All about the Rickenbacker 4003

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JezWyndJezWynd Frets: 2421
Despite having played short scale basses exclusively for many years, I've always had a yen to get a Ric and now might the time. I know very little about them though and haven't laid hands on one for many years and then briefly. I'm not able to try one out where I'm living so it'll be a case of try and return if it doesn't suit.

My main concern is with the neck - should I go for maple or rosewood, do they have their own sound?
Is it possible to find a rosewood board that isn't lacquered? Most if not all I'm looking at appear to have a gloss neck finish on the fretboard, something I really don't like.

I'm pretty certain I'll go with the soft contoured body and dot inlays, are there any issues I should think about or look out for in making a choice? Ideally, I'd like a walnut body with rosewood unlacquered fretboard but I'm not seeing any of these around in my searches.

Is there much variation in neck shape, do certain years have slimmer necks for instance?

Any advice and or tips gratefully received.
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  • Incoming "missile" missive, methinks.

    Regular production 4003 basses have rosewood fingerboards. A maple fingerboard usually indicates a special edition instrument. (e.g. The walnut version.) Gloss varnish on the fingerboard is Rick's way. 


    "It's no wonder the Pacific Ocean is blue."
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  • prowlaprowla Frets: 1019
    I can't say I particularly notice whether the fingerboard is lacquered or not.

    I think the neck itself is maple regardless of the fingerboard.

    There are variances in the neck shape; I've played some which are too big and others which are nice and slim.

    The "S" and "CS" versions are the round-edged ones without binding, but I can't say I have a particular preference.

    As far as issues go - check it's straight (you can look along it and also just play the thing!) and whether the tailpiece has the dreaded "tail-lift" (the tension of the strings can start to pull the ehd of the tailpiece away from the body.

    Also make sure that the bass is a real Ric; I've been to see one which turned out to be a copy!
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  • JezWyndJezWynd Frets: 2421
    Incoming "missile" missive, methinks.

    Regular production 4003 basses have rosewood fingerboards. A maple fingerboard usually indicates a special edition instrument. (e.g. The walnut version.) Gloss varnish on the fingerboard is Rick's way. 


    Is that a component of the 'Ric sound' d'ya think? Also, if I can pick your brains some more, does the maple fingerboard have a gloss finish too?
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  • JezWynd said:
    Gloss varnish on the fingerboard is Rick's way. 
    Is that a component of the 'Ric sound' d'ya think?
    I'm going to duck that one. Whatever answer I give, ICBM will contradict some of it.

    The Ric 4000 family bass guitar isn't a sound. It's a way of life. (You'll love it.) 

    I suggest that you listen carefully to the Rush album, Moving Pictures. On each composition, try to work out whether bassist Geddy Lee is using a Rick or the Fender Jazz Bass with which he later became strongly associated.
    "It's no wonder the Pacific Ocean is blue."
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  • JezWyndJezWynd Frets: 2421
    Thanks @Funkfingers, I'll give Moving Pictures a listen. I'm not at all familiar with their stuff. Chris Squire is the bass sound I most associate with Rics, esp Fragile period.
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  • Chris Squire was a unique player. 

    I'm not suggesting Moving Pictures as a demonstration of the Rick bass sound. I want you to decide for yourself whether you can tell any difference between brands R and F.
    "It's no wonder the Pacific Ocean is blue."
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  • prowlaprowla Frets: 1019
    edited September 2017
    The trick to spotting the Ric is to listen to the sound higher up the neck; it tends to get "thicker", whereas others don't.

    FYI, Moving Pictures is probably my favourite album; Vital Signs is a lot easier to play on a Jazz than a Ric.

    If you want to get Geddy playing a Ric, listen to the A Farewell To Kings album.
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  • prowlaprowla Frets: 1019
    I think the Ric fretboards with the dots aren't lacquered over.
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  • Rickenbacker 4003 remind me of Scott Pilgtim Vs The World.   I love the bass battle in that movie Mustang Competition short scale bass vs the 4003 .  Fun fact, the Ricky sound was privided by the Fender, and vice versa. 

    I regret selling my CIJ Mustang bass.  They've doubled in value since I sold mine..  
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  • ICBMICBM Frets: 32848
    All 4001 and 4003 boards are lacquered, unless someone's taken it off.

    If you want the contoured body (ie no binding on the front) you want a 4001S, 4003S (neither made any more) or a reissue 4001V63 or C64 - these will usually cost more than a non-reissue model mostly due to the 'horseshoe' bridge pickup (which is expensive) and toaster neck pickup.

    The S version also has dot inlays instead of triangles, and no stereo outputs, and has the normal pickups.

