Pick of the Month - June 2001
1966 Rickenbacker 360

No electric guitar could be more inextricably linked with the 1960's than a Rickenbacker. The Beatles, The Byrds, The Who and a host of others fell for its jangly charms, launching dozens of classic songs into public consciousness still prevalent to this day. They fell from favour in the late sixties and seventies, their twangy sound and slippery necks quite unsuitable for playing blues solos and heavy rock, but made a notable comeback in the song-friendly mid-eighties, thanks to the patronage of artists like The Bangles, Tom Petty, REM, The Replacements, and, er, XTC.

The Mapleglo 360/365 is one of Rickenbacker's classics that has yet to benefit from the company's Vintage Reissue policy. The design altered slightly in the early seventies, much to its detriment in my opinion, and others' too by all accounts. Consequently, originals are becoming increasingly scarce, not to mention expensive. Dennis Fano discovered this for me on the Internet; it's had a very hard life, and most of its key parts have been changed, but it was the right finish and vintage, complete with the lovely crushed pearl fingerboard inlays and chequer-board binding on the rear. It's marked "365" inside the control cavity, so it's possible it was originally supplied with a tremolo unit. The "R" tail-piece, while a complete headache for stringing up the 12-string, works brilliantly on a 6 and preserves tone and sustain otherwise compromised by the vibrato system.

Sharp-eyed viewers will notice that the neck pick-up has been moved back half an inch; this is to mask a hole in the top, cut to accommodate a Gibson humbucker at some point in its life. Fortunately, the post-seventies Rick design places this pick-up in the exact same spot, so the new plastic pick-guards fit perfectly! Its original "toaster-tops" having been lost, the guitar was supplied with modern Rickenbacker replacements. Oh dear…consider this. Of the $2000 you probably just paid for your new Rickenbacker, I'd reckon less than 75c was spent on copper wire. Suffice to say, the pick-ups are en route to Seymour Duncan for correction. The guitar currently plays host to two '64 units borrowed from my short-scale 1996 (Miss December 2000), and now sounds absolutely fantastic.

I knew the minute I picked it up that the guitar would come good; it's light as a feather and rings like a bell. Even the truss-rods and bridge saddles rattled away in harmony! I've managed to fix those, and now it's a total joy to play and listen to. In fact, I've played nothing else since I bought it.

I've broken with my tradition of chronology in order to write up this guitar this month, as it comes with a story that begs credibility even in my world of weirdness, where Murphy is Law and the unexpected is the only certainty in life. Alright, so it's not much of a story compared with the Nativity or Homer's Odyssey, for example, but it's still pretty damn spooky by any standards…

As I mentioned previously, pal Dennis had discovered this guitar via G-Base, quite at random, in a store in Louisville, Kentucky, after I'd mentioned to him I'd been looking for one. It was surprisingly affordable, so I contacted the salesman there who told me about the pick-ups being changed and its general less-than-perfect condition. We agreed a price, and the store shipped it over to England.

Recently, I've begun archiving and re-mixing everything I've ever recorded on 8-track tape, in preparation for upgrading my home studio to digital 24-track later this summer. At around midnight one Monday last April, I discovered a reel of tape from June 1991 that contained a demo of a string arrangement I'd been commissioned to write for an American band called The Apostles, who were recording their debut album with hero/producer Eddie Offord in Los Angeles. The budget wouldn't allow them to fly me over, so I had to work on it at home and play the results down the phone to Eddie. Once he'd approved, I scored out the parts and mailed them to the band together with a cassette demo, taken from my multi-track. I hadn't played or heard the tape since, but as it was late I left it on the machine for consideration the following morning.

At 10.30 on the Tuesday morning, the phone rang. It was the carrier company with my guitar, looking for the house. I gave the guy directions and ten minutes later he was at the door. I asked him if he'd mind waiting while I checked it was what I'd ordered, and wasn't damaged, and he helped me unpack the huge cardboard carton. Inside was the familiar silver-grey case, with a couple of stencils on it. Which group's name do you think it could have been? Right – The Apostles! THE Apostles. I was speechless with astonishment – the delivery man must have thought I was having a seizure. "This band…the tape upstairs…ten years ago…next job…I don't believe it…" etc, etc. And sure enough, there in security ink on the rear of the headstock, the initials "RHH"; could only be Apostles' main man Rob Hotchkiss.

So Rob – if you're reading this – your old guitar has found a loving home! Hope you didn't part with it in reduced circumstances, and that you're doing OK. Is your fluffy cat missing the case?