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Author Topic:   Rickenbacher Dating
Bruce Hamilton

From: Vancouver BC Canada

posted 28 May 2001 02:52 PM     profile   send email     edit
A friend of mine just bought an old Rickenbacher off of an old gentleman last week and he is trying to find out what year it was built and what it is worth. As I have no knowledge concerning lap steels I thought I would check here for him. The guitar is solid black bakelite that sunbursts to a grey color in the center. It has six strings and the headstock has Rickenbacher Electro written on it(both are written horizontally). The ball ends of the strings are mounted in slots right in the bakelite at the rear end of the guitar. There does not appear to be any serial numbers on it.There are patent numbers on both sides of the magnets but I would assume that these would not include the serial number. The former owner claims the guitar was manufactured in 1946 but there are no obvious numbers on the instrument to confirm this. The guitar will probably be for sale when my friend can get an idea what a reasonable price would be for it.
Any help appreciated.

[This message was edited by Bruce Hamilton on 28 May 2001 at 09:26 PM.]

Ray Montee

From: Portland, OR, USA

posted 28 May 2001 03:19 PM     profile   send email     edit
I'm NOT the expert that many here on the Forum truly are.

My Rick had the serial number in the end of the tuning piece; stock or whatever it's called. It was like B-149 or whatever.

I'm told when the strings go thro' the actual guitar body (not a chrome endplate) it is prewar. The width of the pickup is another indicator.

Early models had a little octagon shaped knob for the volume control; flat in shape.

Hope this helps.

J D Sauser

From: Traveling, currently in Switzerland, soon to be either back in the States or on the Eastern part of Hispaniola Island

posted 29 May 2001 07:37 AM     profile   send email     edit
Note: I have posted similar information on this Forum before. This is my latest review on these instruments and while there still might be some "bugs", I think and hope it will help you identify better your instrument or any guitar you might consider for sale or purchase. However, I do not guarantee the information below (don't you come sue me! )

B-models where introduced in 1933/4. They where the company's second steel guitar model after the legendary "A"-model (aka. the "Fry-pan"). A Standard guitar version was also issued but with much less success.
As on the "Fry-pan" they all featured an electromagnetic "Horse-shoe-magnet"-pick-up, invented not by Mr. A. Rickenbacher, but his partner, Mr. Beauchamp. The company was issued a patent on the pick-up in 1937.
The body was entirely made of the world's first plastic; Urea-Formaldehyde (aka. "Bakelite"), black in color (much like the old telephones), a concept for which the company immediately filed and received a patent.
The neck was bolted onto the body. This was the first electric solid body instrument with this feature ever (a feature they seem to have forgotten to file a patent for... Oooops).

"PRE-WAR" MODELS (The first generation):
All pre-1940 (aka. pre-war) models have all of the following characteristics:

  • 1-1/2" wide pick-up plates/No frame around the pick-up (until 1944/45).
  • Bridge integrated in the body molding (until 1944/45)
  • Five cover plates are chrome plated brass (non-magnetic), not white nor celluloid.
  • No cover over key head.
  • Frets are not out lined by recessed white lines.
  • 1 or 2 controls: If two, they're located on opposite plates, not both on the treble side plate. If one (volume), chances are the knob will be of an octagonal shape (first two years). Starting 1940 (second genreation, see below) both controls on the treble side.
  • String through the body attach (until 1944/45 and again in the 1950's)
  • Small horizontal "Rickenbacher Electro (RF) Los Angeles" logo on key head (Note the spelling: it's Rickenbacher).
  • 1/4" plug on facing the player. (Starting 1940 it's on the other side, facing the audience).
  • Edges of the body (corpus) are not rounded but some have a slight 45 degree bevel finish (seems hand made).
  • Earliest models may have no mention of any US-patent of metallic parts. (PAT. NO. 1881229 on the bakelite body on all "B"-models).
    Later and until August 10th 1937, the little tabs or "ears" on each side of the pick-up will bear a "PAT PEND.".
    From 08/10/'37 on a patent number replaces the "PAT PEND." stamping.

"WAR TIME" MODELS (The second generation):
From 1940 to 1944/45, war time material shortages as well as economical considerations may have forced Rickenbacher to painting the 5 cover plates (however some have been sold with the plated finish):

  • White body plates. Most are enameled steel and others are of white celluloid:
  • Tone and Volume controls on treble side, stacked vertically.
  • The body style changed; the body's edges are now rounded (from the molding).
  • The neck is a little thicker and re-inforced (an invisible feature) and has white outlined frets (paint filled grooves on each side of each fret).
  • Most importantly probably, the formula of the bakelite was changed as the early one was so brittle that bodies would pop, chip and/or break during the manufacturing process.
  • The 1/4" jack now faces the audience.

