1950s Rickenbacker DC-12

Unlike most other stringed instruments, the lap steel has never had a standardized tuning. Players frequently switch between several popular tunings and develop their own, so multi-necked steels became popular early in the instrument’s history as a way of switching between tunings on the fly. By the late 1930s, most steel manufacturers had at least one double-neck in their catalogs, and the first triple-necks were starting to appear. Rickenbacker, as the first company to build electric lap steels, could not be left behind.

The company’s previous steels had been made of cast aluminum, Bakelite, or sheet metal. Rickenacker went for a combination of materials for its first multi-necked models: a cast metal body into which Bakelte necks were screwed. These necks came set up for six, seven or eight strings, though the seven-string versions were dropped within a few years. The resulting models became known as the D-12, D-14 and D-16, respectively, though early catalogs simply referred to them collectively as the “Double Neck” model. Although the body shape was altered in the 1940s, the basic metal-and-Bakelite design was used throughout the 1940s.

By the mid 1950s, Rickenbacker had upgraded the stalwart Model B with a tuner cover and renamed it the BD (presumably for “B Deluxe”). Sometime earlier, about 1949, they produced a deluxe version of the double-neck lap steels. However, the change was more than just cosmetic: the “DC” models featured chrome tuner covers but also all-metal construction, with the Bakelite necks replaced by a single-piece casting that encompassed the entire instrument. The tuners were rotated 90° to fit the new design and Lucite fingerboards replaced the frets that had previously been molded into the necks. A few specimens (mainly DC-16s) had the model name engraved into the end of the fretboard. By this point, Rickenbacker had also updated these models with the narrower post-War pickup magnets and tailpieces. Early D-series were painted grey while post-War ones are orange; the DCs are all a darker grey.

It’s not clear whether the DCs replaced the Ds or built alongside them. Both series were discontinued by 1953, at which point Rickenbacker was focusing more on wood-bodied console models than their older lap steel designs. Double-neck lap steels were out of favor by that point: cumbersome on the lap but less visually impressive than a console, they were rapidly becoming a throwback to the 1930s. However, this particular instrument – which is all original and clean for its age – still sounds excellent. The horseshoe pickups have plenty of output and the steel has a bright but rounded sound that works for a variety of playing styles.