Monday, April 25, 2011

1981 Rickenbacker 4001 Bass

Buenos dias, amigos!

I grew up aspiring to play bass and listening to Rush and Yes, so it was inevitable that I would eventually end up with a Rickenbacker 4001.

The original series of Rickenbacker 4001 basses were introduced in 1961. They have the distinctive body shape that is shared with the other 4000 series basses, and you have seen some of rock’s greats play these, including Geddy Lee, Chris Squire, Paul McCartney and Lemmy from Motorhead.

The 4001 is a solid body neck-through bass. Well, kind of. There were a few years in the 1970s when they has set necks. There have been a few other variations through the years, such as 6-string and short scale versions (not to mention the stripped-down 4001S), but for the most part these were sold as 4-string standard scale basses.

The 4001 bass has a bound neck with the curlicue headstock tip, signature triangular inlays and Rickenbacker trussrod cover. Again, there are exceptions. The 4001s necks are not bound and get dot inlays instead. All of them got the dual trussrod system “for added strength and adjustability”. Heh. Mine had Schaller tuners, which I believe are standard for these.

The electronics are a little bit different. There are two pretty hot single coil pickups, a selector switch, two volume and two tone knobs. But, the way they are wired is where things get whacky. Rickenbacker installed a capacitor into the bridge pickup to suck out the bass tone, and I guess the idea of this was to fit in with the Rick-O-Sound feature.

Rick-O-Sound was a stereo output effect that allowed the player to divide the pickup signals and send them two different amps. Ideally this would send the bridge signal to a guitar amp and the neck signal to a bass amp. The output jack plate on these basses has a jack for a stereo guitar cord (for "Rick-O-Sound"), and a jack for normal mono output. This is all academic for me. I do not know anyone that has tried this effect.

Production of the 4001 ended in 1981 when the 4003 model was introduced. The 4003 is pretty much the same bass but with a few improvements, including:

1. An improved truss rod system. The 4003 still uses dual truss rods, but no has nuts at both ends of the neck.

2. The 4003 has no capacitor on the bridge pickup. This allows full tone from the bridge pickup which is pretty tinny on 4001 bases.

If you are dying to get a new 4001, you can still get them. In recent years, the 4001 has been re-issued as the 4001C64 and 4001C64S. A vintage re-issue, I guess you could call them.

Well, my experience with the Rickenbacker 4001 was not so super, but I should have known better.

When I used to haunt Albert Molinaro’s guitar shop back in the 1980s, I would mess around with the Rickenbackers, and he was loathe to sell me one. I had bought a few jazz basses from him over the years and he knew what I liked. Maybe I should have listened to him.

The one we are looking at is a 1981 Rickenbacker 4001 bass guitar in very good original condition. There is no repair or modification history that I am aware of.

The original Fireglo finish has aged beautifully. There are dings, and finish checking as shown, but it really has the right vintage look to it. It has never been abused by any stretch of the imagination.

The electronics are in great shape and both pickups have pretty even output. The pots and jack are nice and quiet too. As I said, I never tried the Rick-O-Sound, but I am not feeling too left out.

The original hardware is still in good shape, with some light tarnishing. Amazingly nobody ever installed a Badass bridge on this bass.

My repair guy (the best in the South Bay, IMO) was able to get the neck set-up ok (with maybe a bit of bitching about the truss rods and the bridge) and it probably plays as well as it did when it was new. The frets and fingerboard are in really good shape and there are no unseemly bends or lumps to it.

This all sounds good, but when it came to playing this bass, it just did not work for me.

For starters, I hate the tone of this bass. Had I known about the capacitor, I would have bypassed it (or installed a push/pull pot), so I could coax a little more bass out of the bridge pickup.

My other problem with the 4001 is its ergonomics. I was into Fenders for far too long before I got ahold of the Rick, and I never could get comfortable with it. I am cured, and don’t feel the need to buy another.

If you are looking for an original series Rickenbacker 4001, plan on spending around $1500 to $2000 to pick one up. But try one out first before you buy, as you may not be happy with what you end up with.



  1. So I take it that this one is long gone, eh?

  2. I hear ya Rex. I grew up a Geddy fanatic, and HAD to have a Ric. I still think they are the coolest looking basses out there, but when I finally got a 4003, I hated it. The ergos are just horrible to those of us used to Fender and Musicman.

  3. Yea, Corey, long gone. But not forgotten.

  4. Over the years, I have acquired some really nice basses.
    Like the new Warwick thumb 4 I bought over 29years ago, which I rarely pick up. Or the '98 Fender American deluxe jazz, which I bought new,and don't like. I have a beautiful '98 jap sunburnt P bass, which I added red tortoise shell pick guard, and ash trays to simulate a '62.

    My favorite to grab for a gig? My '94 Peavey Fury. $129 from an Atlanta pawn shop. I had to go to Wal-Mart to buy a screwdriver and tape measure, take it apart in the parking lot, then go back into the store for a suitcase to bring it home wrapped in dirty clothes on the plane. I love it. It now wears a Seymour Duncan quarter pounder,new pots with better values,and a Badass bridge. It's been my go to for gigging.

    Recently, the girls in my band wanted to do a CD. Six originals. I asked what bass or basses I should bring to the studio, and they wanted my '98 Martin B-15 mahogany piezo acoustic, and my '83 Rickenbacker 4003. We would up doing half the songs with each bass. I can get by with many different basses live I suppose, but in a studio envirenment, these two really shine. Hearing the playback, I knew these were the best choice. I rarely play the Martin live, but do enjoy the Rick a lot, both for the playability, and tone. I bought that Rick over 20 yrs ago, from newspaper want ad for $500, just cause the price was right.
    I consider myself fortunate to own such a quality instrument today.
    Mine is jetglow, with only one spot on the front of the lower horn, like a sticker was glued to it. Original case too!
    Sorry to make a short story long, but it tells how I feel,about my Rick. Probably the one after my Peavey to grab for the next fun show.
    We do light country/rock, sing along, kid songs, family stuff, so we aren't a loud band, really.