These are still quite desirable guitars, as they still feature the much acclaimed 1-1/2" wide magnet plate pick-up (original design).

"POST-WAR" MODELS (The last generation):

  • Starting 1945 a smaller pick-up was introduced (1-1/4" wide).
  • Pick-up mounted with a metal frame (plated) surrounding all of the pick-up. This frame came into the way or the originally integrated bridge, so bridges are now a separate "screw-on" part. (The dumbest change IMHO).

It has always been said that the pick-up with the 1-1/4" wide magnet plates did not have the sound.
(While I think that the new pick-up it's still a very decent sounding one, I agree, it's not the real deal.It lost much that characteristic Rick-sound. However, I don't think that it's the size of the magnet plates that really made the difference but the much smaller winding of the bobbin and the "screw-on" bridge.)
Probably in order to reduce the risk of body breakage, Rickenbacker also quit the string-thru attach design and introduced a plated metal tail piece (much like on semi-acoustic Jazz-guitars or Dobro's). You have to understand that bakelite is a very hard and abrasive to machine material, requiring tool to be re-sharpened very, very often.

Soon thereafter the logo changed to a "T"-shaped one, bearing the new spelling of the company RICKENBACKER, vertically.
The word is, that the company wanted to set itself apart from it's "German" roots of the name (funny however is, that ol' Adolph Rickenbacher and Beauchamp were both of Swiss background...).

In the 1950's the logo changed again, to a vertically mounted and spelled arrow shaped logo.
Some of these latest models had a little cover over the head stock... they were called BD-models... the "D" standing for "Deluxe" (whoaw!).
But most interestingly, on it's last models, the company returned to the much preferred "string thru the body attach" approach.

There have also been some brownish bakelite models made for a third party company. They had all the features of a BD-model, just in a different color, much similar to some old bakelite radio cabinets of that time. The plates were painted in a gold tone. These were called the BRONSON model and sold without the Rickenbacker label.

On a final note:
In all generations, 7 string models are rarer than 6 string and also considered the most desirable for their versatility and playability. 7 string models are built out of a 6 string body and neck, Thus the string spacing on 7 string models is narrower, which makes slants a little more difficult.
Rickenbacker has even used 6 string necks for some of their 8 string models, which are really "no-slanters" (IMNSHO) as the string spacing becomes very narrow.
10 string models were built on special order only. The company says to have no records of any of these. Still, they do exist. The neck was solid cast aluminum and the string spacing similar as on a B7.

When evaluating an instrument, please keep in mind that the early Rickenbacher company was a young enterprise in a brand new industry. Parts as control knobs, screws and especially tuning machines seem to have been put on these guitars as they came available... Also they did use some old parts on early newer generation guitars. Some of this, I suspect, at the personal request of pro-players too.
So, don't be blended by a shiny set of plated body cover plates. Look at the body first; check the edges, the frets and the orientation of the plug, then the pick-up size and style and any patent information. Second generation and up models tend to have a glossier black. That's probably because of the changed bakelite formula. Check the string attach, but remember that the late 1950's models had "string-thru-the-body" attach too (but won't have the integrated bridge). Even some late post-war model may have left the factory with an impressive 1-1/5" pu (I haven't seen one yet, but after all I have seen, it wouldn't surprise me).

I am in the process of collecting digital photos of B and A series Rickenbacher lap steels and all information (catalog copies) possible. If you can take pictures of your guitar(s) please e-mail them to me together with serial number info.
All this information shall help me help you better.

Thanks! ... J-D.

[This message was edited by J D Sauser on 29 May 2001 at 06:11 PM.]

Andy Volk

From: Boston, MA

posted 29 May 2001 09:59 AM     profile   send email     edit
Many thanks, JD, for taking the time and trouble to post this! As a fellow Bakelite fanatic, this is worth more to me than Richard Smith's entire book on Rickebac(k)her.

[This message was edited by Andy Volk on 29 May 2001 at 10:01 AM.]

Bruce Hamilton

From: Vancouver BC Canada

posted 29 May 2001 12:09 PM     profile   send email     edit
JD Thanks ever so much for the information. Its much appreciated.
Andy Alford

From: Alabama

posted 31 May 2001 02:30 AM     profile   send email     edit
Remember that there were Rickenbachers built after the war with mixed parts like pre war bodies and name plates combined with after war pickups.I have played one of these and it really had the Rick.moan that people want in these bakelites.
Herb Steiner

From: Cedar Valley, Travis County TX

posted 31 May 2001 11:31 PM     profile   send email     edit
JD, I own one of the anomalies to your list.

Everything about it says "pre-August 37," except that there are two control knobs on the right cover plate. Phonojack facing player, "pat pend." on the tab, bridge molded onto guitar face, knobs, etc. are all correct. Just the darn control panel.

