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What Contributes To The Rickenbacker Sound?


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There's a great radio program in Canada, on CBC, hosted by Randy Bachman of the Guess Who. Unfortunately, it's on Saturday nights and I'm usually busy with other things and they don't podcast it. Anyway, I heard it this weekend and he was doing a show on the sound of the different guitars. I think he already did Gibson and Fender but I tuned in on Gretch and Rickenbacker. For the first time I think I "get" the Rickenbacker sound. It's all over British music but I was really impressed with the way Tom Petty orchestrates the sounds in and out of his recordings.

This got me thinking of trying for that sound on my next build. I've been through the archives and read that but still would like a bit more insight. I'm not talking about cloning the guitar visually, just what are the main elements that contribute to the sound.

I would think the first thing would be the pickups. Gretch and Rickenbacker seem to use a lower output, more wide range style of pickup. About the only source I see for this style is at Guitar Fetish HERE. Any comments on these and the various models?

The next thing would be the scale length. The Rickenbacker site lists the scale length at 24 3/4". I usually get a preslotted fingerboard at LMI and they list the 24.624 Gibson, 24.9 Martin and 25.0 PRS. I'm inclined to go for the longer length, maybe the 25.0". Any comments on that small a variation?

What contribution would the bridge be? I see listings for them and I do like the idea of them a bit more than the TuneOmatic. It seems more solid to the wood. I guess it also has to be raised the amount to allow for the height of the surface mount pickups.

It also seems that the hollow body must be an issue.

Any discussion on any of the above would be appreciated.

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I'm pretty sure most Rics are made of maple --they're basically hollowbodies, more so than chambered. The Rickenbacker site has some good photos of that part.

And I know that some of the Rics use multi-laminate necks. Not sure how much that would contribue to the sound. But a maple body definitely goes a long way. So I'd put that at the top of the list of features.

You can buy Rickenbacker pickups easily enough. I have one of their scatterwound pups. Although if you want a three-pickup guitar, that gets pricey.

The stuff Guitarfetish sells look good but don't really sound anything like what you'd expect a Ric to sound like, despite the marketing hype. He does admit that the pickups are wound hotter, which of course changes the sound. And they're made by Artec anyway, you can find those pretty cheaply too.

I have a set of an earlier GFS model (mini-humbuckers) that do capture some of the jangle. They get kind of microphonic at high levels.

I'm not a big fan of the Ric bridge, although I've only had real contact with a shoddy copy of the real thing.

Don't know about scale length -- John Lennon's guitar was a short scale.

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And I guess that besides the pickups and maple hollow body, a big part of the jangle was the Vox AC30 amp. Though I have never read or heard what a Rick sounds through a Fender or Marshall, my bet is on the Vox.

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And I guess that besides the pickups and maple hollow body, a big part of the jangle was the Vox AC30 amp. Though I have never read or heard what a Rick sounds through a Fender or Marshall, my bet is on the Vox.

Yeah, I was going to mention the Vox thing. Don't know what Tom Petty uses though.

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i can tell you a rickenbacker is still very distinctive through any amp, but yeah a vox does match it quite nicely

a lot comes from the pickup and if you really want the sound i would be after authentic rick pickups

for the scale length 24 3/4 is what gibson use so i would go with the gibson board from LMI. you will find that 24.624 works out pretty close to 24 3/4 once you have compensation added. gibson have used a few different scale lengths that hover around 24 3/4" so that board will be close enough

the bridge will affect the sound but i dont think its a major as the hollow maple clamshell construction, maple neck with quite thick bubinga fretboard and those pickups wound with 43 awg wire

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The stuff Guitarfetish sells look good but don't really sound anything like what you'd expect a Ric to sound like, despite the marketing hype. He does admit that the pickups are wound hotter, which of course changes the sound. And they're made by Artec anyway, you can find those pretty cheaply too.

That, sir, is extremely useful imformation. What source can you provide to verify this statement?

