Monday, December 27, 2010

George Harrison's Rickenbacker Model 360/12C63

The 12 string guitar had its origin in Italy as a double course instrument commonly known as the baroque guitar. This instrument had 10 strings.. A variation was the chitarra battente, which was a 12 string instrument. The legendary Blues musician Leadbelly was said to have ordered a custom built 12 string Stella made by Italian luthier Fulvio Pardini, who worked for the Oscar Schmidt Company.

On the other side of the world, in Mexico and South America, double course instruments, such as the bandola, tiple, cuatro were very popular.

Before amplification, the idea of doubling strings (called courses) was a method of increasing the volume of an instrument.


There were a handful of artists in the blues era that embraced the 12 string guitar, such as Blind Willie McTell, Blind Boy Fuller and the Reverend Gary Davis. This carried on to the folk era. Pete Seeger used a 12 string guitar as did Joni Collins, Barry McGuire and others.

Reverend Gary Davis was a legend to many of the folk artists, who befriended him. The powerful sound of his guitar was very desirable during those days.

The 12 string guitar did not become a part of rock until the Beatles came along.

 Not only were the boys from Liverpool prolific songwriters, they were also consummate gear-heads.

John Lennon was known for playing his little Rickenbacker 325.

Harrison seemed to be into Gretsch gear. He played Jet Stars, Tennesseans and finally the double cutaway Country Gentleman. But the real head-turner was his Rickenbacker 360/12C63.

Back in February of 1964, The Beatles came to the USA for three concerts and to make an appearance on the Ed Sullivan show.

Francis Hall, commonly mentioned as F.C. Hall was CEO of a California company known as Rickenbacker Guitars. He had been impressed with the Beatles enormous popularity and wanted his company's instruments to be known as the Beatles guitar.

Prior to the New York trip, Mr. Hall had asked his design team to come up with a 12 string version of the six string Rickenbacker model 360.  Hall had noted the interest in the 12 string during the folk era and thought it may become a cross-over instrument in rock music. This model and other popular Rickenbacker instruments were designed by the legendary Roger Rossmeisl during his tenure with the company. The result was the 360/12C63 string model.

Several years ago, I participated on the Rickenbacker forum on Liszt, alt.guitar.rickenbacker/, which is now on the RIC web page.) John Hall, the son of Francis Hall, has taken over Rickenbacker and was posting almost daily on the forum.

I asked about Rickenbacker's unique 12 string headstock. Mr. Hall stated there were a couple of reasons the 3-on-a-side up and down design was utilized. It kept the guitar well balanced. Many other 12 strings were top heavy due to the added length of the headstock and weight of the extra tuners.

But mostly it was due to economics. Rickenbacker used the same neck blanks for their 12 string as they did for the six string. The width of each was the same, so they did not have to mill separate necks. Additionally, these guitars fit in the same size cases as the neck length for the six or twelve string was no different.

The Rickenbacker designers came up with three prototypes of the 360/12. The prototypes had a flat descending chromed-metal tail-piece instead of the "R" tail-piece.

Suzy Arden with the first 360/12 prototype
The first prototype went to Suzy Arden, a country music entertainer that performed in Las Vegas. The second prototype was featured in a display at the Savoy Hilton hotel in New York City during the Beatles first 1964 American trip.

F.C. Hall was hoping that Harrison would see the display and want that guitar. Unfortunately Harrison was ill during the trip and spent most of the time in his hotel room.

Since the Beatles did not see the display, Hall took a Rickenbacker prototype guitar; a 360/12 model to George Harrison. Hall was able to find the hotel where they were staying. Harrison loved it .  So George received the second 360-12 ever made.

Between Harrison and Lennon's use of Rickenbacker guitars, this locked in the success of the company.

When I saw the Byrds with McQuinn playing his Rickenbacker 360/12 on the Ed Sullivan show, I wondered how he got that sound out of what appeared to be a six string guitar (due to Rickenbacker’s unique headstock and tuner arrangement.)  Subsequently McQuinn became better known for his 370/12 - 3 pickup model.

The Rickenbacker 360/12C63 became one of Harrison's go-to guitars. It was featured on Beatles songs such as I Should Have Known Better, You Can't Do That and A Hard Days Night. It was also prominently featured in the Beatles Hard Days Night movie. Harrison played it on the Rubber Soul and Revolver albums.

