1960 Rickenbacker Model B
As the market for Hawaiian-style guitars slackened in the 1950s, manufacturers were forced to adapt if they were to survive. Fender re-focused their efforts on electric Spanish-style guitars, while Magnatone (after a few poorly-received attempts to sell Spanish-style instruments) became known primarily for amplifiers. After hesitating for a few years, Rickenbacker began to follow Fender’s lead: the first Combo guitars appeared in 1956, and the antecedents of several now-classic models were available by the end of the decade.
The disappearance of Rickenbacker’s steel lineup is harder to pin down, in part due to an obtuse serial number system. The Model A “Frying Pan” was still catalogued in 1957, but very few turn up with the features shown in 1950s catalogs. More popular was the model B, still going strong after its introduction in 1935, and the BD (B “Deluxe”) introduced in 1949. The two Bakelite-bodied models were practically identical, the only deluxe feature being a hinged cover over the tuners. The Model B was probably discontinued when the BD was introduced; some sources say that they were produced concurrently, but no Rickenbacker catalog from 1951 or later mentions the B. However, one distributor’s catalog mistakenly shows a B captioned as a BD, which indicates the unreliability of period literature.
That brings me to the instrument shown above. At first glance, it appears to be a conventional 7-string Model B from about 1949 (the blade-shaped headstock logo was only used briefly around that time). However, both the serial number and the pot codes date from 1960, by which point all sources agree the B had been discontinued. The knobs, if original, corroborate this; Rickenbacker steels were first fitted with this style of knob sometime in the late 1950s. Unusually for a 7-string version, the extra tuner is located on the bass side of the headstock; I have only seen one other Rickenbacker built like this. The tailpiece is has eight holes drilled through it; they have chrome plating inside them, indicating that they were drilled at the factory. Perhaps the tailpiece was intended as a transitional piece for use with a string-through body, which would make it slightly older than the logo.
My guess is that the instrument was cobbled together from a mix of old and new parts in 1960, given a new serial number, and sold to clear space in the factory. By that time, Rickenbacker was probably not building new steel bodies but slowly running through a pile of old stock. Someone likely grabbed whatever logo was at hand – in this case, one that had been sitting around for a decade – and gave equally little thought to where the extra tuner would go. In practice, it made no difference; the steel works and sounds like any other Model B.
For all its quirks, this particular steel has survived in exceptional condition. There are no replacement parts, no chips or major scratches in the body, and the horseshoe magnet still has enough output to melt the audience’s faces. The original case is still in great shape as well. It was probably sold as a conventional BD-7 since the B-7 was long gone from catalogs; the 1966 Rickenbacker price list has it at $194.50 plus $39.50 for the case.