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Rickenbacker 4001/4003 bass neck

Discussion in 'Basses [BG]' started by FenderLove, Oct 22, 2012.

  1. FenderLove

    FenderLove Banned

    Sep 7, 2012
    Rickenbacker 4001/4003 bass neck – high action, bowed neck, neck pull, neck to body relationship.

    I’ve received several inquires regarding Rickenbacker 4001/4003 necks and bridges. Folks have seen some of my Rics posted here and asked for my thoughts concerning high action and bowed necks, and also, if I could help them understand some of the difficulties they’ve experienced with their own 4001/4003 basses.

    Regarding neck adjustment, please follow the instructions in/on the Rickenbacker manual/web-site.

    The diagrams I put together (below) illustrate the dynamics regarding the neck’s relationship to the instrument’s body. Please note that some conditions, such as ‘neck forward pull’ and ‘bow’ are exaggerated to illustrate what’s occurring.

    Figure 3 shows a Rickenbacker 4003 neck under string tension, with maxed-out truss rods. and fatigued wood, or timber that lacks adequate strength. Under this scenario, the neck will exhibit excessive bow, will be pulled forward (up), and will not be parallel to the body. What happens is:
    (1) String height (action) will be abnormally high,
    (2) Strings may contact pickup cover (interference), and
    (3) Instrument may not be playable.

    The Rickenbacker 4003 neck-through construction is something of a delicate matter. The neck has a HIGH DEGREE of FLEXABILITY at the point where the body wigs are attached. There isn’t much mass (wood) and also, a substantial amount of wood has been removed to accommodate the neck pick-up. Lack of wood contributes to its weakness/instability. The routed-out section on the 4003 is farther away from the base of the neck than it is on the C64 & V63. Because of this situation, there’s a very delicate balance between fit, form, and function. This inherent weakness, nonetheless, allows a person to manipulate the neck when adjusting the truss rods (flexing the neck by pulling it back to relive the truss rods’ tension). This is especially important when the rods are being tightened. There have been cases where the fingerboard has separated from the maple neck or has even popped off the neck.

    From a functional perspective (4001/4003 design), the instrument requires enough string tension to pull the neck forward (up) so it can be played, but not so much that the neck bows beyond the truss rods’ capacity to maintain a flat playing surface. Reference Figure 2. This is where the delicate balance becomes strained, or becomes an issue which leads to suboptimal performance.

    Over time the truss rods reach their adjustment capacity (they max out). When this happens, the neck will bow, and eventually, reaches a point where the action becomes incredibly high. Reference Figure 3. A person then needs to exert enormous downward pressure on the string to make contact with the fret, which makes the instrument extremely difficult to play, or in some cases isn’t playable.

    Another anomaly is neck twisting. There are cases when the truss rods will not correct this problem. Twisting seems to be more prevalent on necks fashioned from a single piece of timber. Over the years Rickenbacker has tried several configurations to correct this. A two-piece laminate is the current configuration (since early 2009). Some years back they employed a three-piece configuration (referred to many as the skunk-stripe).

    Another liming factor (regarding reducing high action) has to do with the bridge. It can only be adjusted down so far. Even if the saddles are filed, which allows the string to drop down some, there comes a point where it will not make a difference. This is especially true when the neck is pulled too far forward. When the neck is pulled beyond a certain point, not only does the action become incredibly high, the stings will come in contact with the decorative bridge pick-up cover (single chrome-plated plastic on the 4003; dual chrome-plated metal bars (horse shoes) on the V63 & C64, which are functional, so I’m told). When the neck is pulled too far, the strings move up and make contact with the cover. This is why some folks remove the covers, it’s because of interference. This is also the reason, I believe, Rickenbacker revised the configuration of the two chrome-plated metal bars. Later model C64s have horse shoes bent (formed) out, away from the strings, which provide more area between the strings and the horse shoes, which reduce the string to cover interference.

    Regarding low volume output of the toaster-top pick-ups. The adjustment of all toaster-top neck pick-ups is very limited. It can only be adjusted up so high. When the condition arises as shown in Figure 3, this problem is severely exasperated, as the strings move farther away from the pick-up. This accounts for some of the volume loss. The other factor might simply be a weak pick-up. Weak toaster pick-ups are not uncommon. That’s one of the reasons Rickenbacker went to a high-gain pick-up.

