The Rickenbacker 4003 electric bass has a deep history. Rickenbacker's original solid-body electric bass was first introduced in the spring of 1957, bringing its own unique style to the Rock and Roll explosion of the early '60s and '70s. In the hands of bass-masters including Paul McCartney, Chris Squire, and Geddy Lee, Rickenbacker 4000-series basses forged a solid reputation for distinct tone and comfortable playability. The latest Rickenbacker 4003 bass stays true to its roots, offering these same characteristics to a whole new generation of players.
True pioneers in musical instrument construction, Rickenbacker luthiers were the first to produce a neck-thru-body bass design. A single piece of wood from the headstock to the tailpiece allows string vibration to travel unhindered through the length of the instrument. This results in a clarity of tone and ringing sustain unmatched by bolt-on or set-neck designs. The 4003 uses this same neck-thru principle today. This construction process is too time-consuming for most mass-production brands to implement, but many boutique bass builders are now discovering the benefits of what Rickenbacker has been doing from the beginning. It may take a little longer to build this bass, but Rickenbacker knows it's worth the wait. Get one in your hands, and you'll agree.
Balanced sound for diverse musical styles
Some basses offer deep tone at the low end of the spectrum, but the higher notes tend to be a bit thin. The Rickenbacker 4003's combination bridge/tailpiece assembly reflects more string energy over the pickups for a consistent, balanced sound across the entire fretboard. You get piano-like clarity at the top with plenty of growl down below. This is why Rickenbacker basses are played by such a diverse group of musicians. Lemmy from Motorhead, Andre 3000 from Outkast, Mike Mills from REM, and Chris Ross from Wolfmother are all able to get the tone they need from the same instrument. With so many genres represented, you're sure to dial in a sound that suits your style.
Fully adjustable saddles on the 4003
Beyond tone, individual string-saddles on the bridge are fully adjustable to fit any playing technique. Slappers, pickers, and fingerstyle players can all set the action to the perfect height for their unique attack. Raise the strings up off the fretboard to really dig in to the groove, or drop them down for a softer touch. Precise control over intonation helps get accurate pitch, everywhere on the neck. You can add tapping, artificial harmonics, and chording to your bag of tricks without having to wonder if the notes will be in tune. With all this versatility, you'll be ready to sit in with any band and lay down a tight, tasty groove.
Instead of the chunky, bass-heavy designs used by many manufacturers, a slim, streamlined body gives the Rickenbacker 4003 increased treble response and added punch. Both body and neck are made of maple for a full, bright tone with a nice, crisp bite. The rosewood fretboard adds mellow warmth, so notes in the upper register don't sound harsh or shrill. Any style, any technique, comes through with expressive, dynamic clarity.
All about the neck
The thin, fast neck has become a favorite among progressive-rockers and bass-shredders alike. Check out some of Cliff Burton's earliest work with Metallica, Chris Squier's jaw-dropping solos from the 70's, or any of Geddy Lee's blistering Rickenbacker riffs. You can play the slickest runs from low to high and back again without getting bogged down like you would on a fat-necked bass. It may be skinny, but it's also strong and stable thanks to the dual truss rod system. Each neck is designed with a natural curvature, or "neck relief", to ensure the best possible string/fret contact. If the neck relief changes, you'll get fret-buzz and even dead spots in extreme cases. The truss rod adds stiffness from inside, maintaining the proper curvature. Neck relief is partially dependent on string tension, so changing to heavier- or lighter-gauge strings can cause problems, along with temperature and humidity fluctuations. In these situations, the dual truss rod system can be tightened or loosened to compensate for the new conditions, letting every note ring out as it should.
Cutting-Edge Production Techniques
At one time, all 4000-series basses were handmade from start to finish. As the demand for their instruments continues to grow, Rickenbacker is constantly searching for hi-tech production techniques that offer faster turnaround time without sacrificing quality. To that end, massive CNC machines were recently installed in their Santa Ana, California factory to speed up some of the more labor-intensive tasks, including rough body- and neck-shaping. The cutting heads on these machines spin at 15,000 RPM, and they are accurate to 0.0001th of an inch. Combined with special reverse-engineering procedures, the designers can perfectly reproduce every curve and swell in the original instruments for an exact match in look and feel. Master craftsmen continue to fine-tune each and every bass, installing frets, adding binding, spraying finish coats, and more in order to maintain the high level of quality Rickenbackers are known for. Bridges and nuts are also hand-set for the best possible intonation. There's no guessing from one bass to the next; they all play and sound equally amazing.
The Vintage Tone Circuit
Further blending of the old and the new can be seen in the electronics setup on today's Rickenbacker 4003 basses. Prior to 1984, a special capacitor was used in the bridge-pickup circuit to enhance the treble tone. While this capacitor helped to define Chris Squire's signature sound, it also lowered the output of the pickup system. Hair-metal was in full swing in the mid-eighties, and guitar pickups were being wound hotter and hotter. Bass players wanted to keep up, so Rickenbacker dropped the capacitor, exchanging treble for volume. Many players missed the traditional sound, though, and would add the capacitor back into the circuit themselves. Rickenbacker got wind of the common modification and offered the Vintage Tone Circuit as an option. In 2006, this circuit again became a standard feature with a push/pull switch in the treble tone-knob. Pull out on the knob, and you've got that classic Roundabout sound. Push it back in, and grind through Smoke on the Water with all the earth-shaking volume you can muster, just like Roger Glover.
