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What was it about early 70's 4001 Rickenbackers that gave them their sound?

Discussion in 'Basses [BG]' started by Matthew_84, Jan 18, 2014.

  1. Matthew_84


    Nov 7, 2010
    Hello all,

    Geddy Lee's early 70's 4001 Rickenbacker had a distinct clear, clanky, thin tone, that I kind of love in the mix.

    I don't think I could ever afford a Rickenbacker, so I've been trying to find out what was so special about them to give them that sound, but can't seem to find that information.

    Was it the construction (neck through/bolt-on, species of wood), pickups, pickup location, anything special about the neck, etc?

    I also read somewhere that the fretboard has lacquer over it, but I'm not sure if this is true or not.

  2. lazerbrains


    Nov 30, 2010
    I think there is alot more to Geddys sound than the Rick he was playing at the time. He has always been into complicated signal paths/outboard gear setups. I think back then he used the stereo outputs of the Ric to a large extent too. His playing style is also very unique - especially his right hand technique.

    Rics are versatile basses, and can make many different sounds (2 pickups, 2 vol, 2 tone). That being said, the "classic 4001" sound that everyone seemed to exploit in the 70's was typically using the bridge pickup, tone up all the way, low action, Rotosound RW strings. The pickup and the tone circuit had alot to do with the sound, as did the neck through design, and the typical low action which caused alot of the clank. The modern 4003's with the "vintage tone circuit" nail the old sound - they have a bypass switch with the same capacitor setup as the orig. 4001s.
  3. Matthew_84


    Nov 7, 2010
    Thank you. I do understand Geddy sounds like Geddy on any bass, but the Ric does have a distinct tone that is certainly a lot clearer and thinner sounding than his other basses, which is something that I am looking for.

    Do you have any idea what the capacitors were?

    I have looked around a lot and found out the 4001 pickups from that era were single coils. To me, the bridge pickup looks closer to be in the 60's Jazz position than the 70's, but it may even be a bit farther from the bridge. I'm not too sure.

    Anyone have a 4001-post 1972 that could measure the distance from the bridge pickup to the bridge for me?

    Also, anyone have any suggestions to what single coil pickups are very close sounding? I guess something very clear and thin sounding, not too much "beef" to it. The 4001 pickups also apparently were "high gain", but I'm not sure if that would aid in the thin sound.

    Also, anyone know if the Padouk fretboard was covered in a lacquer? In some photos it looks very glossy-looking but I don't know for sure.

  4. Matthew_84


    Nov 7, 2010
    Sorry, and another question... Did the selector switch completely isolate each pickup, meaning Geddy would have usually played with bridge pickup solo'd?
  5. hillerup

    hillerup There are basses, and there are Thunderbirds! Supporting Member

    Aug 26, 2009
    Copenhagen, Denmark
    The neck on the mid 70's 4001 I used to have definitely had a laquered neck, and I'm pretty sure all others do to...
  6. PaulBoyer

    PaulBoyer Supporting Member Commercial User

    Jan 27, 2012
    Most Rick fingerboards are "lacquered" Bubinga, a type of African rosewood. But not all are like that. Certain models have maple fingerboards – 4004C (sealed, but not "lacquered"), early 4004L ("lacquered"), 4003SPC "Blackstar," "Tuxedo," and "Redneck," which are painted maple. Also, the 4002 has a sealed ebony fingerboard. When RIC switched the 4004 fingerboard material from maple to bubinga, they stayed with the "lacquer" on the 4004L and went with a seal coat on most 4004Cii. I put lacquer in quotes because it is really a "conversion varnish" and may not chemically qualify as a "lacquer."
  7. Roscoe East

    Roscoe East

    Aug 22, 2011
    the drugs
  8. experimental bassist

    experimental bassist

    Mar 15, 2009
    Ric 4001s and 4003s have a varnish or lacquer on their fretboard, while most other manufactures leave their rosewood necks natural (it's common for maple fretboards to be varnished/lacquered however)

    Also the old 4001s had a capacitor that blocked A LOT of the low end.

    This was to make Ric basses much more user friendly (and guitar like, probably the "thiness" you are talking about) with the limited bass amp technology of the time, and is what made Rickenbackers popular with progressive rock bands who pushed the bass into the forefront.

    But in my opinion, you may be thinking too much Rickenbacker and not enough Geddy.

    He sounds like himself no matter what, and although he used his Rics live alot in the late 70s, the first Rush album was all his '69 Fender Precision, he got his Ric(s) around 1975, but in '77 or so he fell in love with his '72 jazz bass which he recorded with extensively -along with his Rics- during the late 70s into the early '80s when he switched to Steinberger then Wal.

    Here's Geddy with his '69 Precision, and he sounds like Geddy!

  9. Matthew_84


    Nov 7, 2010
    Thanks again guys. I do know which songs he used the P, Ric, Jazz and others on, and I can hear slight differences between them all. I do agree that he sounds like Geddy on all of them, and the differences are slight, but for my next bass, I'm looking for something similar in clarity and thinness.

    Thanks for comfirning the lacquer. Would this have been applied to the wood before fretted, or on the fretboard afterwards? Would the lacquer have been applied to the frets as well? May be a stupid question, but I'm just curious.

