Great Rickenbacker guitarists

By Sergio Ariza

In 1931, 90 years ago now, Adolph Rickenbacher and George Beauchamp founded Ro-Pat-In Corporation (which stood for ElectRo-Patent-Instruments) to sell electric Hawaiian guitars that Beauchamp designed. Little did they know that they had taken the first step towards the biggest revolution in popular music in the 20th century. Soon after it was decided to change the name to Rickenbacher, which would end up as, simply, Rickenbacker. Two facts would make them the company at the forefront of the musical revolution of the 60s: one was that the Beatles became the most famous band in the universe with its two guitarists playing Rickenbacker models and another that its 12-string model would become, thanks to the magic of Roger McGuinn of the Byrds, the sound of all the great guitar pop bands, with a jangling sound that would give rise to its own genre: ‘Jangle Pop’. 

George Harrison / John Lennon (The Beatles)

In 1960, while the Beatles were doing their first stint in Hamburg, John Lennon bought a Rickenbacker 325, a guitar he had seen on a Jean Thielemans’ record. George Harrison doesn't know how he was able to afford it or if he ever paid for it in full, but the guitar became part of rock history. That was the guitar with which Lennon recorded all the band's early hits, from Please Please Me to I Want To Hold Your Hand, as well as being the guitar with which he appeared on the historic Ed Sullivan show in 1964, the show that broke all American television ratings records. When the guitar broke the brand, which was selling guitars like hot cakes,  sent him a new model and also offered one of their new 360 12-string models to the band's lead guitarist, Harrison, who was delighted to receive the gift and put it to good use right away. It was with that guitar that he struck the famous chord that opens A Hard Day's Night, it was also his appearance in that film with that brand that led folkie Roger McGuinn to get his hands on a model. In a curious case of dual influence, Harrison became fascinated with the sound of McGuinn and the Byrds and composed If I Needed Someone as a sort of homage, of course also using his Rickenbacker. Guitar pop had found its ultimate guitar.

Main model: George Rickenbacker 360/12 / John Lennon: Rickenbacker 325  

Great songs with a Rickenbacker: George: A Hard Day’s Night, Can’t Buy Me Love, If I Needed Someone, I Should Have Known Better, You Can't Do That, If I Fell, Eight Days a Week, What You're Doing, Ticket to Ride / John: Please Please Me, From Me To You, She Loves You, I Saw Her Standing There, All My Loving, I Want To Hold Your Hand, A Hard Day's Night, If I Fell, Dizzy Miss Lizzy, Wait, Day Tripper, And Your Bird Can Sing

A key album: A Hard Day’s Night


Roger McGuinn

As I said, McGuinn began his relationship with Rickenbacker when he saw George Harrison with one in the movie A Hard Day's Night; it looked like a normal guitar, but when he put it sideways you could see that it had 12 strings. With that guitar McGuinn would get that jangling sound that would make this guitar famous forever, from the riff that opens his glorious version of Mr. Tambourine Man, to those chords of I'll Feel A Whole Better, to The Bells Of Rhymney, the song that would amaze Harrison. In 1966 he bought a new model, a 12-string 370, with which he continued to shine, as with that psychedelic solo in Eight Miles High or in the stupendous Younger Than Yesterday. Undoubtedly, McGuinn is the man who comes to mind when you think of the sound of a Rickenbacker.

Main model: Rickenbacker 370/12 de 12 cuerdas   

Great songs with a Rickenbacker: 360: Mr. Tambourine Man, I'll Feel A Whole Lot Better, Here Without You, The Bells Of Rhimney, Turn Turn Turn / 370: Eight Miles High, Why, Mr. Spaceman, So You Want to Be a Rock'n'Roll Star, Goin´ Back, Wasn’t Born To Follow

A key album: 360: Mr. Tambourine Man / 370: Younger Than Yesterday


Pete Townshend

When the Who were a singles group, with a sound, in the protagonist's own words, that was ‘Power Pop’, then the guitar that Pete Townshend held in his arms, while doing his famous windmill, was a Rickenbacker. He had several models, a 360 12-string with which he recorded his first singles like I Can't Explain and Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere, but the jewel in the crown is the Rickenbacker 1998 Rose Morris with which he recorded My Generation and the album of the same title, although he also used a 1997 and a 1993 12-string, guitars with which he also recorded A Quick One (the album) and all the 1966 singles such as I'm A Boy and Substitute. Townshend opted for the brand because they were great for playing chords, were the ones used by the Beatles, looked fantastic and were the perfect visual complement for a mod band fascinated with pop art (something Paul Weller would surely agree with).

Main model: Rickenbacker 1998 Rose Morris  

Great songs with a Rickenbacker: My Generation, The Kids Are Alright, I Can't Explain, Anyway Anyhow Anywhere, Out In The Streets, A Legal Matter, A Quick One, So Sad About Us, I'm A Boy, Happy Jack

A key album: My Generation


John Fogerty

The sound of the first two Creedence Clearwater Revival albums has a common denominator, John Fogerty's Rickenbacker 325 plugged into a Kustom amp; it's the sound of Suzie Q and Born On The Bayou. This guitar, which like so many others he chose because of the Beatles, was also the one he used at Woodstock and on his first appearance on Ed Sullivan. Although other guitars came later, Fogerty always had a special place for the 325 that also appears on his best records like Green River and Cosmo's Factory. When the band broke up in bitter circumstances in the early 70's Fogerty got rid of it, giving it to two 12 year old kids; but incredibly several decades later the guitar returned to his hands.