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That, sir, is extremely useful imformation. What source can you provide to verify this statement?

Artec makes (or made) most of the no-name pickups out there. Just have a look at their catalog, you'll find every one of GFS's pickups there. The same pickups are sold by other ebay sellers. GFS is just branding, as far as I can tell. It's all in the marketing--it's a brand created by an ebay seller, that's all. He's very good at the marketing speak, that's for sure. Of course he claims that they (GFS) 'voice' their pickups or otherwise somehow have a hand in their design. Which probably boils down to choosing the pickups from the different pages of the catalog. And in the last year or so they've had their brand stamped directly on some of the pickups -- it's possible they're no longer made by Artec, of course. Perhaps they've shifted their purchasing to one of the Chinese factories that have been churning out pickups in the last few years. Or Artec has been sourcing its pickups from China, etc. How else do you think all those Asian-built knockoffs get their pickups? But don't kid yourself, there's very little chance that GFS actually designs their pickups. And no chance at all that they have any hand in their manufacture.

This is what the world has become, after all. Hard to find anything with a brand that represents a real company that actually manufactures what it sells.

There's a reason why GFS sells its pickups so cheaply (and why other ebay sellers sell the same pickups for even less), and why a true boutique handwound pickup costs significantly more. Don't know if there's any real difference in quality between the two, really.

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i can tell you a rickenbacker is still very distinctive through any amp, but yeah a vox does match it quite nicely

a lot comes from the pickup and if you really want the sound i would be after authentic rick pickups

for the scale length 24 3/4 is what gibson use so i would go with the gibson board from LMI. you will find that 24.624 works out pretty close to 24 3/4 once you have compensation added. gibson have used a few different scale lengths that hover around 24 3/4" so that board will be close enough

the bridge will affect the sound but i dont think its a major as the hollow maple clamshell construction, maple neck with quite thick bubinga fretboard and those pickups wound with 43 awg wire

Actually the 24.624 is the 24 3/4 you'll find in stores. Gibson has changed scale lengths slightly over the years, but the 24.624 is the standard, but everyone mistakenly calls it 24 3/4.

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i dont think i was wrong :D ...

you will find that 24.624 works out pretty close to 24 3/4 once you have compensation added. gibson have used a few different scale lengths that hover around 24 3/4" so that board will be close enough

i didnt go into too much detail about the actual gibson scales because its not relevant to the thread, maybe i wasnt clear enough on what gibson actually used now but that wasnt what was asked. :D

the fact is that i am not sure if rickenbackers 24 3/4" scale length is compensated or not... but gibsons 24.624 (around 24 3/4" compensated) will certainly be close enough even if rickenbacker do it as 24 3/4 before compensation. the difference is so small it wont change to the tone much...

so that 24.624 board from LMII will definately be fine for a rickenbacker sound if the rest of the guitar is built like a rickenbacker... any small difference in scale is not going to matter

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Thanks for all the replies. Before, I assumed that sound was the Vox amp as well, but after listening to the Randy Bachman show, I began to think otherwise. He said he saw one of the Byrd guys (maybe Roger McGinn) play a show with a Rickenbacker through a Pignose amp miced an get the sound. I've been reading and I think the British guys had Voxes but the early Americans played them through Fenders, etc.

I'd also be interested if anyone can verify the origin of the GFS pups. The site seems to say that they spec the designs. It's probable that they are made in an obscure Asian factory, but he main thing is the sound. DO they do it?

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Just have a look at their catalog...

I haven't been able to find it, a corporate website, or a primary American distributor. Little help?

Um...maybe you didn't want to find it... or you haven't heard of Google yet?

Artec makes all of your pickups ...you'll also notice that they make all of GFS's mod circuits as well...

At any rate, I'm not saying there's anything wrong with GFS or anyone else sourcing their pickups from Artec or any other country. I don't like it when they pretend that they're doing something special though. They've got people believing they're some kind of boutique pickup company, when they're merely an ebay reseller. GFS has definitely encouraged that misperception.