Besides the previous reasons I have sighted for making the Rickenbacker 360/12C63 unique, there are a few more that result in it's unique chiming tone.

The string courses on all Rickenbacker twelve string models are reversed from the usual order of having the higher octave string as the 12th, 10th, 8th and 6th string.

On a Rickenbacker the lower octave string is the 12th, 10th, 8th and 6th string and the 11th, 9th, 7th and 5th strings are the higher octave with the 4th, 3rd, 2nd and 1st strings being in unison on each instrument.

A Rickenbacker 360/12 uses two Rickenbacker special design pickups, commonly known as toaster-top pickups due to the appearance of the covers looking like a bread toaster. Early on it was a noted anomaly that one Rickenbacker pickup may over-power another when both were switched on, so a blender or mixer control, commonly referred to as the fifth knob, was added to balance the sound. Additionally on Rickenbacker 3 and 6 series guitars a .0047mF capacitor is placed between the bridge pickup and the volume potentiometer.

Toaster pickups & 5th knob
Rickenbacker hollow body guitars are not actually hollow. They use a neck-through design which adds to their sustain. The necks are laminated with maple and mahogany for added strength. The bodies are routed out from the back for the cats eye sound hole and electronics. This allows the unseen portion of the neck to fit through the body.  Finally an end cap is added to enclose the back.

An advantage of this design is the neck can join the body at or near the last fret, since the neck is actually part of the body. There is no need for pickup routing, since Rickenbacker pickups are mounted on top of the body.

The original 1964 360/12 models featured a 21 fret neck. The flat tail-piece lasted until 1964 when it was changed to the more familiar "R" tail-piece. The guitar was produced in Fire-glow, which is Rickenbacker's term for red sunburst. In addition to the newer tail-piece, by 1965 binding was added to the sound hole and the body came with a new rounded look without the binding on the perimeter of the body's top.  In 1969 the neck was changed to include 24 frets.

Note Ric-o-sound dual jack

The Beatles use of the Rickenbacker 360/12 and later models guaranteed the popularity and success of Rickenbacker guitars. At present there is a waiting list to purchase a Rickenbacker guitar, though some major music retailers may have existing stock.

The 360/12's popularity set the stage for other major manufacturers to produce similar instruments.

Gibson created the ES 335-12 and Fender created the Fender XII. Danelectro guitars came out with a budget 12 string called the Bellzouki, which was designed by session player Vinnie Bell.

Though the Rickenbacker 360/12 not only sounds great, but has a beautiful visual appeal, there are a few complaints regarding it's design.

The narrow spacing on the neck is the most common complaint. There are articles on the Internet regarding installation of a new nut to solve this issue, but remember the 360/12 uses a six string neck.

The other complaint is restringing the guitar. This can become an all day chore due to the fact that the strings anchor the tail-piece to the body. This complaint is even expressed by famous Rick 12 string user, Roger McQuinn on his webpage.

1967 Rickenbacker 360F-12
Though Rickenbacker produced different twelve string guitars, and still does, it was the 360/12 that started it all.

©UniqueGuitar Publications (text only)

Friday, December 24, 2010

Happy Holidays to All

Regardless of your personal beliefs, I wish each one of you the happiest of holidays.

May your New Year be filled with joy and blessings.

May it be filled with Peace

The great Hank Garland is playing guitar on this song

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Twisted, Fanned and Slanted

The Twisted

In 1979, Don Lace started an electronics company in the family garage in Huntington Beach, California.

One of Don’s first production jobs was developing a pickup with Fender that had a low rejection rate during production. In the mid 1980's, Don came up with the Lace Sensor. The Sensor was a uniquely designed single-coil pickup that reduced hum. Fender used it on their Lace Sensor Stratocaster and on other well known artist models.

In 1992, Don Sr. passed away, but his two sons Don and Jeff Lace, took control of the family business.  They not only carried on the family tradition, but introduced some wonderful innovations in guitar and bass pickup design.

Don and Jeff’s latest innovation is the Alumitone series of pickups.

