1991 Greco RG85
I've owned a bunch of these over the years and let me say, I'm a HUGE (HUGE) Rickenbacker fan and I LOVE these A LOT.
Greco started making Ric copies in the sixties along with a few other Japanese brands for the same reason they made other popular US copies. American guitars were very expensive in Japan and they needed more guitars as the boom hit in the mid sixties. Some examples, like the early Greco versions were primitive "copies" with bolt on necks and hollow laminated bodies. They sold off that fantastic shape but weren't really any competition, quality wise to the real thing.
By the late sixties some manufacturers were making more accurate, and much better quality copies like the Honey SG5 I wrote about recently. These were starting to use similar construction techniques with set necks and more Ric sounding pickups. They also started to use the "fretboard high above the body with shallow pickups" technique rather than just a "hollow guitar with holes routed everywhere" construction. This is a very German method of construction and not used by many manufacturers. Some people find it off putting initially but I like it (Mosrites are similar) and don't find it an issue with the strings so far above the body of the guitar.
By the seventies other bigger brands were offering closer and closer copies of Rickenbacker hollow bodies, solid bodies and basses. Aria had been making them for a while and the Fujigen and Matsumoku made Ric copies were really starting to get impressive by this stage.
Of course, Ric has always been in a class of their own for quality construction. Their methods of building guitars was always very different to other manufacturers and making something close for a cheaper price was always going to be a challenge for Japanese manufacturers. While early versions were made more like a Danelectro (IE: hollow frame with a top and back glued on) by the late sixties and early seventies they were making them like Ric where they hollow out a piece of solid maple from the back and then glue a solid piece of timber on to complete the hollow, or chambered body.
This Greco is made in exactly the same fashion and uses nice solid pieces of maple routed from the back although not with the same internal contours and frames. Real Rics have their neck set with a long "tongue" all the way back to the bridge pickup (on most hollow models) where as these are a more traditional set neck although still with the tongue, or tenon going back under the neck pickup. Obviously the Ric way of doing it is stronger, but is also more time consuming and expensive.
The hollowed out solid maple gives are real resonance especially in the LONG tenon Ric set up and even these set neck versions have a very Ric tone acoustically.
These are essentially a copy of the early Ric 360 before they went to the rounded over top version. These were essentially a double bound 330 with stereo outputs and block inlays and ran throughout the sixties along side the 330 in six string, twelve string and three pickup (370) models. Originals Rickenbacker versions of these are now worth well over $20K and were already hard to get and expensive when the Japanese factories started making these as Rickenbacker have never been a high volume manufacturer and have only done historic re-issues every now and then.
The neck is set with the same slightly later sixties rounded neck heel (not square like early versions) but doesn't have the five piece neck with the dark stripe down the centre and on the headstock like the original. It is instead a one piece hard maple neck with a thick rosewood fretboard made the same way as a Ric but only with one truss rod, not the dual rods used by Ric. The inlays are triangular plastic pearl and the fretboard is bound. The board is finished in the same urethane as the body/neck, and like an original Ric, some people find this off putting as it's a thick coat more like a 70's maple board Fender so you can "feel" the finish. It has a 21 fret neck which finishes flush with the body, like all pre 70's Rics and has the small (often re-issued) sixties headstock with that famous curved trussrod cover.
The pickups are exact copies of Hi Gains and sound (not surprisingly) like the real deal.
The bridge is also an exact copy and works just like the original with full adjustment for height, intonation and angle. The tailpiece, which is a VERY Rickenbacker thing has a stylised "G" instead of an "R" and mounts to the body with a hook attached to the strap button, like the real thing.
The dual scratchplates are a straight copy as well as the electronics controls and layout with volume and tone for each pickup and a blend control. The Greco, unlike the original 360 is only a mono output without the famous Ric-O-Sound.
Ric have spent MANY years trying to stop these copies, and with good reason. Rickenbackers are an amazing piece of engineering. Even more so considering this design was introduced in 1958. They are, as far as I'm concerned, the last truly great American guitar manufacturer left still essentially making (although with some modern technology) the same product they made in the past. Their designs were so forward thinking and aesthetically beautiful that they looked and sounded (and played) like nothing else at the time. While most copies don't even come close to a real Ric, these are the closest you'll find, and while I do love Grecos and these copies in particular, I still haven't played any copy as good as my favourite Rics, but for much less money, these will get you very close.