I agree, if you want to get closer to the Rickenbacker sound, then buy Rickenbacker pickups.

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Um...maybe you didn't want to find it... or you haven't heard of Google yet?

1) That link doesn't pull up anything. Neither does shortening the URL to the home page.

2) My Google search for "artec pickups" doesn't get that site anywhere in the first ten pages. That's why I asked. But thank you for the condescending tone. I deeply appreciate it.

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Thanks for all the replies. Before, I assumed that sound was the Vox amp as well, but after listening to the Randy Bachman show, I began to think otherwise. He said he saw one of the Byrd guys (maybe Roger McGinn) play a show with a Rickenbacker through a Pignose amp miced an get the sound. I've been reading and I think the British guys had Voxes but the early Americans played them through Fenders, etc.

I meant that the Vox amp played a great part in that "jangly" sound heard in many records throughout the Sixties. I didn´t mention it in my first post, but I was mainly thinking of the Beatles and their sound. I can´t vouch that they only used Vox either. And likewise, I don´t know what American groups using Ricks used for an amp. It stands to historical accuracy that in all probability they played them through Fenders.

So, if GFS might not reproduce those pickups´ sound, what makes Rickenbacker (sp?) pickups stand out? I have very little idea when speaking about electronics, it´s just that I´m very curious.

Edited by MexicanBreed
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I think the thing with the "Rickenbacker Sound", is that a lot of the bands that have that sound sort of stand out from contemporary guitar-driven music - they often play music that sounds different than the music that the guys with Les Pauls and Strats were/are playing, and these guys all happened to use Rickenbackers - but a lot of those folks used plenty of other guitars, too. I think the defining bit of their sound tends to be what they're playing, not what they're playing it on.

I've seen a shred band where the guitar player played a stock Rick, and screamed. I've seen punk bands playing Rickenbackers, and I've seen lots of other people playing Rickenbackers too, who didn't have "the Rick sound". Heck, I've picked one up (man I wish I had bought that guitar) and I tell you, I still sounded like me. (Yeah, it was a disappointment.) And I have no doubt if you gave Petty an SG, or a Strat to early Lennon, they'd still have "the sound" they normally have - that the similarities would be more than the differences.

I do think, however, that the Rick lends itself to a certain style of playing - they balance a quite differently than any other guitar I've played, they feel different hanging there. The necks feel odd to me. And the strings are so high off the body - (at least, the few I've played) they raise the neck in relationship to the body, rather than having a neck angle, which allows them to go over those surface mount p'ups and to meet up with the height of that bridge. It makes you sort of have to float your hand over thing (almost like playing an acoustic when you aren't trying to choke the top)or you end up mashing your hand into the strings incoming - all in all, the guitar just sort of asks to be played in a different style.

I don't know, I'm sort of rambling here. Just my two cents.

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Um...maybe you didn't want to find it... or you haven't heard of Google yet?

1) That link doesn't pull up anything. Neither does shortening the URL to the home page.

2) My Google search for "artec pickups" doesn't get that site anywhere in the first ten pages. That's why I asked. But thank you for the condescending tone. I deeply appreciate it.

No problem, always happy to help. :D

Don't know why the link doesn't work for you though. And when I typed 'artec' in google it was the second hit listed. I suppose you won't just take my word for it that the link led to a page with 40 or so references to pickups that look exactly like everything GFS sells?

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I suppose you won't just take my word for it that the link led to a page with 40 or so references to pickups that look exactly like everything GFS sells?

I have no reason to doubt you. I've read that in a few other places, I just haven't seen it for myself yet. It might just be something hokey with the network at work. I have a LOT more time to do the research here than I do at home. I guess I'll have to give it a whirl when I go home in 2 hours.

Sorry if I got snippy. My ex always talked down to me and assumed I was an idiot, so I'm really sensitive to that sort of thing. Nothing personal. :D

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I'm seeing the Artec site from here. Some of the pickups resemble the GFS ones, but the surface mount NY pickups are not there. There may be more than one source of GFS's pickups, and maybe some are manufactured to a design?

