I BOUGHT THIS LATE-’30S SPECIMEN FROM A steel guitarist friend of mine about 20 years ago when I was living in Los Angeles. He was one hell of a pedal-steel player and was equally adept on lap-steel. A rule of thumb I always use is this: If you need a good-sounding instrument, try to buy one from a good-sounding player. They’ve usually set it up so it plays great and have already tweaked out most of the bugs.
I needed a good, cheap lap-steel for a project at the time and he sold me the instrument you see here for $200, about the going rate back then. It was cheap and it did what I needed. He also had offered me a beautiful 1930s black and white Bakelite Ric for $300, and I’m still kicking myself over turning that one down. But I’m a bottom feeder, and a $200 lap-steel was just fine with me at the time.
This Rickenbacker features a 1.5"- wide horseshoe-magnet pickup, all-metal hollowbody construction, and separate Volume and Tone controls. It also came with the original hardshell case—an added bonus. These were most likely student models when they came out, and probably sold for under $50 new
Some guitarists buy these cheap old lap-steels, take the pickups out, and then reinstall them into their favorite guitars in order to add a certain mojo, believing the pickups have a kind of gain, personality, and growl to them that modern pickups lack. I have to concur about the growl. These are very different from any other pickups out there, probably because pickup technology was so new in the ’30s, and there was no standardized way to make pickups.
When plugged in, these lap-steels have lots of sustain and plenty of bite. It’s hard for them to sound bad. There’s a sweetness and a ballsiness going on at the same time that’s hard to explain. It’s like listening to Ted Greene playing mellow jazz tones on a ’52 Tele and then handing it over to Roy Buchanan who rips it wide open into a Twin Reverb on 10. It has that same kind of yin-yang vibe.
I’ve had this Ric so long because it has kind of become an old friend. Every now and then it fills a need that other guitars just can’t. Whenever I break it out, I ask myself the same question: Why don’t I play this more often?