tuned out a minor fret buzz.  Other than that the guitar has been very durable and reliable, having spent plenty of time in salt-air environments (including gigs actually on the beach) with no signs of metal pitting, chrome chipping, paint wearing away, or anything more cosmetic than a subtle UV yellowing towards a kind of milky cream colour over three decades.

I would have liked one with no binding (like Macca's) but forgot to specify that when I ordered it.  The binding sort of rubs my wrist wrong whilst playing with a pick and I dislike the look of the binding [hard-edged white trim round the perimeter of the body].

I would have preferred dots in the fretboard too because the upside-down triangles look just awful.  Rickenbacker do not offer either of these options any more.

As the original bass guitarist for Foreigner, Ed Gagliardi played a lefty 'Fireglo' [Rickenbacker red] 4001 with upside-down triangles in the fretboard before I ordered mine (1977-1980) and I should have remembered how much I hated that when I ordered it.  But, I didn't.

Scott McCarl played a 'Jetglo' [black] 4001 when with The Raspberries.  [Scott also holds a distinction of being one of the (several) inspirations for the character of Jonathan in my novel Love Me Do.  In the sequel, It's Only Love, Jonathan acquires a custom lefty cranberry-red 4001 with fretboard dots and no binding... because that's what I wanted in 1975!]

The fault with the guitar's case is that, rather than just turning the lefthanded guitar over in the foam blocks of the case, the factory turned it end-for-end, so the handle set to one side of the middle latch is now over the lighter neck end! --and it is always heavy to the other end and one has to fight it towards level with the wrist whilst carrying it or else bang the bottom corner on the pavement and coach steps.


It is true that the 4001 series does appreciate in value-- for insurance purposes I had mine appraised and the 'replacement worth' came back at 5-6 times the purchase price of 30 years ago (and considerably more than a new one now, though I won't sadden anyone by saying what I paid for it then!).


In all this is an absolutely top-notch instrument, rather like a Jaguar E-Type or a Palmer Johnson Swan sailboat, the very best the industry has to offer, something that gives you a satisfied sensation to use and draws much admiration from audiences of all ages and tastes.

I had a nice conversation with Isaaca from The Bridges who plays a 1981 4001 and asked her how she liked playing a guitar that is older than she is (it was in 2009; she was 18 then).  She said, 'It's really cool.'  Clearly she knew what she was after when she chose it.

Like most excellent designs that must look stunning and perform well, the Rickenbacker 4001 is timelessly elegant and will never be passe or disappointing.  It really is the coolest bass guitar ever; and mine is my one prized possession.


I have decided to keep this instrument for life and shall will it to my grandchildren.  Real life can seem so devoid of bona-fide bequests of seriously-valuable heirlooms.  Perhaps The White Queen will be one in future... for someone I do not even know yet.

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