We will talk about this new design and Lace pickups some other time. For now, the focus is on a unique guitar that Lace produced in the earlier part of this decade.

In an effort to make an ergonomic guitar, the Lace brothers came up with the idea of twisting the neck slightly to make playing feel more natural and match the position of the wrist and hand. They called this the Lace Cybercaster with the Lace Helix neck.

The Cybercaster's Helix neck features a 10.8ยบ twist on the first frets that straightens out as you go up. The guitar comes with two Lace Hemi Humbuckers.

It bears a slight resemblance to a Fender Jazzmaster that has been run over by a steamroller. The body is ash; the bolt on neck is maple. The bridge pickup has a Tele-style aluminum plate. The input is like that on a Fender Stratocaster. It comes with one volume and one tone potentiometer and a three way throw switch on the lower bout. Gotoh makes the tuners. The truss rod cap is also aluminum. The scale is 25.5” with 21 frets on the natural maple fretboard.

I know that Lace still produces the Cybercaster in several variations, but I am not certain if they have continued with the twisted Helix neck.

The Fanned

Ralph Novaks has been making guitars under the Novax name for sometime now. His specialty is guitars with Fan Frets. Novaks philosophy is that strings should have differing tension and different lengths to optimize tonality and performance.

This allows for ease of playing, since the string tension is reduced. By fanning the frets this creates a more even harmonic response.

Novak compares his method to that of a grand piano or a harp. These instruments not only use strings of different diameters, but also different lengths to achieve their sound. Novak has applied this to the guitar.

He also utilizes the Novax Proprietary Individual Bridge system that he describes,  “Our individual bridge system overcomes this by separating each saddle and “base plate,” taking advantage of the natural acoustical damping properties of wood vs. metal. The signature overtone series of each string in a chord remains intact, making the chord sound more “in-tune” and keeping the harmonic interest of the different voices.”

The fanning of the frets results in changing the scale length for the bass to the treble strings. Not only does this facilitate tonality, but also the guitar is also more ergonomic.

Most Novax guitars come with seven or eight strings. He makes bass guitars as well.  Other manufacturers, such as Jeff Traugott and Eric Schoenberg, use a similar fan fret process .

The Slanted

Rickenbacker came out with slanted frets a long time ago. However this was an original concept. The idea behind this was ergonomics. It made sense to the designer that most folks had to bend the wrist to play a barre chord.

Therefore, by slanting the frets and compensating by changing the angle of the bridge, it would make for ease of fingering.

Klein guitars also tried this method. The concept just did not catch on.

There are a few bass guitar companies produce instruments with slanted frets.One is Moses Graphite necks. This company produces bass guitar necks with slanted frets as replacement necks for Fender style basses.

Dingwall Basses also utilizes the slanted fret concept.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Babicz Guitars

Jeff Babicz (Ba-bits) has a background in IT. Which is sort of an odd occupation for a luthier. Perhaps this makes him more inquisitive about how things work and how to make them work better.

He worked his way up from doing maintenance work to plant manager at Steinberger guitars.  He then went on to work in the semi-conductor industry, while working on guitar design.  He introduced his unique concept guitar at a Tom Ribbecke guitar workshop.  This was his "Voila" moment.

Jeff re-invented the accoustic guitar design to the point where in some other companies have licensed his technology.

A guitars main sound producer is the sound board or top. For years luthiers have tried differing ways of bracing the top to allow it to vibrate more freely.

On most acoustic guitars, the sound hole has to be reinforced, which can result in a dampening effect. There also is the problem of pressure being excerted on the guitars sound board as the strings are anchored on the guitars top. One of the most common guitar repairs is replacement of the tailpiece on flat top guitars due to the bridge section pulling up after years of strain.

Babicz came up with the solution by not anchoring the string to the guitars bridge, but attaching them to the distal section of the guitars lower bout. By placing six bridge anchors semitrically around the sound board in a fan shape, the pressure is taken off the bridge.

What this means is the soundhole no longer needs additional bracing for support. There is also no need for traditional X bracing, which is found on most steel string flat top instruments.

Instead Babicz guitars have two longitudinal braces running the length of the body. He calls this the lateral compresion sound board or LCZ.

The usual pin-type saddle has been replaced with what he calls the torque-reducing split bridge. This is more efficient.

