Read the full article
This article was originally published in issue #14
To read the article in its entirety, view the digital magazine
Dare to be different? Rickenbacker's 650 Colorado is a departure from the Rickys we all know and love. Michael Cass well get adventurous.
Most Rickenbackers I have come across have been a bit of a handful to play and to get modern day guitar tones from. But that is part of their appeal. They make you work for it and deliver a vibey tone that has certainly had its place in music history through every decade since the '60s, when the Beatles (among many others) gave them an iconic status. Probably to me, the most iconic model would be the 12 string, (reviewed in issue four - Ed) which anybody would forgive for the close string spacing and hard work neck, because it's a Ricky 12 string, sounds fantastic, is all over the Fab Four's early work and was the unforgettable sound of the Byrds, in the hands of Roger McGuinn.
Rickenbacker guitars certainly have their fans, and you have to respect the ethic behind the Californian company. Where most manufacturers churn out huge numbers per month, Rickenbacker makes only modest quantities, ensuring perfect fit and finish which, combined with their highly individualistic styling, means they are always a bit special and can be rather hard to find.
The 650 Colorado is a bit of an oddity in the range. It is clearly, visually, a Rickenbacker but is a much more modern feeling and sounding guitar than the more famous 330 and 360 models. The neck is a good part of the reason why. It has a wide, fast-playing shape that doesn't restrict shred, Blues, Funk, or Jazz style playing. Whereas doing a Blues gig with other Rickenbacker models might be a stretch, the 650 could easily rise to the occasion, if you could.
On our sample, the fret work was superb and string bending was effortless. The wide string spacing makes it all comfortable, and if you have big sausage fingers, then you will like the feel of this guitar. Specifically, you end up with 4.5mm of extra space at the 12th fret over most other guitars you have played. You also 24 frets and a solid maple neck through body construction making the guitar very resonant. Resonance means the two mini humbuckers don't have to work too hard to get some nice, almost P90 sounding, tones. With careful use of the gain stage from your amp, and the volume pots on the guitar, it's all there, giving some nice Rock, Blues and Country tones. These pickups have a real sweetness to them, which surprised me, because other Ricky models I have tried haven't had that quality in their tones - an amazing jangle, yes, but sweetness, no. A three way selector switch selects and blends the pick ups, much like on a Les Paul, and is nicely positioned for quick pick up changes mid-solo.
If you do have big hands, you are probably a big man/women/alien/other and this guitar has a small (but perfectly formed) body, which visually might not be the best combination when on stage in front of your screaming fans. The Rickenbacker website describes the wood glued either side of the maple strip as 'hardwood', which is a bit non-specific but it looks a bit like Alder. Overall the 650 gives a warm but clear tone so the "hardwood" side of things is doing its job. It does seem curious that the company doesn't identify the wood used in an age where tonewood snobbery has become a real artform!
This is a good guitar that deserves a serious look if you don't want to be part of the Strat, Tele, Les Paul gang. The tones in the 650 Colorado could certainly dip into each of those guitars' characteristics, depending on you as a player. We guitarists are a conservative breed, though, and a blueser is always going to buy a Strat, a country picker is always going to buy a Tele, and a rocker is always going to buy a Les Paul. It's the unwritten guitar law! So where does that leave the 650 Colorado? I guess this is the guitar for all you law breakers out there. And if standing out from the crowd matters (which it does) then this is certainly a guitar that lets you do it while still being capable of producing a lot of mainstream sounds.