    Regarding the bridge, all of mine, and every bass I’ve seen with this bridge, are bent to some degree (tail lift as some call it). The worst is the C64. The amount of lift depends on whether the bridge is held down by three screws (older models and C64), five screws (current production 4003), or seven screws (from 1980s or thereabouts; and the five and eight-string models). Every C64 I’ve seen/and played has, what I’d call, a severely bent bridge. Drilling additional holes and putting more screws will help limit the bend, although, it does detract from the bridge’s aesthetics. The problem (bending bridge) is that the strings do not angle down enough from their anchor point; it’s shallow, which means there’s not enough downward force (tension) on the saddles. When the bridge bends too far (up), there isn’t any downward force, which makes the instrument unplayable. Bridges from the 60s were made of different metal, as well as process, which is why they didn’t bend. Metal composition and thin construction makes the current bridge (post 1960s) susceptible to bending.

    Hope this helps explain things. No magic, just plan old geometry & physics.




    I believe Rickenbacker understands these problems exist. Over the years they have made several attempts to correct these problems (inherent design flaws). For example, issuing high-gain pickups, experimenting with various neck configurations (single-piece, two and three-piece laminates), putting additional screws in the bridge to secure it from bending (went from the original 3 located under the saddles, to seven, then to five probably because the seven were perceived as an eye-sore).
  2. Jaco Taco

    Jaco Taco

    Jul 30, 2012
    As much as I love the sound and look of Rickenbackers, it's amazing to me how much they seem like they were designed by a bunch of monkeys with crayons and paper. Sure, people (like me) will still buy them but they are very much a niche bass. Rickenbacker could have sold so many more basses if they were more serious about improving their line.
  3. FenderLove

    FenderLove Banned

    Sep 7, 2012
    I understand and respect your point of view.
  4. someone likes Fireglo
  5. bill reed

    bill reed

    Apr 2, 2012
    I think its sad when basses like Rockinbetter have a better bridge than the real Rics, not only is it easer to adjust and set up but does not have that lifting that some, not all Rics have.
    think that Ric sould of made the Bridge so the tail slots into some kind off suport that is fixed to the wood of the bass to stop it lifting.
  6. Jaco Taco

    Jaco Taco

    Jul 30, 2012
    And that's the great irony about Ric's, they are a famous line of basses and they are expensive and have a long waiting list for a new one but when you get one.... you have to make lots of changes just to make them good. Many people change the bridge, the pick-ups, etc.

    It must be nice to work at Rickenbacker, you still have an in-demand product that people buy based on name-value and the look and the legacy of the sound, but you don't really have to improve all the design-defects in the bass, because people will still buy it.
  7. iiipopes


    May 4, 2009
    Mine is value. I got my 4002 used in 1993 for $1500. Once I got it set up and figured out which strings sounded best on it, I haven't had to touch the neck in going on almost 20 years now. It was my main gigging bass for almost 10 years until my old injuries came back to haunt me and I needed to go to my fanned fret P-style bass, but that says more about my elbow, wrist and thumb. But for that, it would still be my week-to-week gigging bass.

    Everybody is fond of pointing out Rickenbacker flaws, but nobody seems to want to talk about the infamous Fender "dead spot" anymore, or similar issues.
    59jazz likes this.
  8. bill reed

    bill reed

    Apr 2, 2012
    I don't think its so much pointing out flaws as making people aware of something so they know what to do when it happens. finding your bridge is lifting on yout prize £2000 bass could be very upsetting.
  9. thisSNsucks

    thisSNsucks Supporting Member

    Dec 19, 2004
    Yonkers, NY
    Rickenbacker's are quirky, but that's what makes them cool.

    I've had a few pass through my hands that needed some time and patience to get them where I wanted them, but they all end up playing and sounding good.

    My '73 has tail lift like crazy, and hates high tension strings. A little time tweaking the setup and pairing it with the right stings and now it's a great bass.
  10. A-Step-Towards

    A-Step-Towards Supporting Member

    Nov 16, 2009
    Los Angeles California
    I have had my ric since new in december, I changed the strings and havent even bothered setting it up , it plays great as is. Its a fantastic bass.
  11. I've got a 1981 4001s Jetglo. When i strung it up with a .105/.085/.065/.045 stringset, the neck was near unplayable.
    When i switched to a .100/.080/.060/.040 set, the action came right down, with the neck dead straight to boot. They are picky Bass Guitars...
  12. kcole4001


    Oct 7, 2009
    Nova Scotia
    I have 4 Rick basses ranging from 1976 to 2010, once any of them are set up I don't have to change anything unless I change string tension/tuning/gauge.

