The model 4000 was not only Rickenbacker’s first foray into the electric-bass market, it was decidedly different from Fender’s Precision – the original electric bass. Beyond frets, four strings, and their role in a musical combo, they have little in common.
In the 1950s, F.C. Hall forged Rickenbacker into a modern guitar manufacturer. Striving to avoid having its instruments look, play, or sound like those from any other builder, he enlisted German luthier Roger Rossmeisel, who delivered several key elements. “Features like neck-through construction made us unique,” Hall said in a 1993 interview with VG. While the P-Bass’ aesthetics have evolved, the lines of the 4000, including its “cresting wave” bass-bout horn, unique headstock shape, and frets clear of the body, have always been standard. Early examples of the 4000 are finished in variants of Rickenbacker’s Fireglo finish (which became available in 1960) and typically have gold-backed Lucite pickguards.
Sonically, Rickenbackers are known for their defined, sharp sound. Construction certainly plays a role; when played with a thick pick and round-wound strings, Ricks evoke a piano-like tone that is unique and recognizable (just ask Paul McCartney or Chris Squire).
While its two-pickup cousins proved more popular in the long run, the Rickenbacker 4000 set the pace as the company established its niche.
This article originally appeared in Vintage Guitar Classics No. 1 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.