P-90 Rickenbacker 345

You guys know how much I love Rickenbackers, and how much I love P-90's, so, it just made sense ........ right ?

 

My last blog was about part of my obsession with Ric and they way they construct guitars and how much I love the look of them. I think they're one of the most underrated and undervalued guitars on the market. The quality of materials and workmanship has always been top notch and on paper are far more impressive in both of these areas than anything Fender has ever slapped together. And yet, a nice old Ric will cost you a pittance of the equivalent year Fender (or Gibson) and you get a whole lot of guitar for your buck.

 

The other thing is you rarely see modded or hot rodded Rics which means people who buy them either really like the guitar in standard, factory form, or they are hesitant to mod them because they're not seen a brand that should be messed with ? I have plenty of modded Fenders and Gibsons, and in fact my favorite Fenders aren't standard factory specs. 

As you probably know I'm a huge fan of P-90's and related pick ups like Mosrite single coils. I think they're still THE BEST pick up ever designed which considering they're also one of the first ever designed means they pretty much got it right from the start, at least for me.

 

So when I managed to pick up an old second hand Ric "shell" I thought it might be cool to see what combining these two obsessions might bring. I have managed to get several real Ric shells over the years and I have enough parts to assemble them with genuine parts but because this was just a body and neck, and I wanted to experiment it seemed like an interesting thing to do. 

Ric pick ups are very shallow and basically sit on top of the body with a small recess in the top to accommodate the magnets. They don't have pick up routs like most other guitars so fitting anything aftermarket would mean routing into the body. To my amazement the P-90's sat on top of the body, with the pole pieces sitting in the standard Ric recesses perfectly. No need for ANY modifications at all. This sealed the deal for me.

 

I contacted my friend Mick Brierley, who makes my favorite pick ups, and THE BEST P-90's around and ordered a set of three medium output pick ups with black soapbar covers. 

I had an old Bigsby lying around and got one of my favorite bridges, the Bigsby "bow tie" aluminium bridge to suit. It's a great bridge (I have one fitted to one of my Jazzmasters) for sustain and tone and looks, kinda period correct on Rics just like John Lennons black, then clear Ric from the early Beatles days. I cut the scrathplates from white perspex (acrylic) traced from one of my other Rics and got vintage style knobs like Ric used in the ol' days.

 

The P-90's turned up and in they went. I'm actually a fan of both "toaster tops" and hi gain Ric pick ups and these were wound with a medium output to suit the wide frequency response that Rics are famous for. I decided as I was wiring it up that I could try something that might actually give me a close to original tone by using the blend knob (the small 5th knob) that usually rolls between bridge and neck pick ups when in the middle position, as a volume for the middle pick up and run it out of phase with the outside two.

I'm usually not a fan of out of phase pick ups at all. They always make everything too thin and nastily for my taste but by using this as an out of phase volume I can dial in just enough on the middle pick up to start thinning out the fatter P-90 sound on all three settings of the toggle switch. 

 

Well, it works a treat. In all three positions without any middle pick up it has a strong, fat single coil tone you'd expect from a hollow body with P-90's. The bridge position is tight and responsive, the neck is fat and mellow and the middle is amazing. Probably similar in tone and attack to something close to a Gibson 330 series or an Epiphone Casino with a lively hollow body with nice fat single coils.

But then dial in the middle pick up and it starts to clean up and thin out, and sound amazingly, like a Ric. You can balance the middle out of phase to some nice points on all three settings when you still have a P-90 tone but thinner and more brittle. If you dial the middle in just a little more, it starts to get very Ric with that typical thinner, sharp, bright attack. You can also turn both outside pick ups volumes down and just run the middle pick up, giving you something entirely different. The resonance and attack of these hollow Rics is amazing and great feedback can be found with certain amps. The P-90's just add to this effect nicely.

While I still LOVE the standard Ric set up I think this is a VERY versatile set up that can be used for nearly anything ? Tony from GuitarNerd borrowed once and was pretty impressed, and he's not particularly a fan of Rics.

Going into this I figured because the P-90's went straight in, if I didn't like it I could just take them back out and fit original Ric pick ups without any noticeable damage. The only mod needed was the two height/attachment screws for the P-90's which go into the body under the original pick ups so can't be seen afterwards. As it is, I don't think I'll be reverting this one back to a standard Ric any time soon. I have a few other nice Rics if I really wanna have a "true Ric" experience and this gets so close in some settings that I think you could probably record with it and fool a Ric connoisseur ?

If you're ever recording in my studio, or just wanna hire this for a show or your own recording, let me know. 

Jul 07 2014 Written By: Tim Brennan