Off-brand Rickenbacker 4001/4003 clones - Why so many look-alikes and so few sound-alikes?

Discussion in 'Basses [BG]' started by Ophiothrix, Sep 27, 2023.

  1. Ophiothrix


    Aug 4, 2016
    To be clear up front I'm talking about the apparently 'legally distinct' Ric-o-likes that have been made over the years, not counterfeits/fakes.

    So I've been considering putting myself together something that sounds as much like a 4001/4003 as possible without concern for visuals, and in doing so I've been researching 3rd party Ric pickups, buying an original or vintage set used, and complete 'Ric-o-Like' basses that other brands have put recently. Given that my understanding over the years (and my personal experience with them) has been that 'Rickenbacker 4001/3s sound and look (to most) incredible, but the ergonomics and functionality are an acquired taste', this research has left me with a question.

    ...why do almost all the Rickenbacker 4001/3 clones copy elements of the aesthetics, ergonomics and functionality that don't agree with everyone, and almost never use readily available 3rd party Rickenbacker pickups so that they actually sound like 4001/3s?

    As an example here's the Jackson Concert -

    Screenshot 2023-09-27 at 20.44.11.png

    Like I totally get why this thing exists, and in a broader sense why a brand would want to ape the visual design; even in the face of the legal risks it's an iconic, desirable instrument that's very expensive to get a hold of and thus easy to undercut. But if there's a market for a pretty basic active PJ bass with the added bonus of a clunky bridge, obstructive pickup cover and overly-chunky (by modern standards) control scheme, why isn't there also a market for people who want an Ric sound out of something with completely modern ergonomics?

    I've seen plenty of folks put Ric pickups into a P-bass as a small scale hobby project, but why isn't anybody just selling those or something similar? Even if you think the scale length and neck-thru maple/maple construction are critical parts of the sound, that would make for a pricier instrument but still something that's well within reach of a mid-range manufacturer. Is it that Rickenbacker have some sort of patent on their pickup arrangement that they're even more litigious about than the design?

    It's not the great existential question of our times or anything, but it did strike me as a slightly odd gap in the market, particularly as Rickenbackers have become more and more expensive while keeping their reputation for patchy quality control.
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  2. Basically speaking, humans aren't very bright.

    MattZilla, rickwebb, wboyd68 and 14 others like this.
  3. bholder

    bholder Affable Sociopath Gold Supporting Member Supporting Member

    Sep 2, 2001
    Vestal, NY
    Received a gift from Sire* (see sig)
    It's easy to build something that looks like a Rickenbacker for a lot less than a Rickenbacker. However it's hard to build something that sounds like a Rickenbacker without driving costs up.
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  4. This is a much better answer.
    Old Blastard, rufus.K, eee and 5 others like this.
  5. Ricky Rioli

    Ricky Rioli

    Sep 29, 2020
    From this we can extrapolate that Echt Rickenbacken are also bought more for looks than sounds.
    Nashrakh, gebass6, TrustRod and 6 others like this.
  6. Tubehed


    Oct 27, 2011
    Westminister, CA
    Doesn't seem like that difficult of a thing to accomplish. Just take a solid body and put two single coil pickups in the same spots where they are on a Ric. Doesn't even have to be neck through, have a maple body or use the same hardware. It won't sound exactly like a RIC, but it will get close.
    droo46, Guitalia, ole Jason and 6 others like this.
  7. J Wilson

    J Wilson Supporting Member

    I don't mean this to sound mean, but nobody would build exact copies of Rickenbacker pickups, they fund a whole range of upgrade makers.
    RoadieP and TrustRod like this.
  8. Killing Floor

    Killing Floor Supporting Member

    Feb 7, 2020
    Austin, TX
    Well, even though most of us want to hear with our eyes the best method is to hear with ears. But I have never met a musician who doesn’t listen just a little with their eyes.
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  9. Lance Bunyon

    Lance Bunyon

    Jul 17, 2018
    That Jackson (Rickenjac) looks like it was designed during a bad trip.
    The Schecter Stargazer was closer.
    I had a love hate relationship with my Ric. I loved to hate it but sometimes it sounded great.
    rickwebb likes this.
  10. GIBrat51

