4003 review by Rickenbacker

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  • Features: 9
  • Sound: 9
  • Action, Fit & Finish: 10
  • Reliability & Durability: 8
  • Overall Impression: 9
  • Reviewer's score: 9 Superb
  • Users' score: 9.3 (103 votes)
Rickenbacker: 4003

Purchased from: eBay

Features — 9
I purchased my RIC 4003 FG 2015 model in the US, from Australia. The same bass retails here for one and a half times this amount in USD, and twice this amount in AUD. So given the original price plus shipping, it was worth the effort. It is a standard 4003, strung with RIC 45-105's, with a 20-fret maple neck through body model with a rosewood fingerboard. It has a 84.5 cm "medium scale." A buying decision for me, was the dual 3/8" truss-rods, which are now standard, since 1975. The fretboard is inlaid with mother of pearl, in truncated triangular fret-markers. The body has a glossy nitro finish over solid maple. The finish easily takes advantage of the maple timber, especially on the back, to highlight the unique grain patterns. The elongated bout body shape with front-edge white binding, is unique to the Rickenbacker 4000 series. The RIC die-cast tailpiece and bridge is unique, but longer and heavier than my all-in-one Gibson EB-3 Bass. The 4003 Bass comes standard with two pickups, two volume and two tone dials, a three-way selector switch, and wiring for Mono and Stereo Rick-O-Sound (post-1971). One of the tone pots is a push-pull selector switch, which gives a choice of vintage or standard tones. It comes equipped with four RIC Schaller Deluxe non-locking machine heads. It also has Schaller straplocks as standard. Comes with a hard case containing a manual, cloth, hex keys, case keys, warranty (US-only) and RIC sticker.

Sound — 9
I have and will continue to play a variety of styles, principally rock, country, traditional, alternative, pop, mixed with rhythm and blues. The tuning, post new gear wear-in, so far, has been solid, even after leaving the guitar neglected for a few days. I can imagine that I could play it to fit into gig and concert performances with a variety of other instruments with the right sounding amp. It sounds quite different from my Fender P-Bass and Gison EB-3, through my Fender Rumble 350 2x10" 350-Watt Bass Combo, plus my Fender Rumble 30 30W 1x10 Bass Combo Amp and my Orange Crush 25BX practice amp. Re pedals, I tend to use my current basic line-up which include a Boss GE-7, TE-2, MT-2, BF-3, CE-5, a Dunlop Fuzzface abd Vox Wah. None of these are bass specific. My AVID "Fast Track Duo" extends it's capabilities even further with a host of tonal and effects options. Absolutely, no hum, it's sharply resonant and distinct tones, care of the two tonal controls, that swim immersively into rich Bass tones, with the right amp. As this a relatively new instrument I haven't taken it into "the farthest reaches" of gigging and recording that I have with my P-Bass, yet. The best depth to push the GAIN on your amp, is achieved at full volume, as these are passive pickups. Although, even at 3/4 volume, it has demonstrated a range so far, that clearly recreates many of my favourite Brit-'60s rock sounds, as keenly as cloning a complex CURE 'Thunderbird' Bassline.

Action, Fit & Finish — 10
As with most Rickenbackers, the factory set-up was matchless. The pups were well set-up and the lower pup cover installed. All the timber-work is CNC routed and the body timber is keenly bookmatched. There have been no apparent flaws in any of the materials or finishes. I have not been required to do my usual strip-down to reset the guitar neck (as on the RIC 4003, it's impossible), body and interiors and rebuild it to the manfacturer's specifications, as it's come from the factory, absolutely flawless.

Reliability & Durability — 8
Rock-solid build, as long as look after the neck through body, which is comparable feature to my Gibson EB-3. The hardware is robust. Straplocks match male Schallers. Although, I have thing about using Ernie Balls on Gibson's, due to their locations, it's no problem with the RIC's. I would find it a thoroughly dependable beast, based on my experience with my RIC 360/6, it's a unique tone but you can never overcome the randomness of gig's, as things break, people trip over gear - nightmares do happen! Finish is robust to last with simple TLC and no solvent-based sprays or chemicals near it. I have learnt my "nitro-cellulose" lessons in my youth!

