Field Segment: Rickenbacker
HOST: The electric guitar has dominated the sound of American popular music for several generations. We're at the Rickenbacker guitar headquarters to check out some examples from this California company's private museum. HOST: There are about 200 instruments in this room, but it all starts when we go right back to the beginning with this odd-shaped banjo-looking instrument called the frying pan. Tell me about that.
Well, it might look like a banjo, but it's actually one of the first electric guitars and also the first solid-body electric guitar. In 1931, Adolph Rickenbacker and George Beauchamp formed a partnership to build electric guitars exclusively. The acoustic guitar is great, but if you're trying to play a solo and the rest of the band consists of trumpets and saxophones, let alone a piano and a drum kit, you're lost. You can't hear a note. By using an electromagnetic pickup, they were able to boost the volume so you could play a solo that would be just as loud as the loudest trumpeter. The pickup is called a horseshoe magnet pickup. You take two horseshoe magnets and put them end-to-end and the strings pass through that. That's the electromagnetic field, and that's how it's made louder. The 1931 prototype shown here is made of wood. The production models were made of cast aluminum, and that's how they got the nickname "the frying pan." It's a Hawaiian guitar. Most of the early Rickenbacker electric guitars were used for playing Hawaiian music. They're called lap steels because they're played with a steel bar. As far as we know, they probably made at least a thousand of them before the Second World War. HOST: What would you say the value would be?
One in really good condition would sell from between $3,000 and $3,500 in a retail shop. There are still lap steel players that swear by them and consider them to have the best tone. All these years later, that's what they want. HOST: So now we jump up a couple decades. Rickenbacker's still doing great innovations and they have a guitar at this point that becomes an industry standard. Tell me about that.
In 1964, an early version of the 12-string shown here was given to George Harrison shortly before the Beatles recorded A Hard Day's Night. And he also used that guitar in the film Hard Day's Night. (opening chord plays) That's the most recognizable opening chord in the history of rock 'n' roll. Electric guitarists all over the world were scrambling like crazy to figure out, "What is that guitar? How do I get that sound?" And the list of guitarists that were influenced by Harrison's use of the Rickenbacker 360/12 in the movie reads like a "who's who" in rock 'n' roll: Pete Townshend of The Who, Paul Kantner of Jefferson Airplane, Carl Wilson of the Beach Boys, and especially Roger McGuinn of The Byrds. That's the jingling, whining sound that you hear in "Turn, Turn, Turn." & Turn, turn, turn, turn... & This is a 1965 Rickenbacker 360/12. It's virtually identical to the one that George Harrison used in the Beatles' 1966 U.S. tour. And if you wanted to have one of the those... HOST: And I do.
Well, it's going to take more than $20,000 if you're buying one in a vintage guitar retail shop. HOST: Well, it has been great learning about all these fabulous guitars and the birth of electric guitars all from you. I appreciate it.
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