    There was a limited edition 4003 with a walnut body and a maple fingerboard, which is maybe what you're thinking of… it came in both the bound version and the S version.

    There's also the 4004C, which has a walnut body and an unlacquered maple fingerboard, but doesn't look like a classic Rick bass - no pickguard, only two knobs, and more modern pickups and bridge.
    "Take these three items, some WD-40, a vise grip, and a roll of duct tape. Any man worth his salt can fix almost any problem with this stuff alone."
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  • JezWyndJezWynd Frets: 2421
    Chris Squire was a unique player. 

    I'm not suggesting Moving Pictures as a demonstration of the Rick bass sound. I want you to decide for yourself whether you can tell any difference between brands R and F.
    I'm a firm believer in the player rather than the instrument makes the sound. Certain guitars/basses have a signature sound but that doesn't mean that with a bit of player and pedal magic they can't sound like something else.
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  • JezWyndJezWynd Frets: 2421

    ICBM said:
    All 4001 and 4003 boards are lacquered, unless someone's taken it off.

    If you want the contoured body (ie no binding on the front) you want a 4001S, 4003S (neither made any more) or a reissue 4001V63 or C64 - these will usually cost more than a non-reissue model mostly due to the 'horseshoe' bridge pickup (which is expensive) and toaster neck pickup.
    Are you certain? The 4003S appears on Rickenbacker's web site.

    http://www.rickenbacker.com/model.asp?model=4003S

    It's the walnut version I'm currently considering, I like a natural wood finish. If I was able to find an old 4001, would it have a slimmer neck?

    Thanks for all the info, it's very helpful.
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  • prowlaprowla Frets: 1019
    JezWynd said:

    ICBM said:
    All 4001 and 4003 boards are lacquered, unless someone's taken it off.

    If you want the contoured body (ie no binding on the front) you want a 4001S, 4003S (neither made any more) or a reissue 4001V63 or C64 - these will usually cost more than a non-reissue model mostly due to the 'horseshoe' bridge pickup (which is expensive) and toaster neck pickup.
    Are you certain? The 4003S appears on Rickenbacker's web site.

    http://www.rickenbacker.com/model.asp?model=4003S

    It's the walnut version I'm currently considering, I like a natural wood finish. If I was able to find an old 4001, would it have a slimmer neck?

    Thanks for all the info, it's very helpful.
    I think he meant the V63 & C64 models.

    I (also) think the 4003S is a current model in the range (and I further think its neck isn't lacquered).
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  • ICBMICBM Frets: 32848
    JezWynd said:

    Are you certain? The 4003S appears on Rickenbacker's web site.
    prowla said:

    I think he meant the V63 & C64 models.

    I (also) think the 4003S is a current model in the range (and I further think its neck isn't lacquered).
    I did mean the S - I thought it was discontinued… but even if it's currently listed it doesn't necessarily mean you can get one :). Rickenbacker are like that - there's a 2+ year wait for some models if dealers don't have existing stock.

    I'm almost certain the fingerboard will be lacquered though - it's usually only the oil-finished models which aren't.

    I'm also interested to see that RIC are listing the fingerboard wood on all the models as rosewood - it always used to be bubinga. If they've changed, that would be an odd choice given the new CITES rules - although bubinga may also be covered anyway, since it is a related wood.

    JezWynd said:

    It's the walnut version I'm currently considering, I like a natural wood finish. If I was able to find an old 4001, would it have a slimmer neck?
    Yes.

    Be careful with old Rickenbackers (pre-1985) though - they have the original truss rod design which is prone to being damaged by being adjusted wrongly. They're repairable, but it can be a bit of a pain. In extreme cases it can crack the fingerboard away from the neck too...
    "Take these three items, some WD-40, a vise grip, and a roll of duct tape. Any man worth his salt can fix almost any problem with this stuff alone."
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  • JezWyndJezWynd Frets: 2421
    prowla said:
    JezWynd said:

    ICBM said:
    All 4001 and 4003 boards are lacquered, unless someone's taken it off.

    If you want the contoured body (ie no binding on the front) you want a 4001S, 4003S (neither made any more) or a reissue 4001V63 or C64 - these will usually cost more than a non-reissue model mostly due to the 'horseshoe' bridge pickup (which is expensive) and toaster neck pickup.
    Are you certain? The 4003S appears on Rickenbacker's web site.

    http://www.rickenbacker.com/model.asp?model=4003S

    It's the walnut version I'm currently considering, I like a natural wood finish. If I was able to find an old 4001, would it have a slimmer neck?

    Thanks for all the info, it's very helpful.
    I think he meant the V63 & C64 models.

