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This article was originally published in issue #4
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12-string electric guitars are both rare and an acquired taste. But when you need a 12-string the first choice has to be a Rickenbacker - the magical sound behind so many hits. But what today's Rickys like? We handed Tom Quayle a brand new 330/12 and watched his smile grow wider and wider...
It's that definitive sound - the Rickenbacker 12-string - that drove so many Beatles hits and, later, gave The Byrds their unique jangle. Since the '60s the Rickenbacker mystique has been maintained as each generation of guitar players has discovered the Ricky 12-string's unique tonality. The model we were loaned for review, a brand new 330/12, was clearly a beautifully built instrument that was a pleasure to play from the moment I picked it up.
The Rickenbacker's body is built from maple with a chambered upper bout giving it a stunning acoustic quality, accentuated by a lovely carved 'F-hole'. The design features some lovely contours and feels balanced and solid. The set in neck is all maple with a rosewood fret board, 24 vintage style frets and a very stable dual truss rod design. The 10" radius, 24 ¾" scale length and slim profile give the neck a seriously comfortable feel for long barre chord sessions or more complex chordal efforts. Electrics are represented by two Rickenbacker high output pickups, complemented by a tone and volume pot for each. There is a three-way selector switch giving neck, bridge and blend combinations of the two pickups. To finish the picture there is a fifth tone pot designed to adjust the volume of the neck pickup in relation to a pre-selected bridge pickup lead volume setting. It can also function as a bass/treble equalisation control. The actual use of this control can be a little confusing and I found myself using my ears more than my brain to discover its best application. The manual explains some common uses if you get stuck, however.
One of the main problems associated with all 12 string guitars is accommodating the tuning pegs. Rickenbacker has tilted every octave string's tuner by 90 degrees to allow easy access, whilst keeping the headstock a reasonable size. It's a great design and works very well. Out of the case, tuning took a while to get perfect on our sample, but once we were there the guitar stayed in tune well thanks to the choice of high quality Schaller tuners. A six-way adjustable bridge finishes off the design featuring saddles for each string and the famous 'R' tail-piece for easy re-stringing. Visually the design is superb - vintage but modern, classic but exciting!
Acoustically the Rickenbacker is everything you'd hope for. It rings with lots of sustain and has that archetypal jangle with a balanced tonal range. The set-up was perfect and I never struggled to play even complex chords with each note ringing out clearly across the neck. Plugged in, I was in chordal heaven as the octave strings gave a beautiful chorus-like effect with superb intonation and sparkle. We only demoed the Rickenbacker with the clean tone of our Blackstar Series One 100 and the bridge pickup had a bite and clarity that never became harsh. The neck pickup was warm and fat but still retained that top end jangle that you want from a guitar intended for chordal playing. A huge variety of tones can be achieved using the volume and tone controls for each pickup and once the fifth control has been brought into the equation you can really start to dial in an individual tone. For a 12-string, this is a very versatile instrument and it rewards tonal experimentation.
I was really inspired by this guitar. It was asking me to take it away and write beautiful chordal sequences just to hear that lovely 12-string tone. It's certainly aimed at a niche market and 12-strings are not for everyone. However, I urge you to try one of these instruments, as I'm sure it will inspire and excite your compositional urges. I loved it and if you're after a 12-string and it has to be the real deal then this Rickenbacker is the only way to go!