Rickenbacker continues to give you control over your tone with the famous Rick-O-Sound pickup system. Single-coil bridge- and neck-pickups each have their own separate tone- and volume-controls for building the perfect sonic balance. Two 1/4 inch output jacks allow for a variety of connection options. The standard output jack works like a regular bass output. Plug it into your amp, and thump away. The secondary jack can be used with a stereo Y-cable to route individual pickup outputs to separate sources. Players will often run the neck pickup through a separate EQ for a fatter bottom-end, while adding a chorus or flanger effect to the bridge pickup for swirly highs. The stereo-out is also great for routing the individual pickups to separate recording tracks. This lets you blend them where they sit best in the mix. No post-production wizardry necessary; your tracks will be ready to rock as you lay them down.
Attention to detail and quality components further add to the value of these great basses. Switchcraft jacks and switches are standard, along with custom-made CTS potentiometers. These American-made components provide years of performance and reliability, delivering that legendary Rickenbacker sound, gig after gig. Deluxe Schaller tuning machines prevent gear-slippage, keeping your bass on-pitch, all the time. The included case is custom-molded to fit the 4003, and has additional padding and heavy-duty hardware to keep it safe and secure during transport. With so much history and quality in one design, your new Rickenbacker bass will quickly become the centerpiece of your collection.
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In the short lifetime of electric string instruments, very few basses have earned the accolade necessary to genuinely call themselves "classics." Even less can claim the title of industry standard -- but no one can dispute the fact that the Rickenbacker 4000 Series deserves these titles. The piano string-like ring, punch, and sustain brought the bass player out of the shadows and into the spotlight.
Entire dimensions of bass playing capability are directly attributable to this venerable series. Rickenbacker basses are still handmade in America, using traditional methods refined and honed since Adolph Rickenbacker put his first electric guitar in service at the United States Patent Office almost 70 years ago. Experienced craftsmen lovingly oversee every detail of production. No robots, no computerized machinery -- just human hands and eyes, backed by a determination to make, quite simply, the best products possible.
Prior to 1984, Rickenbacker basses utilized a capacitor in the treble pickup circuit to emphasize treble tones coming from that pickup. However, changes in tone preference and a call for higher output led RIC to discontinue the use of this capacitor in favor of a more balanced sound. Nevertheless, many users added this capacitor back into the circuit, experimenting with and sometimes preferring the sound of the older configuration, despite the resulting drop in volume.
Rickenbacker has decided to give players a choice, allowing the best of both worlds. With a simple pull of the treble tone control, the Vintage Tone Selector will allow a player to move between both sounds at the drop of a hat. Pressed in, you'll hear the familiar balanced tone of the 4003, while pulled out to engage the circuit, you'll appreciate the bite and crispness popularized by such artists as Chris Squire.
Combination Tailpiece and Bridge Assembly
Nestled into a massive metal tailpiece, the height adjustable bridge reflects the maximum string energy back as extra punch. Individually saddled strings have generous intonation adjustment range. A variable mute assembly hides out of the way until called upon; each side adjusts separately. Strings are easily threaded through the end of the tailpiece for rapid changes.
Internationally Acclaimed Pickups
Traceable back to Rickenbacker's original 1928 patent, this bass pickup is renowned for unbelievable clarity and wide range response. Both pickups on the 4003 models are single coil, hum protected designs with high power output. Adjustment screws lower and raise units to player's preference.
The toggle pickup selector may be used to switch from one output channel to the other, or both. Each 4003 bass has separate treble and bass tone controls and separate pickup volume controls. The control knobs were selected not only for aesthetic reasons, but also for visibility in typical low light situations.
Dual Rod Neck-Through Body
Always the hallmark of a Rickenbacker, the neck runs the full length of the bass; string tension remains entirely on one laminated wood assembly. The result is a lifetime of accuracy of alignment, plus markedly superior sustain and tone. All bass necks have 2 field replaceable truss rods, allowing for each side to be adjusted separately.
A Balanced Neck and Body System
Instantly recognizable, the fluidly sculptural body and head shape serve primarily to establish proper instrument balance. One of the thinnest and fastest necks around plus an ergonomically accurate body contour mean easy playing without fatigue. Full cutaways permit access to the highest frets without strain and a conventional tail shape permits stable storage in a stand between sets.
Bass Tuning Keys
The keywinds are superbly crafted to microscopically fine tolerances. As a result, gear backlash and slippage are virtually eliminated. All components are completely removable for cleaning or maintenance and finished to a superlative smoothness, fully protected from hard use or abuse.
