1959 Rickenbacker 425

By 1953, Rickenbacker was stagnating. Although they resumed production of electric instruments after World War II, the market for steel guitars was declining and the company’s lone Spanish guitar model was a distinctly old-fashioned archtop. Adolph Rickenbacher himself was looking toward retirement, and rather than revamp the company, he sold it to F. C. Hall. As owner of the Radio-Tel distribution company, Hall saw several issues to address with Rickenbacker. One was their distribution, which was previously accomplished exclusively through mail-order catalogs; Hall used Radio-Tel to build a new national network of Rickenbacker salesmen. Another was their product line, which Hall revitalized by introducing the company’s first modern electric guitars.

These were the Combo series of solidbodies, which debuted in 1954. The first Combo models were still somewhat antiquated by modern standards due to their horseshoe pickups, but at least they were a start. In early 1957 they were supplemented by the Combo 400 and 450, which sported under-string units that quickly evolved into the “toaster” pickups Rickenbacker would use throughout the 1960s. The “tulip” bodies were redesigned in early 1958 into the first “cresting wave” design; although this shape would evolve slightly over the next few years, it introduced the basic form for the modern Rickenbacker solidbody. This period also saw the introduction of the classic Fireglo, Mapleglo and Jetglo finishes.

The 450 – usually referenced without the Combo designation – would remain a staple of the Rickenbacker line into the 1980s. The 400, however, was replaced by the 425 in early 1958. A single-pickup version of the 450, the 425 also usually sported a plastic pickguard in the days when the 450 had gold-anodized aluminum. To make up for the lack of a second pickup, Rickenbacker fitted the 425 with a switch that introduced a secondary tone circuit. The lone pickup was initially positioned between the middle and bridge positions, slightly forward of the 450’s bridge pickup. Some 425s built in 1959 – such as the one pictured above – had the pickup in the same position as the 450’s bridge pickup. This was abandoned by 1960, after which all 425s had the pickup located mid-way between the neck and bridge positions.

While the 425 was one of Rickenbacker’s less-expensive models, it was built to the same standard as the flashier deluxe guitars. Its full scale and toaster pickup provided the familiar Rickenbacker chime, though most did not have quite the trebly jangle of the double-pickup models due to the positioning of the single pickup. While it never attained the renown of other models, the 425 did attract one major player: George Harrison purchased one in 1963 while travelling to Illinois, and subsequently had a second pickup added. He only used the guitar briefly in live performances, but Harrison would go on to be closely associated with Rickenbacker’s 12-strings.

This guitar is typical of late ‘50s Rickenbacker Combos, with a 1 5/8” body that would be slimmed down in 1961. The finish on the fretboard is quite thin compared to later examples, which gives the guitar a different feel under the fingertips. This is one of the last Rickenbackers built with the saxophone strap attachment recessed into the back of the body. The instrument is all original, the only damage being to the pickguard where the jack was yanked out with too much force. The position of the pickup gives the guitar the classic Rickenbacker jangle – or snarl through an overdriven amp.