    My March 2010 4003 has lower action than that of most of the guitar players I play with.
    I have changed nothing about it (except removing the bridge pup cover and swapping in a Hipshot D Tuner), I can live with the antiquated bridge/tail as I have since 1986, though I do have a Hipshot on my '77 4001 because I wanted to try it out.

    Personally I think the seven screw tail was a good idea, though apparently the mass of the customers thought otherwise.
    The adjustability is quite poor still, but once it's set, it stays set fortunately.

    As far as improving the design, take the 4004.
    Same body shape and same current 4003 truss rods.
    All else is different, modern sound, modern user friendly bridge, humbucking pickups, yet it sells consistently much lower than the 'standard' 4003.
    Because many Rick fans are often very much as anachronistic as the old bridge/tailpiece, and that's quite a rut for RIC to get out of.
    They have made several newer, more modern designs, all of which have either been discontinued (due to relatively poor sales), or are selling lower than hoped.

    Truth be told, most of us are really quite conservative regarding our instruments no matter what brands we affiliate with, otherwise why would Leo 's designs be so universally copied?
    Yes, they certainly do work and have stood the test of time, so has the 4001 which was designed in the 1950s (actually before the original P bass).
    It's hard to break away from what we all grew up associating with 'real' popular music.
    We want to play what our heros played.

    In the end it's a personal choice.
    I love 'em, many don't, and I don't really care.
    It doesn't impact me one little bit what someone else plays unless I'm listening to him/her.
    We all play first and foremost to suit ourselves, and if you're happy with what you play, you've got that first step figured out pretty well.
  13. RickenBoogie


    Jul 22, 2007
    Dallas, TX
    HUGE +1 to kcole4001's p[ost. Ric has made improvements, and it's now called the model 4004. But, everyone wants a 4003, that's all anyone ever talks about. And, of the 5 4001/4003's I've owned, all were solid mas a rock, and once set up, never needed any adjustments, for year after year. I now play a 4004Cii, which, imo, is one of the finest basses ever produced. Very "Ric-like", but with tons more booty, and NONE of the so-called flaws of the earlier models.
  14. Ric5

    Ric5 Supporting Member Commercial User

    Jan 29, 2008
    I convert 4 string Rickenbackers to 5 string basses.
    Question to the OP

    Are you 1 - trying to get some solutions to technical problems? or are you 2 - just wanting to complain? or worse yet 3 - are you trolling?

    If it is 1 technical problems have solutions.

    For 2 or 3 I don't have any comments.
  15. greggster59


    Oct 31, 2006
    New Jersey
    The first 4003 I bought in July 2011 was a living example of Figure 3. I thought it just needed a good setup but my local tech was quick to spot the excessive bow, he called it a warped neck, and the bass went back to the dealer that same day.

    The 2012 4003 I bought from Pick of the Ricks over the summer looks just like Figure 1 with the neck just about perfectly straight and parallel to the body even though it is strung. I'm using TI Jazz Flats. Perhaps the lower tension of these strings is the reason I don't have the neck pulling up from the body. So far, this has been a perfect example of a great Ric.
  16. Jeff Scott

    Jeff Scott Rickenbacker guru.......... Supporting Member

    The Precision bass was introduced in 1951, Electro started working on prototypes of the 4000 in 1955 or thereabouts, and finally introduced it to market in 1957.
  17. Jeff Scott

    Jeff Scott Rickenbacker guru.......... Supporting Member

    I have recently been downsizing my bass collection; currently I gig with either (or both when I take more than one bass with me) a March '73 4001 (MG) and a December '11 4004 Laredo (RBY). :bassist:
  18. Aluminium Beard

    Aluminium Beard

    Sep 23, 2012
    So, if you were to build a 4001 clone from scratch, what would you do to avoid this? For example, do you think a thicker body would help?
  19. Ric5

    Ric5 Supporting Member Commercial User

    Jan 29, 2008
    I convert 4 string Rickenbackers to 5 string basses.
    I have owned a lot of Ricks (more than 20) and most of them look like Figure 1 with strings on. I have never seen a Ric like Figure 2. My old 1968 4001 was like figure 3 but then I got the rods adjusted and it was fine for 40+ years.

  20. kcole4001


    Oct 7, 2009
    Nova Scotia
    For some reason I thought the 4000 prototypes were earlier.