    I (also) think the 4003S is a current model in the range (and I further think its neck isn't lacquered).
    Agreed, it looks like the 4003S isn't lacquered, which further complicated choosing.

    Then I saw this -



    4001C64. It's a 2010 model with the reverse headstock, which looks a little weird but it ticks all my boxes. Deal done. The waiting really is the hardest part (it's coming from Italy). Fingers crossed for a safe transit.
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  • pauladspaulads Frets: 232
    I have a 4003s in ruby red...prior to that, I had a 4003 in jetglo which I didn't like as much as I do the "s" model. They were both great basses, very playable and I've always thought the newer ric basses are very versatile too. My mates '74 4001 is a lovely vintage bass but, personally, I think the new ones are much better.
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  • JezWyndJezWynd Frets: 2421
    4001C64 arrived safely from Italy. Surprised to discover the fretboard is lacquered. Very happy with it though and I'm sure I'll adapt okay. The truss rod may require a tweak, it has a very slight back bow but I'll leave it to acclimatise for 48 hours first and restring with flats before making any changes. First long scale bass for 20+ years.


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  • RockerRocker Frets: 2744
    You could phone  

    The Music Trading Company, 21 Lion Street, Rye, East Sussex, ​​​TN31 7LB 

    01797 222966 
    I thought I saw a Ricky or two hanging on the wall when we were in Rye about two months ago.  Not sure if they were guitars or basses.....
    Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. [Albert Einstein]

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  • ICBMICBM Frets: 32848
    JezWynd said:
    4001C64 arrived safely from Italy. Surprised to discover the fretboard is lacquered.
    I did tell you .

    Glad to hear it got here safely though, that's the main thing. A scraper and some wire wool will sort out the fingerboard if you really don't like it...

    Rocker said:
    You could phone
    The Music Trading Company, 21 Lion Street, Rye, East Sussex, ​​​TN31 7LB
    01797 222966
    I thought I saw a Ricky or two hanging on the wall when we were in Rye about two months ago.  Not sure if they were guitars or basses.....
    According to their website they have no basses, but three guitars - two of which are at bonkers prices! Although that may just be normal for new Ricks now, I haven't looked for a while.
    "Take these three items, some WD-40, a vise grip, and a roll of duct tape. Any man worth his salt can fix almost any problem with this stuff alone."
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  • JezWyndJezWynd Frets: 2421
    ICBM said:
    JezWynd said:
    4001C64 arrived safely from Italy. Surprised to discover the fretboard is lacquered.
    I did tell you .

    Glad to hear it got here safely though, that's the main thing. A scraper and some wire wool will sort out the fingerboard if you really don't like it...
    You did! I should of listened to ICBM. I'm not planning on taking any abrasives to it though. When I stated I didn't like lacquered fretboards, I was thinking mainly of some Fenders I've seen in the past; the Ric is a much lighter lacquer coat, I don't think it it will be a problem. The extra 3" on the fretboard will take some getting used to though - it's a very different instrument to the SG bass.

    My main concern is adjusting the truss rod, I've never done it on a dual rod system. I've done some. reading etc, including the Ric manual (v brief) and Joey's Rickenbacker pages (much more helpful). Taking it very gradually seems to be the advice.  I assume I need to adjust both rods equally at all times (there's no twist in the neck and back bow is v slight (I'm kinda hoping taking the strings to pitch may resolve it).
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  • ICBMICBM Frets: 32848
    The modern Rick rods are actually much more straightforward than the pre-1985 ones - you don't need to pre-bend the neck, you can tighten them normally. You're right that it's best to keep the tension in both reasonably similar - although Rickenbacker describe them as 'independent', they aren't really because the neck has to move as one piece.

    Unlike most basses the recommended relief is zero, or as close to it as you can get without a backbow, so a relief of about .001" is ideal - just enough to tell that there is a gap! They do really seem to play best like this.
    "Take these three items, some WD-40, a vise grip, and a roll of duct tape. Any man worth his salt can fix almost any problem with this stuff alone."
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  • JezWyndJezWynd Frets: 2421
    Phew! Truss rod adjustment not required. When new strings were tuned up and bridge slightly raised on treble side, with the 1st and 17th frets depressed, there's just enough clearance at 9th fret to get a couple of sheets of paper between fret and string which translates to a very slight forward bow. I guess I could make it dead straight but it sounds good so I'll leave it for now. Even the intonation is spot on. Love the low profile frets on this, so easy to play. Gratuitous Ric porn -

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  • strtdvstrtdv Frets: 1213
    As @ICBM says, you'll want basically no neck relief at all on a Ric, they play and intonate better that way.  
    They have their idiosyncrasies but when set up properly they play and sound fantastic
    Robot Lords of Tokyo, SMILE TASTE KITTENS!
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  • JezWyndJezWynd Frets: 2421
    strtdv said:
    As @ICBM says, you'll want basically no neck relief at all on a Ric, they play and intonate better that way.  
    They have their idiosyncrasies but when set up properly they play and sound fantastic
    Yes, you are right, it definitely should be straight but I'm having such a blast playing it atm that I'm loath to mess with it. I will address it shortly as the intonation has drifted on the E and A strings slightly (not to hear but the tuner tells me so).