All Round Protection
A deluxe molded hardshell case is included with each Rickenbacker bass. Plush lined and form fitted, these hard wearing cases feature an accessory pocket, heavy-duty hardware, and extra padding.
zZounds Expert Review
Rickenbacker's legendary reputation for fine craftsmanship was evident on my demo bass; a Fireglo finish with gleaming chrome hardware. Every inch of this bass was flawless, from the smooth, expertly installed binding to the well-dressed frets. The 4003 really looks and feels like a throwback to the original design, and I was anxious to hear it in action.
The Opposite Of Frankenstein's Monster
I started by playing it unplugged to get a sense of the 4003's acoustic properties. If you've never played a neck-through bass, you owe it to yourself to give one a go. Since there's no glue or bolts inhibiting the vibration of the strings from transferring to the neck and down into the body, the whole instrument thrums with a pleasing resonance when you strike a note. Even unamplified, the increased sustain and bolder tone (compared to non-thru basses I've played) were clearly evident.
The neck-through design also offers more comfortable access to the higher frets, since there's no bulky heel to get in the way. And just because it's thinner than other necks, I didn't feel it was any more delicate than normal. Rickenbacker uses their standard dual-action truss rod on the 4003, offering additional support and adjustment when needed. On my demo bass, the neck relief was perfect right out of the box, along with the action and intonation. I was able to fly up and down the neck with no problems, and most techniques including fingerstyle, picking, chording, and tapping were virtually effortless with the low action. I wouldn't necessarily recommend slapping on this bass, though. The bridge pickup cover is in kind of an awkward place and pulled my arm out of a comfortable position when I tried to slap, and the neck pickup is pushed farther forward than I was expecting. Slapping right on top of the pole pieces is a recipe for disaster, and the action was a bit low to accommodate quick popping on the higher strings anyway. But for everything else, it felt very nice.
That's not to say it's all a big love-fest, lest you think I'm a shill for the man. I do have a few gripes. First, the balance wasn't fantastic, and the headstock tended to dip down when I took my hand off the neck. Second, there's only twenty frets. Would it have killed them to go to 21? I don't always jump up to that high E on the G string, but it's nice to know it's there when you need it. I've got a few more quibbles, but I'll sprinkle them in as I go.
On The Juice
Much of Rickenbacker's signature tone is derived from their single-coil pickup design. They don't really sound like anything else, yet the tone seems right at home in a wide range of styles and genres. Who would've thought Lemmy from Motorhead, Mike Mills from REM, and Chris Squire from Yes would all reach for the same axe?
Plugged into an Ampeg combo amp with a 15-inch speaker, my demo 4003 sounded very nice. Fast runs came through with clarity, and long, powerful root notes seemed to take on additional character as they developed. Switching to an SWR 4x10 cabinet added a bright, punchy crispness, but never sounded too harsh. Distortion pedals get along very well with this bass. The tone never devolved into an inarticulate mess, but instead stayed present and pronounced with plenty of snappy bite.
As I mentioned earlier, the bass was set up very well right out of the box. I can't say the same for the pickups, though. The lower strings seemed to be much louder than the higher strings, and I had to spend some time using the included adjustment wrenches to balance out the height of the pickup, then the individual pole pieces, then the bridge to get a consistent amplified volume from string to string. It was kind of a hassle, and not what I would expect from an instrument in this price range. Once I had made the adjustments, it was fine.
Rickenbacker includes a three-way pickup selector and dedicated volume and tone controls per pickup. By playing around with various blends of volume and tone, I was able to achieve some different colors, though none of them really strayed too far away from the signature 'Rickenbacker Sound'. But, people primarily buy this bass for that sound, so in that sense, it lived up to expectation. The bridge pickup's tone knob is push/pull, engaging or defeating Rickenbacker's Vintage Tone Circuit. With the circuit activated, the tone is much brighter, giving an instant Chris Squire vibe. I prefer the tone to be more balanced, so spent most of my time with the VTC off.
Not To Be Confused With Rick-O-Casek
Another legendary feature on the 4003 bass is the Ric-O-Sound system, an integrated splitter that lets you set up a separate signal path for each pickup. If you're not familiar with this system, be warned, it's not quite as straightforward as it looks. The jackplate on the bass has two 1/4-inch outputs, but they're not meant to be used in tandem. The first output sends a blended output of both pickups, just like most other basses. The Ric-O-Sound output is a TRS connection, requiring some sort of adapter to get at the two individual pickup streams. I used a Hosa Y-adapter with a 1/4-inch TRS male end feeding two 1/4-inch TS female plugs. Two standard instrument cables run from the female plugs out to each separate signal chain. I definitely would have preferred a cleaner cable run to make this happen, but was able to make do. Some sort of internal switching to use both of the outputs for the Ric-O-Sound would save a lot of frustration.
I ran the neck pickup out to the 15-inch Ampeg combo, then boosted the bass and cut the highs and mids for a thunderous bottom end. The bridge pickup was routed to a pedalboard with an exciter, wah, and overdrive, then out to the SWR 4x10 EQ'ed to emphasize the higher frequencies. I was able to get plenty of aggressive attack from the bridge without sacrificing the low end. I couldn't get enough of this rig. If you have the means, I highly recommend picking one up.