RICKENBACKER: Guitar Pioneers of the Electric Guitar
By Martin Kelly and Paul Kelly
Published by Firefly Books, October 2023
336 Pages – Hardcover
When I learnt about this new book on the history of Rickenbacker guitars, I jumped at the chance to review it; back in the 90s I dated a talented rock guitarist who had a stunning 12-string “Ricky” that I would polish after each gig (so I could brag “I’m with the band”…LOL). It was the Roger McGuinn version with a sunburst design on the front – it was gorgeous to look at and to listen to. I knew that Rickenbacker was a prestigious company and some of the best musicians played them, along with their Gibsons, Fenders and Gretsches.As the promo page from publisher Firefly states “electric guitars are not simply musical instruments. At their best, they are iconic works of art, a marriage of form and function that has come to symbolize the very essence of 20th century pop culture.” Most fans and players recognize Fender and Gibson as brand leaders in the music industry, but Rickenbacker, a small family-run business with roots stretching back to the very invention of the electric guitar, remains one of the most important makers for nearly 100 years of the company’s history from its founding in 1931 to the present day. George Harrison favoured his Rickenbacker throughout the Beatles era then through his post-Beatles career.Iconic artists such as Roger McGuinn, Jimi Hendrix, Geddy Lee, Randy Bachman, Susanna Hoffs, Tom Petty, Paul McCartney, Paul Weller….the list goes on but the history of the Rickenbacker company itself is even more impressive. The story begins in Los Angeles during the roaring twenties when two young men, George Beauchamp and Adolph Rickenbacher (yes, that’s the original spelling), met and ended up revolutionizing music by electrifying it and changing how we heard the sound for ever. Back then, guitars were part of bands and orchestras but the sound they made acoustically was muffled and hard to hear over the brass and percussion sections. George and Adolph went through many amplification ideas and experiments such as attaching sound horns or inserting diaphragm discs into the body of the guitar before they decided upon electrifying the instrument to offer greatly increased volume and a “crispness” to the playing that cut through other instruments.
This book is an encyclopedic history to educate and entertain both guitar collectors, players and enthusiasts, and those who simply love music. The rarely seen 1920s and 30s blueprints of newly invented electronic instruments are fascinating, and the vintage photos show the development of Rickenbackers over the past nine decades. Authors Paul Kelly (below) and Martin Kelly (2nd below)……have done such deep-diving in their research that this book is crammed with photos – it’s a must-have for anyone who appreciates pop, rock, blues, punk, grunge, even big band and classical sounds.
Available online from Amazon or Indigo and all fine bookstores.