    Perhaps @ICBM can help me here - I have an imbalance in pu volumes. The bridge is louder than the neck. The neck pu is set quite low so the obvious thing would be to raise it but it doesn't allow it to be raised hardly at all. It feels as though the screws are tight up against the floor of the pu cavity (a guess as I haven't yet removed the pick guard). The only other option then seems to be lowering the bridge pu - this necessitates taking off the horseshoe. Is this the only way or should the neck pu be raisable? Perhaps the imbalance is a Ric thing? Although noticeable it still allows for 3 quite separate sounds - neck / bridge + neck / bridge.
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  • ICBMICBM Frets: 32848
    The bridge pickup is meant to be louder, it's for overdriving the amp ;).

    If you look under the pickguard you should find height springs for the neck pickup, or rubber sleeving depending on the age of it. You can cut these down if the pickup needs to go higher, but make absolutely sure the four screws on the corners of the pickup don't press any harder than just touching the guard, at the very most - or you will crack the guard.

    You can lower the bridge pickup without lowering the cover if you take it apart and add a couple of spacers between the two, if you want to keep the cover on. I used some rubber grommets about 1/4" thick on mine, since I prefer greater string clearance to allow for my hamfisted thrashing :).
    "Take these three items, some WD-40, a vise grip, and a roll of duct tape. Any man worth his salt can fix almost any problem with this stuff alone."
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  • ICBM said:
    my hamfisted thrashing :).
    Hmmm. Maybe I should get one after all...
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  • JezWyndJezWynd Frets: 2421
    Thanks @ICBM. If it's designed that way then I'll leave it alone. I'm embracing all things Rickenbacker atm. They're both fantastic pickups, very articulate and I love the hint of growl the bridge can give. I think the bridge pu sounds best through my little valve amp, the Phil Jones stays a bit too clean whereas the 6v6s dirty up nicely.
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  • ICBMICBM Frets: 32848
    In a way it's a shame you got one without the stereo outputs, even though it's a very cool thing…

    In stereo, you can run the neck pickup through a big clean amp, and the bridge through a lower-powered valve one. The best sound I ever got with mine was the neck through an Ampeg B2R and the bridge through a Hiwatt DR103 - it sounded like double-tracked bass, even though obviously the timing was identical!

    You can still split the signal even with a mono output, but it doesn't quite sound the same.

    "Take these three items, some WD-40, a vise grip, and a roll of duct tape. Any man worth his salt can fix almost any problem with this stuff alone."
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  • JezWyndJezWynd Frets: 2421
    ICBM said:
    In a way it's a shame you got one without the stereo outputs, even though it's a very cool thing…

    In stereo, you can run the neck pickup through a big clean amp, and the bridge through a lower-powered valve one. The best sound I ever got with mine was the neck through an Ampeg B2R and the bridge through a Hiwatt DR103 - it sounded like double-tracked bass, even though obviously the timing was identical!

    You can still split the signal even with a mono output, but it doesn't quite sound the same.

    Yes, that thought occurred to me too, although I steered myself away from the stereo outs thinking they wouldn't get used. With the stereo version, do you need a special lead or do they split from the dual outputs?
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  • ICBMICBM Frets: 32848
    JezWynd said:

    Yes, that thought occurred to me too, although I steered myself away from the stereo outs thinking they wouldn't get used. With the stereo version, do you need a special lead or do they split from the dual outputs?
    You need a special lead, or better a 'Rick-o-Sound' box, which is easier to fit with a ground lift for one of the outputs which is usually necessary. You can't use the dual output jacks at the same time, the way they're wired will mute the output because a mono plug in the stereo jack will short it to ground.

    To be honest I almost never use them either, it's just too much of a faff to set up for live use. I actually use it more on guitar, the bridge pickup through dirt/modulation and the neck pickup clean through delay/reverb is amazing - even more like two guitars playing at once.
    "Take these three items, some WD-40, a vise grip, and a roll of duct tape. Any man worth his salt can fix almost any problem with this stuff alone."
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