1975 Gibson L9-S Ripper
Gibson’s bass models in the 1960s were mainly adapted versions of their guitars: the EB, EB-0, EB-3 and EB-4 had the same body as an SG; the EB-2 had the same body as an ES-335; the Thunderbird had the same body as the Firebird; and the Melody Maker had the same body as, well, the Melody Maker. The electronics were radically different from the guitars, though. Large humbuckers in the necks and mini-humbuckers in the bridges were hooked up to unconventional switching systems and “baritone” switches that were of dubious usefulness. Most of these models had 30” scales, which offered a difference to Fender basses that often benefitted players with small hands.
Gibson had never presented serious competition to Fender in the bass market, so in the early 1970s they introduced a new range of models in the hope of impressing players. Bill Lawrence was commissioned to create the new bass lineup along with a series of complementary guitars. The L9-S was the top of the new range when introduced in 1973, and a year later it was given the suitable new name, the “Ripper”. Like the contemporary Grabber and G3 basses, the Ripper was a radical departure from previous Gibson models. The 34.5” scale and chunky neck profile completely changed the feel of the instrument, and the mahogany of the older models was abandoned in favor of brighter (and heavier) maple. The body shape was a new double-cutaway design without any parallel in Gibson’s guitar line.
The electronics, though, were the most noticeable difference from earlier Gibson basses. The Ripper featured two Lawrence-designed humbuckers mounted to the body. Under their black plastic covers lay two coils on their sides, with bar magnets on the outside edges and a steel plate holding everything together through the center of each bobbin. The resulting units have a wide and balanced frequency range, so with the help of the Ripper’s unconventional switching arrangement they can provide a huge range of tones. Instead of a conventional 3-way toggle switch, the Ripper employed a 4-way rotary switch – but this is not the same as the EB-3’s similar-looking switch. The positions are 1) both pickups in series and in phase, 2) the bridge pickup only, 3) both pickups in parallel and in phase, and 4) both pickups in series and out of phase. In addition to these choices plus the usual volume and tone controls, the Ripper also contained a choke that allowed control of the mid-range frequencies. Unlike previous Gibson basses with chokes, the Ripper had a separate knob that allowed it to be dialed in with precision.
Gibson tried hard to sell the Ripper, even producing a record that demonstrated the range of sounds available to players. While it never stole the market from Fender, the bass was successful enough to remain in production for a decade. It was available in fretted and fretless versions and in three finishes: natural, ebony and tobacco sunburst. Unusually, the fretboard wood varied by finish; natural Rippers had maple boards, while ebony and sunburst had ebony boards to complement the body and headstock shades. A few changes were introduced between 1976 and 1976, but they were mostly subtle: the pickups were attached to the pickguard instead of the body, the routing was altered accordingly, and the body shape was altered slightly.
While the Ripper was viewed as a sturdy utility instrument, it never really achieved “classic” status despite being seen in the hands of prominent musicians such as Suzi Quatro and Rick Danko. I must admit that I purchased this one in part because it’s nearly identical to the Ripper played by Danko with The Band in 1976 (most notably at The Last Waltz). Sunburst Rippers are relatively hard to find, as there were only 126 fretted ones built (as opposed to 6590 in natural and 2403 in ebony). This one shows some pitting to the chrome on the bridge and cover, but otherwise it’s in remarkably clean and original condition. A slight crack in the body has been repaired, but it’s mostly covered by the pickguard. This is one of the few Rippers with an alder body, from a run made in 1975. Almost all Rippers have maple bodies.
See this page for some additional, excellent information on the Ripper.