The strings pass over the bridge, then go through a separate wooden retainer that diverts the strings to the bridge anchors at the distal perimeter of the lower bout.

Babicz has also redesigned the way the guitars neck is fastened to the body.

On the majority of the popular acoustic models the neck is fitted in a dove-tail joint and glued to the body. The angle of the neck has to be just right.

As a guitar ages and comes in contact with different weather conditions, the original angle set can change.

Once the neck is set, the easiest way to adjust the action is to sand down the bridge saddle. Good luck with plastic bridges. Or you can steam the glue out of the dove tail joint, remove the neck, clean off the old glue and then reset and re-glue it to the guitar. Guitar manufacturers have taken differing approaches to solve this issue including bolting the neck to the body.

Babicz has designed a unique rail system for his instruments neck joint. You can raise or lower the neck to your preference, which in turn changes the action. This is all done with a wrench.

The key clips to the back of the guitars headstock so you don’t lose it. You insert the wrench into a small plate on the back of the guitars body to make adjustments. He calls this the continulally adjustable neck. Genius!

Johann Georg Staufer is possibly the most famous builder of Viennese style guitars. Any vintage guitar afficianado is aware of the Martin-Staufer guitar, is the original Martin guitar.

I mention this because Staufer used a similar approach in making his instruments. There is no bracing on a Staufer guitar. It instead utilizes a harmonic bar. The result is a very quick response to the strings being plucked, which is different than most Spanish style instruments.

Check out the neck design

Staufer used a unique neck adjustment mechanism. The neck in essence is a bolt on style. A key which resembles the wind-up key for a grandfather clock fits into the back of the neck heel which allows the neck to slide up and down.

I must note that Staufer lived from 1800 to 1845. This adjustable neck design was also employed on a lyre-guitar made by Fabricatore which was an Italian school of guitar luthery that existed from 1770 to 1845. So it was not a Staufer invention.

But I am digressing. I have no idea if Jeff Babicz was aware of Staufers technology.  In any event he took it a step farther in creating the adjustable rail system for the neck, he also has created a unique bridge that can be raised or lowered with the wrench.

Jeff Babicz has also developed some inovative designs for electric guitars by way of his Full Contact Hardware. This is designed for Gibson style stop action models, for Stratocasters, for Telecasters and for four and five string basses.

Instead of using bolts and hex screws to raise or lower the strings action, Babicz uses a unique system of cams which each string passes through. These are adjustable by a screw on the back of each cam. It’s pretty amazing.

In an older article that I found Jeff Babicz says that he personally creates only ten or so guitars a year by hand.

Since then it appears that he is producing his Signature series of USA made instruments in Poughkeepsie, New York. Although at one point it was rumored he was going to set up shop in Ft. Wayne Indiana.

His Identity series is manufactured off shore. At one time he used the Hohner Company of Germany, but I am not certain if this is still the case.

The guitars are made using solid woods; spruce for the top and either mahogany or rosewood for the back and sides. The necks are made of mahogany with a two-way truss rod. The fretboard is made of rosewood with dot position markers. Babicz guitars come in either dreadnaught, jumbo or cutaway sizes. The tuners are made by Grover. The guitars come with a case and are available with L.R. Baggs acoustic piezo pickups.

Jeff offers an acoustic electric model he calls the Octane 818 series. This is made of solid woods, with a rosewood fretboard and bridge. The Blue Flame has a flamed maple top. He also offers tobacco sunburst and black finishes. This guitar comes with a Seymour Duncan Pearly Gates pickup in the neck position and a George Lynch Screamin’ Demon in the bridge position. For single coil fans, the Octane comes with a Duncan Cool Rail pick up in the neck position and two Hot Rails for the middle and bridge positions. The guitar includes a pickup blending knob to combine the electric and piezo pickups.

I have not recently seen many dealers for Babicz instrument. However you can buy direct from Babicz by going to his website.

His Full Contact Hardware for electric guitars and basses is available through most online music stores.

2014 Update: I haven't seen Babicz guitars in music stores as of late. It looks like Jeff Babicz is selling them online only at his webpage. The prices run from $1200 to $1400, which is a bargain for a handbuilt guitar.