Herb's Steel Guitar Pages
Texas Steel Guitar Association

Mark Durante

From: Illinois

posted 01 June 2001 03:56 AM     profile   send email     edit
Great job JD.
I have noticed on the Rickenbacker website of 1930's catalogs that the Rickenbacher and Rickenbacker spellings are both used even on the oldest literature. Is this just peculiar to the catalogs or do some of the prewar guitars also have the Rickenbacker spelling?
Gary Anwyl

From: Palo Alto, CA

posted 01 June 2001 07:14 PM     profile   send email     edit
Nice job JD. I have a "wartime-era" Rick with the white celluloid panels. There are a couple of things I have been wondering about it. Maybe this is a good time to bring them up.

- All of the panels are celluloid except the panel with the control knobs. That panel is metal and painted white. Do all the celluloid panel Ricks have the control knobs mounted on a metal plate?

- Was there a distinct "celluloid panel" era and a "white metal panel" era, or were celluloid and metal panel Ricks produced at the same time?

- My Rick has a strap button on the end of the body. It's right where an endpin would be if it were an acoustic guitar. The first time I saw it I thought "Sh*t! Some idiot ruined this vintage lap steel by stucking a strap button on it." Then I checked other photos and noticed that they came with a strap button. I also noticed some National cast metal lap steels also have a strap button. Why did they install a strap button? I suppose it would protect the body if you were going to prop it up on it's end and lean it against something, but that doesn't seem like a wise thing to do.

I hope other Rick owners can chime in with their thoughts and observations.

Gary Anwyl

From: Palo Alto, CA

posted 03 June 2001 06:25 PM     profile   send email     edit
To respond to Mark Durante question about the spelling of Rickenbacker. According to Smith's Complete History of Rickenbacker book, the spelling "Rickenbacker" was used in all of the sales literature, but the "Rickenbacher" spelling was used on the nameplates on the instruments until the 50's.

Be warned that there are some major errors in the dating of the catalogs on the Rickenbacker website at Select History->Literature in the menu to get to the catalogs.

The catalogs marked as 1931 and 1932 are probably from 1934. According to the Smith book, in 1934 the Ro-Pat-In corporation changed its name to Electro String Instruments Corp and started refering to the instruments as "Rickenbacker Electros". The "1932" catalog says "Electro String Instruments Corp" on it and the "1931" catalog refers to Rickenbacker Electro. Also according to the Smith book Rickenbacker didn't start producing lap steels until mid-1932 and only 13 were sold the first year, so it is unlikely that the brochure is from 1931.

The catalog dated as "1933" is probably from the late 40's - it contains a post-war Bakelite Rick!

[This message was edited by Gary Anwyl on 23 September 2006 at 12:05 PM.]

Andy Alford

From: Alabama

posted 03 June 2001 06:38 PM     profile   send email     edit
I am enjoying reading all the post.My problem is trying to figure out the Rickenbacher bakelite facts from the fiction.This is a story that may never end.I am in the dark.
Gary Anwyl

From: Palo Alto, CA

posted 03 June 2001 07:38 PM     profile   send email     edit
Two more erroneous dates on the Rickenbacker catalog page. The "1934" catalog shows the Model 59 which was introduced in late '37 or early '38. The "1935" catalog shows the Vibrola Spanish Guitar which was introduced in December '37.
Jim Landers

From: Spokane, Wash.

posted 03 June 2001 08:02 PM     profile   send email     edit
Do any of you guys know for sure what year the first Bakelites were made? I had always heard the first ones came out in 1935, but recently I have heard they may have made some in '34 or even earlier. I have number C18 which is obviously one of the very first, and I am curious as to what year it may have actually been built. I'd appreciate your educated opinions on this.


Gary Anwyl

From: Palo Alto, CA

posted 03 June 2001 11:06 PM     profile   send email     edit
According to the Smith book Rickenbacker began commercial shipments of the bakelite lap steels in July '35. In '34 they had started development of their first bakelite instrument, an electric violin.

The Smith book seems like a pretty credible source. He seems to have had access to the Rickenbacker archive.

For the July '35 shipping date he quotes from a letter by Adolph Rickenbacher. He also cites some correspondence between Rickenbacker and the Bakelite Corporation in late '34 and a patent search on bakelite instruments that was done by Rickenbacker in early '35.