Main model: Rickenbaker 325   

Great songs with a Rickenbacker: Born On The Bayou, I Put A Spell On You, Up Around the Bend, Travelin Band, Suzie Q, Green River, Keep On Chooglin

A key album: Born On The Bayou


Mike Campbell

Both Mike Campbell and
Tom Petty were Byrds’ fans, so when the Heartbreakers guitarist saw an ad offering a 12 string Rickenbacker  for $200, he got behind the wheel and went to the seller’s house instantly. When he saw it he was disappointed as it was a 625 and not the 360 of his beloved Harrison and McGuinn. But since he had gone he offered the guy $150 and took it. It turned out that the Rickenbacker that he had acquired was the first 620 that had been manufactured, in fact a prototype 625. It would be with that guitar with which he composed, and played, Here Comes My Girl on the album that would turn them into stars, Damn The Torpedoes. It is the same one with which Petty appears on the cover and which is now on display at the Rock and Roll Museum in Cleveland. As he later said "without a doubt the best $150 I spent in my life".

Main model: Rickenbacker 625   

Great songs with a Rickenbacker: Here Comes My Girl, Listen To Her Heart, So You Want to Be a Rock & Roll Star

A key album: Damn The Torpedoes


Paul Weller

Paul Weller loved the early Who, so when he decided to switch from bass to guitar it was clear to him that what he wanted was a Rickenbacker. His first model was a 330, which he would take full advantage of in the band's first singles, In The City, All Around The World and This Is the Modern World. With his Rickenbacker 330 Fireglo came the band’s best moments, albums like All Mod Cons, Setting Sons or Sound Affects, as well as singles like Going Underground and Eton Rifles. When the Jam came to an end in 1982, Weller decided it was time to put the Rickenbacker aside. Still, to this day, there are those who yearn for the wonderful sound that Weller achieved with his first band and his most iconic guitar brand.

Main model: Rickenbacker 330   

Great songs with a Rickenbacker: In The City, All Around The World, Down In The Tube Station At Midnight, Mr. Clean, Billy Hunt, Strange Town, The Eton Rifles, Going Underground, Start!

A key album: All Mod Cons


Johnny Marr

Marr is another guitarist who is closely associated with Rickenbacker. Even though the Smiths’ guitarist played all kinds of guitars, his arpeggiated and jangling sound is totally related to this brand, even though mythical riffs like the one in This Charming Man, were made with a Telecaster and not with a Rick... But, in spite of everything, Marr decided to appear in the, now, mythical Top Of The Pops performance with his 330 12-string and a whole new generation was fascinated with the instrument.

Main model: Rickenbacker 330  

Great songs with a Rickenbacker: What Difference Does It Make, Reel Around The Fountain, The Headmaster Ritual, Ask, Bigmouth Strikes Again, Some Girls Are Bigger Than Others

A key album: The Queen Is Dead


Peter Buck

You could say that Peter Buck is ‘Marr's American brother’, and the man whose sound made a whole new generation of indie bands have Rickenbacker as their trademark. Buck had started playing a Telecaster in R.E.M. in 1980 but it was stolen, then he bought a Rickenbacker 360 but it was stolen again. It was then that he bought the black Rickenbacker 360 that can be heard on all the R.E.M. records and has accompanied him on all his tours. The sound of alternative music of the 80's was also this guitar that rang out on classics like Talk about The Passion and Fall On Me.

Main model: Rickenbacker 360  

Great songs with a Rickenbacker: Talk About the Passion, Sitting Still, Harborcoat, So. Central Rain, Fall On Me, The One I Love, Shiny Happy People, Man On The Moon

A key album: Murmur


Susana Hoffs

The Bangles were the most commercially successful group of the Paisley Underground scene of the mid 80s. Being a movement that had the Byrds as the main reference it was understandable that Susana Hoffs, the band’s rhythm guitarist, opted for a Rickenbacker, although she did so because of John Lennon. Their two main models were a 325 and its long scale variant, the 350 model. In 1984 the Bangles released their best album All Over the Place (where she appeared with the Rick on the cover) and caught the attention of Prince himself - who composed Manic Monday and made them world stars. Soon after came Walk Like An Egyptian and Hoffs and the Bangles found themselves on the cover of every newspaper. So much so that Rickenbacker decided to release a 350 model as a tribute to Hoffs.

Main model: Rickenbacker 350  

Great songs with a Rickenbacker: Hero Takes A Fall, Walk Like An Egyptian, Manic Monday, In Your Room

A key album: All Over The Place


Ed O’Brien

When Radiohead got a recording contract with EMI and had their first money, the first thing Ed O'Brien did was buy a Rickenbacker 360 Mapleglo. It was the guitar he loved the most, it was the guitar of the Beatles, Paul Weller, Johnny Marr and Peter Buck… so it was his dream guitar. That first guitar can be heard all over Radiohead’s first album, Pablo Honey, including those familiar arpeggios from the band's most famous song, Creep. O'Brien's relationship with Rickenbacker continued and he bought other models, mainly the 360, with which he appears on some of the biggest albums of recent decades like Ok Computer (those arpeggios on No Surprises and Let Down) and Kid A (on the beautiful How To Disappear Completely).

Main model: Rickenbacker 360  

Great songs with a Rickenbacker: Creep, Stop Whispering, My Iron Lung, Airbag, No Surprises, Let Down, How To Disappear Completely

A key album: Ok Computer