Back to the topic, I'm leaning toward the pickups being a big element in the sound. The thing I see about the Rickenbacker and Gretch pickups is that they are a lower resistance/impedance. This seems to produce more highs but a lower output. I've also wondered why the magnetic soundhole pickups for acoustic guitars sound as good as they do and have learned that they are lower wind as well. The sound of most pickups has gravitated to more winding, hotter sound, more midrange and less highs.

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Yes...

Lower impedance pickups have a much clearer sound, in part because they don't overload the preamp stages of you amp. Similarly with an acoustic sound hole design, you dont particularly wan to drive them hard...additionally, usually on an acoustic they have bronze or similar wound strings, so the pickups are working in the main only with the steel cores of the bass strings as well...also lowering output and response.

The trend has been more and more towards more power...interestingly, EMG's are low impedance and make it up with even more power with an active circuit. Their lower windings and particularly low magnetic strength is in large part why they sound so clear and even clean and retain that even when significantly boosted.

Les Paul (i.e. the man) is/was a big fan of low impedance pickups and featured on the "recording" and "signature" models.

At the time, guitar makers were aiming for a clean clear sound in general...especially a company like Gretch that were after the chet atkins market...no "super distortions" in those days.

Each pickup will have a characteristic sound and it is true that different guitars will kind of inspire different kinds of playing as mentioned by someone earlier. Of course we also associate certain guitars with certain styles...obviously the Ric has a strong British Invasion and particularly beatles connection, but also the Byrds and Petty have carried this on.

Ric's also cam in a solid body version...not so widely known or coverted.

One good thing about the GF/artec pickups is they give you the opportunity to try these kinds of options at a reasonable price.

I may have missed something earlier in the thread though...do you have a proposed design and some inkling as to the kind of music you want to play on the thing?

pete

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I suppose you won't just take my word for it that the link led to a page with 40 or so references to pickups that look exactly like everything GFS sells?

I have no reason to doubt you. I've read that in a few other places, I just haven't seen it for myself yet. It might just be something hokey with the network at work. I have a LOT more time to do the research here than I do at home. I guess I'll have to give it a whirl when I go home in 2 hours.

Sorry if I got snippy. My ex always talked down to me and assumed I was an idiot, so I'm really sensitive to that sort of thing. Nothing personal. :D

As far as I can tell Stentor May be the parent company who sell there stuff through Touchstone tonewoods but this is in the uk

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I'm seeing the Artec site from here. Some of the pickups resemble the GFS ones, but the surface mount NY pickups are not there. There may be more than one source of GFS's pickups, and maybe some are manufactured to a design?

I think what happened is that GFS started out as just another Artec reseller, then built up enough volume where they could launch their own pickup designs (still through Artec or another manufacturer although I'm pretty certain Artec is THE big pickup manufacturer). Or at least, their own pickup COVER designs, since really all that's under the hood is wire and magnets. Again, I'm not saying there's anything wrong with what GFS does -- it's all in the marketing. Give the pickup a name like 'Liverpool' and watch sales fly. I just think people ought to be aware that they're not getting anything special here.

I've worn Converse since I was a kid. I still do, even though Converse as a manufacturer no longer exists. But I also have a pair of Allstar knockoffs. They're EXACTLY the same shoe. No doubt they were made in the same factory. Mostly though, I buy my boots at yard sales. :D

And avenger, I'm just kidding around most of the time. My smartass levels rise and fall depending on the time of day, how much coffee, wine or beer is in me. Didn't mean to offend.

As for the Rick sound thing -- I used to think that pickups meant much more than wood type to the tone of a guitar. That was until I started playing an ash tele - the difference in tone between that and my alder tele is huge (the ash tele wins). So I'm willing to bet that the maple used in the Ricks (and the way they're built) has a lot to do with the sound too.

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