    Any idea what that capacitor would have been like, or any idea what a good position for the bridge pickup would be - something like 60's or 70's jazz?
  10. experimental bassist

    experimental bassist

    Mar 15, 2009
    RIC laquers the neck after the frets are installed. Yes, refretting a well used Ric requires disturbing and reapplying this lacquer, just another charm to Ric ownership. :)

    Going from memory, but I THINK it was a 47 micro farad capacitor in the 4001's, but I'm sure that can easily be looked up somewhere on the interwebz.

    The new 4003 basses have a push/pull switch that allows you to switch between "vintage" (the old style capacitor) and modern (a capacitor that lets much more bottom end through - don't know this value, push pull switch came after I moved on from Rics).
  11. Ric5

    Ric5 SUSPENDED Supporting Member Commercial User

    Jan 29, 2008
    I convert 4 string Rickenbackers to 5 string basses.
    What gives an old 4001 its sound ...

    Several things ...

    1 - Maple ... Ricks are all maple
    2 - Bubinga fretboard - The laquered Bubinga fretboards contribute to the Ric bark.
    3 - 500k ohm tone pots with single coil pickups.
    4 - pickup locations. This part is huge for the Rick tone.

    Some people will tell you the neck through design and the .0047 capacitor are necessary to get the Ric tone. I disagree.
    FaithNoMan likes this.
  12. Jaco Taco

    Jaco Taco

    Jul 30, 2012
    This isn't exactly true. Geddy didn't first record with his Jazz bass until Moving Pictures in 1981. The albums Fly By Night through Permanent Waves are all Rickenbacker 4001. On Signals he went back to the Rickenbacker a bit, but that was it for that bass on studio recordings.

    Yeah, Geddy sounds like Geddy, and yeah he used similar amp settings on his Jazz bass. But his Ric still sounds like a Ric, and that's a different sounding bass than any other.
  13. Ric5

    Ric5 SUSPENDED Supporting Member Commercial User

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


    With a 70s 4001 wired stock and the .0047 capacitor installed the bridge pickup soloed will sound pretty bad.
  14. Ric5

    Ric5 SUSPENDED Supporting Member Commercial User

    Jan 29, 2008
    I convert 4 string Rickenbackers to 5 string basses.
    On Freewill and Premanant waves Geddy played the Ric with the tone wide open. On Moving Pictures Geddy rolled off the tone a little and the Ric had a little less edge. Also on Moving pictures it is hard to tell which bass is used on which track.
  15. Ric5

    Ric5 SUSPENDED Supporting Member Commercial User

    Jan 29, 2008
    I convert 4 string Rickenbackers to 5 string basses.
    The position for a bridge pickup on a Rick is about halfway between the 2 pickups on a Jazz bass. Center the pickup on th edge of a Fender pickguard and you are right about where Rick put the bridge pickup. The neck pickup goes exactly where a 24th fret would be.
  16. FretlessMainly


    Nov 17, 2010
    People seem to love to speak opinions as facts. Argue with this; I remember having a copy of this when in my senior year of HS when I first got a jetglo 4001:


    "Do you have any Gibson basses?"

    "No, but I recently lucked out and found a '69 or 70 Fender Jazz Bass in a pawnshop for an unbelievably low price of $200.00. Some Jazz Basses have chunkier necks, but this one is thin and smooth. It was in beautiful shape, and I just love it. In fact, I used it on about half of Permanent Waves."
  17. Jeff Scott

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

    For Rick basses with the neck pickup in the 1/2" location that would be approximately under the 22nd fret. Ric5 is correct for basses with the neck position at the 1" location. :cool:
  18. Ric5

    Ric5 SUSPENDED Supporting Member Commercial User

    Jan 29, 2008
    I convert 4 string Rickenbackers to 5 string basses.
    The 4003 and most of the 4001 had the 24th fret position.

    Most of the 4004 basses have the 22nd fret position and that give the bass a little more low end.
  19. Matthew_84


    Nov 7, 2010
    So, he would have solo'd the neck pickup? I'm just a bit surprised by this. That capacitor must have really choked the bass. But if all of this is true and that's what the neck pickup sounded like, I couldn't imagine anyone selecting the bridge pickup.
  20. Ric5

    Ric5 SUSPENDED Supporting Member Commercial User

    Jan 29, 2008
    I convert 4 string Rickenbackers to 5 string basses.
    I don't think he soloed the pickups on the Ric. But if you do want to solo a pickup on a 70s 4001 then it would have to be the neck pickup. The bridge pickup has a .0047 capacitor that totally removes the bass and low mids from the pickup. The bridge pickup soloed on a 70s 4001 will not sound like a bass at all.
    Chris Squire used to solo his neck pickup sometimes.

    I have several times rewired a 70s 4001 with all 250k ohm pots and with the .0047 capacitor removed. The bass still has a lot of treble but some of the harshness is gone and the bridge pickup can then be soloed.

    The best way to simulate the .0047 capacitor is to have an Audere preamp and turn the bass and low mids all the way down and then turn the treble and hi mids all the way up. This capacitor system was really designed to give the Ric guitars their "jangle" tone.