Jim Landers

From: Spokane, Wash.

posted 04 June 2001 11:39 PM     profile   send email     edit
Thanks Gary.
wayne yakes md

From: denver, colorado

posted 11 June 2001 04:10 PM     profile   send email     edit
Don't think I ever "dated" Ricky. Don't know any guys who would admit to it!
J D Sauser

From: Traveling, currently in Switzerland, soon to be either back in the States or on the Eastern part of Hispaniola Island

posted 13 June 2001 05:56 AM     profile   send email     edit
Herb Steiner. Regarding your guitar's panels: What may have happened on Herb your guitar can only be guessed. The fact that it has the plug facing the player is comforting to know as it points towards a pre-war body... How are the edges of your instrument? Evenly rounded or slightly beveled? If it's NOT rounded we'd have 2 indications that it in fact is a pre-war body... Now, how about the neck? Grooves? No grooves?
My theory would be, that I could very well understand that some player came up with the idea of putting two controls on the treble side (as Rick later did). Maybe he had an early one with just the volume control and wanted to add a tone control after hearing what others could do with it... to put it out of the picking hand made sense. But that's all just guesses.

Now, about Gary Anwyl's celluloid plates... They used to get brittle (light sensitive) and break.
It might have been replaced with a metal plate as it's the most likely one to break as the knobs stick out and may have been pushed in, breaking the celluloid plate... But that again just an other guess...

I can not yet make a statement as to which period the celluloid plates where used. I would however guess it was war-times (late '41 to '45) as it would make sense because of material shortages.

As for the first "official" year of "B"-models: All I've found point towards 1934 at the earliest.

The "Vibrola" was a feature ADDED to the Spanish guitar model. I can't state any years but I believe the basic Spanish guitar model was introduced before 1937.

Thanks for the nice comments.

... J-D.

Buck Dilly

From: Branchville, NJ, USA

posted 17 June 2001 11:01 PM     profile   send email     edit
If anyone has a picture of the Bakelite Violin, would you mind emailing it to me?
Gary Anwyl

From: Palo Alto, CA

posted 17 June 2001 11:25 PM     profile   send email     edit
Buck, if you follow the Rickenbacker catalog link in my earlier post and look at the 1936 catalog you'll see a picture of the Electro Violin on one of the pages. It's a pretty radical design - it's basically just a neck and chin rest.
Image link

[This message was edited by Gary Anwyl on 23 September 2006 at 12:01 PM.]

J D Sauser

From: Traveling, currently in Switzerland, soon to be either back in the States or on the Eastern part of Hispaniola Island

posted 19 June 2001 06:59 AM     profile   send email     edit
.... and some 50 years later... some very revolutionary Japanese company "invented" something just like it
posted 19 June 2001 11:14 AM           edit
I dated a Rickenbacker once....she drove me nuts and spent all my cash. Wish I could remember her first name though....

Steve Honum

From: LosAngelesCa

posted 13 July 2001 02:23 PM     profile     edit
How rare are the 7 string bakelite Ricks? What is the tuning peg configuration on 7 strings? 3 on the bass side and 4 on the treble side? Individual tuners or mounted on a plate? 7 pole pieces on the pickup or 6? If a 6 string had been modified to a 7, I guess it would be pretty obvious?? I appreciate the information on bakelites that you guys provide, especially pointing out the errors on Rickenbakers own site regarding their catalog dates.
Haere mai,
Steve H.
C Dixon

From: Duluth, GA USA

posted 13 July 2001 03:03 PM     profile   send email     edit
I own a prewar bakelite Rick 7 string.

1. 4 keys on the head stock away from the player.

2. 3 keys on the players side of the head stock.

3. Keys are of the "butterbean" type. Chromed.

4. Keys are mounted a 4 key strip in the front and a 3 key strip on the back.

5. The pickup has 7 pole pieces.

6. 7 stringers are rare indeed. They manufactured 6 stringers 10-1 over 7 stringer.

8. The plug is on the players side.

9. It has a tone AND a volume control on the the chrome plate away from the player. This is NOT the way it was built. Some owner removed the single tone control and plugged the hole with a chromed metal button and drilled two additional holes moving the original tone control to one of these drilled holes and installing a volume control in the other new hole.

10. There is a "patent pend" stamp on the plate that supports the horseshoe magnet, so I know the guitar was built before August 10, 1937. As to when, I have NOT a clue.

11. The knobs look like old Philco radio knobs. Not the knobs that probably came with the guitat I don't imagine.

I paid 925 dollars for it about 5 years ago. I would not take anything for it, unless I was desparate. Tom Brumley tried ever way in the world to trade his for mine. No WAY.


Steve Honum

From: LosAngelesCa

posted 13 July 2001 03:19 PM     profile     edit
Thanks Carl.
Haere mai,
Steve H.
Greg Simmons

From: Edmonton, Alberta, Canada

posted 13 July 2001 05:22 PM     profile   send email     edit
here's a 7 string Rick on eBay right now

missing one tuner and a second is non-original...

Greg Simmons
Custodian of the Official Sho~Bud Pedal Steel Guitar Website

Bob Snelgrove

From: san jose, ca

posted 19 December 2001 06:15 PM     profile   send email     edit
Here is a pretty good Ricky site:


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