Rickenbacker 650C Colorado
It's almost impossible to write about Rickenbacker guitars without mentioning The Beatles, so we'll capitulate immediately. Although small-bodied Ricky electrics will inevitably bring to mind the famous 325 that accompanied John Lennon on his journey from the grime of Hamburg to the heights of Beatlemania, George Harrison was the only member of the Fab Four to own a guitar with the same outline as the example we have here.
George used his 1962 425 only briefly in 1963, playing Gretsch hollowbodies before changing the vocabulary of 60s pop with his 12-string Rickenbacker 360/ 12 in 1964. The 425 features a 'cresting wave' cutaway design, the work of former Gibson and later Fender, employee Roger Rossmeisl in 1957. It went on to grace various 400 and 600 series Rickenbackers over the years, including the 660-12 TP Tom Petty signature model, not to mention the 650.
This is where we'd usually say something along the lines of 'fast-forward to 2012', but actually we need to rewind to 1993, because that's when the 650 made its first appearance in Rickenbacker literature. Sporting those unmistakable Rossmeisl cutaways but with notable deviations from the specifications of 60s-style Rickys, now-discontinued models include the 650D Dakota and the 650S Sierra, both of which featured solid American walnut body wings with maple through-necks.
Our all-maple 650C Colorado is resplendent in Jetglo [that's black - Ed] with mirror-like chrome: it's a thoroughly handsome specimen. Along with several other finish options, it is also available in Rickenbacker's 'colour of the year' for 2012, Ruby. If you want one in that colour, speak to your dealer, but don't hold your breath. It's been a long time since UK distributor Rosetti has managed to get hold of this model in any numbers, let alone limited run finishes.
To our eyes, the 650's body is a little too compact to look quite 'right' when strapped onto the frame of anyone of above average height, but despite its diminutive proportions, the 650C weighs in at a surprisingly chunky - but not off-putting - 8lbs. The guitar's palm-filling neck feels wide and flat in hand, moreso than the more traditionally appointed Rickenbackers that one tends to encounter more regularly, such as the 330 and 360.
At this juncture, we ought to acknowledge the presence of the pachyderm trying its best to lurk unnoticed in the corner of the room, with roughly the same amount of success as a neutron star attempting to squeeze into a matchbox. To put it bluntly, Rickenbackers aren't the easiest guitars in the world to live with.
Much like certain Gretsch electrics, and Fender Jaguars and Jazzmasters, the majority of classic Rickenbacker guitars are achingly good-looking creatures, but thanks to their various hardware and design choices, they can prove to be higher maintenance on the road than David St Hubbins' girlfriend, Jeanine. And this is coming from a writer who is a Rickenbacker fan.
No real worries here though; the bridge is solid, and where many Rickenbackers can feel rather cramped in comparison to your average Gibson or Fender, this one doesn't. Happily, the 650C's maple fingerboard is just a hair over 3mm wider than that of a modern Rickenbacker 330 at the nut, widening out to deliver nearly 4.5mm of extra width at the 12th fret.
It may not sound like a big difference, but the result is a playing surface that allows you to execute country bends and wide vibrato with much greater ease. Think you can't play bluesy lead parts on a Rickenbacker? Think again.
Somewhat predictably, the guitar's maple through-neck construction yields a bright, resonant acoustic voice with plenty of sustain, aided and abetted by the flat-mount Schaller bridge with roller saddles. It's a considerably more stable proposition than the ever so slightly wayward six-saddle bridge and tailpiece arrangement that's present on many of the more vintage-style Rickenbacker models.
The 650C Colorado's natural personality when unplugged might hint that it has enough top-end attack to take your face off when amplified, but in reality the natural warmth of the Rickenbacker humbuckers attenuates the highs a little and balances things out nicely.
Humbuckers they may be, but there's actually a real Telecaster flavour to the bridge unit, and the twin- pickup mix has a large dollop of Gretsch, with a depth and richness that simply begs for fingerstyle arpeggios. Flip to the neck pickup and you're presented with a satisfyingly rude voice for Jimi-style lead and a whole lot more besides.
Wherever you position the three-way toggle switch, this instrument absolutely loves gain, and it's really refreshing to hear a classic-sounding rock guitar that doesn't obviously inhabit either the Fender or Gibson camp.
Okay, so it's a more polite proposition than Rickenbackers with 'Toaster Top' or high-gain single coils, so those truly lacerating, white-knuckle early Pete Townshend or Jam-era Weller sounds aren't quite on the menu. It's not exactly best suited to Byrds-style jangle either, but in combination with a Vox AC30 you can get hold of a thoroughly satisfying late-60s pop crunch.
Assuming the pint-sized proportions of its body aren't an issue, there's much to love about the G650C, whether in a contemporary or classic rock context. It'll certainly help you stand out from the crowd, too. It's interesting that this guitar finds fans in members of the Guitarist team who usually hiss like ill-tempered cats when confronted with the prospect of actually playing a guitar with The Big R on its headstock.
Indeed, if your Rickenbacker experience is limited to a rollercoaster ride with the slightly peculiar charms of a classic 330 or 360, spending some time with a 650 might just change your mind about the brand.
Of course, the flipside is that there are likely to be a few diehard Rickenbacker electric connoisseurs among you who feel that the 650C deviates too far from the designs of the company's golden era, but that's fine; it's not like there aren't still plenty of guitars in the Rickenbacker catalogue for you.
Now, if Rickenbacker would only make a 330 with the one-piece Schaller bridge, vintage cosmetics and those oh-so-60s Toaster Top single coils, your retro-obsessed correspondent would smash his piggy bank to smithereens before you'd have time to say, "I Can't Explain".