    GIBrat51 Innocent as the day is long Supporting Member

    As others have said; it isn't that it's particularly hard to duplicate a Rick (more or less); it's that it costs money. Rick basses are multi-ply Maple neck-thrus (since the 1970s, anyway), with Maple body wings. The single coil pickups are (I think) still hand wound, and they use pots that aren't exactly main stream. And, there's a lot of hand finishing, too. If you believe that a bass's finish has anything to do with the sound, then what RIC uses makes a difference, too.
    What it boils down to is; if you had the capacity to make a bass that way - why would you waste your time making a copy of somebody else's instrument? Especially since it would cost you at least as much to "copy" a Rick as a real one costs, and if they cost the same - and sound the same; why on Earth would I buy yours ?!? However..
    It just so happens that I do own a Rick 4003 "copy", although it doesn't much look like it is. It's a left handed 2006 Carvin LB-20, that a fellow lefty had made the year RIC stopped making left handed instruments ('cause they were "5 years behind in production"), and were dropping hints that they just might not ever make leftys again. According to the build sheet that was still in the case when I bought it? It's a 3-ply Maple neck-thru body, with Maple body wings. The fretboard is ebony, rather than Bubinga; the pots are 250K rather than the 330K ones Rick uses; and of course the hardware is different. It has Carvin's HP-50 humbucker pickups, rather than single coils, but; it also has what Carvin called an "Option 50". Which was any option you wanted, that Carvin would do, but wasn't on the list of standard options. My "Option 50" is a 2 way switch that splits both pickups into single coils. The front half of the neck pickup, and the rear half of the bridge pickup; so that the spacing, while not quite the same as a Rick, is pretty close...
    So... does it sound like a 4003 Rick? Well, after I realized what it was supposed to be, I strung it with the same Rick Light Nickel Rounds that I had on my '01 Rick 4001 at the time. And, honestly? The Carvin did sound an awful lot like the 4003. The Rick has more sustain - but, only a little more. And, the Carvin is not quite as... "Growlly"? The fretboard might - or might not- have something to do with the difference, as does as all the other small differences. However... If you weren't looking at it, and you weren't a bass player? I really don't think you'd know. Especially in a band setting. So...
    Yes, this LB-20 does do a fairly convincing Rick 4003. But, as I said; a bass that can fake a Rick really well, costs $$$'s. When I went on Carvin's webpage and "built" mine, to figure out what I had? Yeah, it fakes a 4003, all right - including the cost. The original owner paid almost $1,600 for this bass. Which is about what a new, right handed Rick 4003 would have cost, at the time.
    In case you're curious - what did I pay for the Carvin? It was 5 or 6 years old when I got it off of eBay. With the OHSC, and including shipping, I paid $360.00 for it. And, I was the only bidder. I seriously doubt the original owner played it much - if he played it at all. Which is a shame, 'cause with a set of Sadowsky Blue Label Flats on it - and without splitting the pickups? It's one helluva nice bass. But, every once in a while - I'll flip that Option 50 switch; close my eyes; and pretend...:whistle:
    Last edited: Sep 27, 2023
  11. micguy


    May 17, 2011
    It's not that hard to make something sound a lot like a Ric - none of the things that make a Rickenbacker sound like it does are rocket science - it's pickup positioning (this is VERY important), pickup construction, and not a whole lot more. Copying the exact construction is expensive, but you can get very close sonically without doing that. The thing that keeps people from outright cloning Rickenbackers is that Rickenbacker is notoriously protective of its intellectual property. You can make something that hints at "Rickness", but get it anywhere near looking like a Real Ric, and you'll be told to cease and desist. This doesn't make Rickenbacker mean or anything - this is how intellectual property works - if you don't protect your IP, it becomes public domain, and anyone can copy it.
  12. Rib 13

    Rib 13 Supporting Member

    Jun 20, 2006
    Packaging/visual apppeal is (consumer) everything
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  13. bolophonic


    Dec 10, 2009
    Durham, NC
    It would be dishonest to pretend that visual stimulus isn’t part of the information gathering that I engage in, with regards to music and bass guitar.
  14. JRA

    JRA my words = opinion Gold Supporting Member

    i agree: why not a rick sound from any other 'look'? same pickups, same location(s), the same scale = same sound. looks are just looks.

    i don't know that i'd agree with @bholder that it would be expensive to copy the sound. why? what's so special about that sound that it takes a lot of money to get it?
  15. 6-3-2


    Sep 20, 2003
    I'm with you. I LOVE the tone and look, but the ergonomic set backs never sat right with me. So, I'm surprised no one has tried a genuine kind of "super" Rick type bass. Serek kind of does, but their single coils don't sound as aggressive as Rick pickups do to my ears. As cool as Sereks can look (I love the Lincoln) a Rick 4001 is still IMO one of the coolest bass designs of all time.
  16. bholder

    bholder Affable Sociopath Gold Supporting Member Supporting Member

    Sep 2, 2001
    Vestal, NY
    Received a gift from Sire* (see sig)
    Good question. Until someone actually does it, though, I'll go with the simple empirical evidence that no one yet has. If it's easy, shouldn't it exist already?
    JRA likes this.
  17. Jazz Ad

    Jazz Ad Mi la ré sol

    A big lot of famous Rickenbacker players modified or replaced the electronics, Burton. Lemmy and Squire ahead.
    It may be that people go towards Ricks for the looks and shape rather than tone.
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  18. hbarcat

    hbarcat Supporting Member

    Aug 24, 2006
    Rochelle, Illinois
    I contend that most (or all) of the appeal of a Ric is the fact that it's a Ric.

    If someone started making basses that sounded exactly like a Ric and also looked similar to a Ric (but not so similar as to get sued), I don't believe that very many people would buy one, for the simple fact that it wouldn't be a genuine Ric.
    Nashrakh, 2thAche, TrustRod and 4 others like this.
  19. ardgedee


    May 13, 2018
    Making a lookalike allows people to say "hey, that looks like a Ric" without ever having to admit that was the intention. Plausible deniability, you know.

    Making a soundalike, especially if it doesn't look similar, is a harder sell. It's not something you can capture in a photograph, you can't state it without losing plausible deniability, and not many people are going to listen to demo videos and think, "hey, that sounds like a Ric" unless they are already very familiar with listening to Rics.
  20. brianrost

    brianrost Gold Supporting Member

    Apr 26, 2000
    Boston, Taxachusetts
    To avoid getting sued :thumbsup:
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