Even though Adolph Rickenbacker is credited with being one of the co-creators of the first electric guitar in 1931, the company that bore his name would not really come into its own until he sold it in 1953. By then, Fender had already introduced the Telecaster, followed by Gibson with its Les Paul. The Rickenbacker catalog from that year showcased the A-22, using the same "frying pan" design of that original electric from 1931. Rickenbacker had a lot of catching up to do, but thanks to The Beatles, they quickly got there.
The new company began its ascendency with the Combo 600 and Combo 800, a pair of solid-body guitars with a cutaway to the 19th fret on the treble side and 15th fret on the bass side. The guitars were identical except for the pickups—the 600 had a single pickup while the 800 had a double. The earliest 1954 Combos had a square head. Later that year, the head would be given its characteristic asymmetrical Rickenbacker shape. All models had the same handsome blond finish.
A second crop of new electric guitars was introduced in 1956. The Combo 400 was the first Rickenbacker to feature a neck with through-body construction, rather than just being screwed onto the body like a Fender. The 400’s so-called "Tulip" body had symmetrical cutaways and came in green, brown, or black. The Combo 400 from 1957 had an even deeper cutaway on the treble side of the neck. The 400 was replaced in 1958 by the 450, whose body evolved that year from a clone of the Tulip-style 400 to a new design with a so-called cresting-wave shape.
Although the Combo 450 in either body style is eminently collectible, it usually gets overshadowed by another vintage Rickenbacker guitar from 1958, the Capri. Offered in models from the 310 to the 345, this hollow-body electric guitar with a single cat’s-eye sound hole gained lasting fame when John Lennon of The Beatles purchased a natural-finish 325. Lennon refinished his 325 in black (the gold-backed Lucite pickguard remained unimproved) and played it until 1964. In the early 1960s, Rickenbacker produced three more 325s for Lennon, including a one-of-a-kind 12-string.
Paul McCartney and George Harrison also became Rickenbacker acolytes. In 1965, McCartney traded in his Hofner for a left-handed Fireglo, dual-pickup 4001S. Harrison put down his Gretsch Duo-Jet every so often to play his Rickenbacker Combo 425, as well as a 360 12-string, which gave songs like "A Hard Day’s Night" their instantly identifiable ringing Beatles sound.
One musician who liked that sound a lot was Roger McGuinn of The Byrds. Reportedly, he bought a 360-12 after seeing the movie version of the famous Beatles song. Before long, Pete Townsend of The Who, Brian Jones of the Rolling Stones, John Fogarty of Creedence Clearwater Revival, John Kay of Steppenwolf, and Paul Kantner of the Jefferson Airplane were all playing Rickenbackers.
For collectors, it is important to note that in the 1960s, Rickenbacker exported a number of its models to a British company called Rose, Morris & Co., Ltd. Serial numbers on these exports have an "S" at their ends, and the tops of some of the guitar bodies have f-holes instead of the cat’s eye. The Rose guitars were also given different model names. For example, Lennon’s 325 was sold in England as the 1996, McCartney’s 4001 was the 1999, and Harrison’s 360-12 was the 1993.