Rickenbacker’s 12-String Guitars

Posted: October 30, 2016 in Guitars
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February 8th, 1964 was a fortuitous day for Rickenbacker guitars. That’s when Francis C. Hall, the owner and president of the company, connected with the Beatles in New York City. In his suite at the Savoy Hilton, Hall unveiled for the group Rickenbacker’s latest offering: the electric 12-string guitar, the shimmering sound of which would help define an era.

John Lennon was the first of the Fab Four to audition the 12-string, but he thought it might be a better instrument for George Harrison, who had stayed behind in his hotel due to illness. Indeed Harrison gravitated to the guitar and became an early adapter. Harrison’s first 360/12, with its gorgeous Fireglo finish, was the second one ever made. An interesting feature of this—and all Rickenbacker 12-strings—is that the lower-pitched string is the first one in each course, the opposite of the traditional 12-string.

Right away, Harrison exploited his 360/12’s chiming sound to excellent effect with the Beatles. He first used it on I Call Your Name (1964) and played it all over the place on the 1964 album A Hard Day’s Night and on other songs like Ticket to Ride, from 1965’s Help! Clearly excited about the 12-string, George Harrison got a second 360/12, which he used on If I Needed Someone, off of Rubber Soul (1965).

The Rickenbacker 12-string got even greater exposure through Roger McGuinn of the Byrds. When McGuinn and his bandmates saw A Hard Day’s Night in 1964, he became taken with the 360/12 Harrison plays in the movie, and unable to find the exact same model, he bought a blonde 360/12 for himself the following year.

McGuinn wasn’t quite satisfied by his Rickenbacker, so he sent it to the factory to add a pickup as well as an onboard compressor—an essential effect for the electric 12-string—and a mini switch for controlling it. The guitar was stolen in 1966 when the Byrds were playing in New York, so McGuinn replaced with the 370/12 in Mapleglo (natural). The Rickenbacker 12-string became McGuinn’s main instrument and he used it most memorably on the main riffs of Mr. Tambourine Man and Turn! Turn! Turn! and the psychedelic soloing on Eight Miles High.

The Who’s Pete Townshend wasn’t quite the 12-string devotee as McGuinn, but Townshend also scored a 360/12 early on and used it brilliantly in the studio on songs like I Can’t Explain, Pictures of Lily, and Substitute, as well as onstage. And of course, a few of Townshend’s Rickenbackers were among the victims of his smashing antics in concert.

Tom Petty is another guitarist known to work the Rickenbacker 12-string. Petty is pictured on the cover of his landmark 1979 album Damn the Torpedoes with a 625/12, and the 12-string features prominently into songs like Listen to Her Heart and American Girl. In the early 1990s, Petty was even honored with a signature model—the 660/12TP (which now fetches around $3,000 in the used market).

The Rickenbacker 12-string has also made notable appearances in alternative and rock songs. It’s responsible for the shimmering textures on Echo & the Bunnymen’s Silver, The Smiths’s This Charming Man, The Church’s Under the Milky Way, and R.E.M.’s So. Central Rain —just a few examples that speak to the instrument’s brilliant adaptability.

While many of these artists have used vintage Rickenbacker 12-strings, the company has maintained a comprehensive selection in its catalog. Models like the 330/12, 360/12W, 620/12, and the 381/12V69, all made in the United States, share the same specs that made the earliest Ric 12s so brilliant-sounding. But the newer models are easier to string up, thanks to their fully slotted headstocks.

If you’re in the market for an electric 12-string, whether you’re intending to channel British Invasion rock or venture into more obscure territory, a Rickenbacker is a no-brainer and an essential tool.

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