Rickenbacker Guitars: Out of the Frying Pan into the Fireglo

Jan 13, 2022

RICK-O-SOUND!! If any of you guitar geeks out there have Martin and Paul Kelly’s other book, Fender, the Golden Age: 1946–1970, then you’ll know the sort of quality I was expecting with their new book about Rickenbacker. It just showed up in the mail yesterday, and IT DOES NOT DISAPPOINT!

My friend Richard Smith wrote the other Rickenbacker book thirty years ago, and it was a fine effort for the time, but over the years the need for a new, truly comprehensive book was obvious. Martyn and Paul stepped up to the plate and hit a grand slam with this one, wow! This is the definitive history of the Rickenbacker guitar and amplifier company.

The massive book feels super deluxe. The photos are all top notch, and an incredible array of vintage photographs are reproduced, many for the first time and many you’ve seen before but in absolutely staggering quality. Most importantly, unlike every other book or book chapter or magazine article about Rickenbacker that has ever been published (and what piqued my interest the most about this project), these guys do include the typical Rickenbacker star power (the Beatles, the Who, the Rolling Stones, Geddy Lee, the Jam, Tom Petty, etc.), BUT only at the end of a very comprehensive book about the company’s early history, which was predominantly the story of Hawaiian and hillbilly musicians.

There is more information here about the pre-Beatles history of the company than has ever been attempted before. Pictures of Jerry Byrd, Ricky Nelson, Sam Cooke, Joe Edwards, Jimmy Bryant, the Kim Sisters, and many anonymous hillbilly musicians, if you’re into that sort of thing. It’s a feast for the eyes!

The other kudo I will give to these guys are the incredible array of guitar photographs. Pre-Beatles-era Rickenbacker “Spanish” guitars are very rare (they made tons of lap steels, but I’m speaking about the regular or “Spanish” instruments), as they didn’t make very many of their futuristic electric guitars before the Fab Four came along (if you think I’m exaggerating, just look at the production totals—in most cases, the pre-1964 “Spanish” instruments were made in quantities of less than fifteen or twenty per year, which exploded to hundreds and then thousands a year after the Fabs started playing Rickenbackers).

But somehow, these guys have managed to get hundreds upon hundreds of professionally shot photographs of these rare instruments—probably close to the total number of these guitars that still exist!

I was happy to contribute a few things here, and the “thanks” page is a virtual who’s who of the guitar world. It was my pleasure to contribute to such a quality project. Every page of this book, I kept saying to myself, “Okay, THIS is a PROPER book about Rickenbacker!” Just like Nacho’s “Pinecaster” book set that came out a few months ago, the quality sets it heads and shoulders above the rest.

If Rickenbacker guitars make your giblets twist even in the slightest, you should pick this one up. Nice work, fellas! And thanks for sending me a copy! What a treat!