Overall Impression — 9
This will fit most Rock music but my home-made fretless bass will still have a place, for some of those blues and country numbers requiring a slide-approach. I have been playing since my teen years, so that makes this a vintage observation. I have many other guitars (acoustic and electric), basses and ukes, including uke bass gear, which all gets rotated and added onto at miscellaneous junctures. I swotted up before I bought this bass and I highly recommend "The Rickenbacker Electric Bass: 50 Years as Rock's Bottom," Paul D. Boyer, 2013, Hal Leonard Books. If it were stolen, I'd definitely acquire another one, but only if I could get it at the "right AUD price." I love that it doesn't suffer "dropsy" from the headstock, like other basses that... I need to keep-in-check. My favourite feature is the dual tone and volume controls, the purpose built bridge-tailpiece and it's overall styling from the distinct iconic upper bout and headstock silhouettes. These were hallmarks it's predecessor the Rickenbacker 4001's "crested-wave" body shape which was designed by luthier Roger Rossmeisl for Rickenbacker's original model 4000. I have compared the spec's to my existing Fender P-Bass and to my Gibson EB-3, before I bought it and it demonstrably adds a unique range in the Bass Dept. I may wish, in the future, that it comes with locking tuners after a grueling gig, but I haven't reached that hurdle, yet. The only thing that I feel compelled to test out is comparative set of strings, looks like it might be DR "Hall Balls," next?

3 comments sorted by best / new / date

    I changed both pickups on mine to old style Gibson Thunberbird/EB3 style bridge bass mini-humbuckings which dropped right in with no gouging of wood or filing the cutout in the pickguard. The mounting screws were on the same centers. The Gibson pu's have about twice as much sensitivity and output volume with no noticeable change in tonal range or versatility from the stock Ric pu's. The push-pull bridge pickup tone circuit selector still gives the old style bit when engaged - good for fingernail or pick attack playing. I love the action and the slightly shorter scale. It is almost as fast as my pencil-neck VOX and Framus F-66 30.5 inch basses. The bass cost me nearly $1950 but when I buy instruments I keep them for life and compared to my used German-made bass fiddle this bass is arguably equally worth the money. I must say that the mute design is disappointingly impractical to deploy or retract between songs compared to my old Gibsons, two of which feature the Vari-mute bridge system.
    I should clarify that the pickups I used are the old style with the solid chrome pot covers - no holes for adjustable pole pieces so you simply raise or lower the treble or bass side of the pickup. I did a trick where I took the whole big treble pickup ring off and mounted the pickup cover to the ring using Nylox torque retaining nuts with plastic inserts which along with some little hard rubber washers I drew the cover up snug to the bottom of the mounting plate with just enough tightness that the screws wound still turn and then screwed them through the bottom plastic plate that holds the pickup. Now I can adjust the pickup height without removing the cover and everything is nice and snug with no give or slop in the cover. Since the pickups are humbucking and completely shielded in metal, there iks no hum whatsoever. I noticed John Kay's Ric guitar appears to use very similar pickups with no holes for pole pieces. I play my bass through an Ampeg SVT7/Peavey CS400 triamp system with 18" Vega folded horn, 2 12" for mids and a 600Hz cast iron JBL radial horn for highs. I have three 31 band mono EQs that I use as my electronic crossover. It is actually my Hammond XK3 organ amp but it works amazing for bass - especially the Ric. My practice amp is a Kustom III Lead SC John Fogarty model combo amp into which I installed two heavy duty 12" and some duct tube ports and sealed the back of the cabinet. I also use it for my club amp for my string bass.
    I first noticed the 4001 maybe? when Dave Brubeck's son was performing jazz with dad and would sometimes use an upright and sometimes a Ric bass. I'm sure it was an older one with the houndstooth alternating black and white checkerboard binding. Those older necks were one fret shorter. There was an article many years ago which said that Chris Squire from Yes had 2 Ric basses because he was always playing one while the other was at the factory getting refretted because he banged and ground so hard on the RotoSound round wound strings to get the trebly growl he wanted.