The utterly unmistakeable Rickenbacker 4001 Bass, in classic Jet-glo. Famous in the hands of so many great bass guitarists, but for me it's Bruce Foxton that brought it into the modern world, when The Jam exploded into our consciousness in 1977. This one from 1974 a perfect match. I'm going underground!
Yes, I know, it could be one of many. Paul McCartney, Chris Squire, John Deacon, Lemmy. It's such a versatile bass, so why not? But it was the attack, both angular and melodic, that Bruce Foxton brought to it that had me hooked. Down In The Tube Station At Midnight, Strange Town, Going Underground - massive songs from the golden years. Whether it was a P-Bass or the style-conscious black 4001 to match Paul Welller's Rickenbacker 330, Bruce brought more than just a bass that locked in with Rick Butler's tight-as-it-comes drumming and simply followed Paul Weller's chords. He created distinctive melodies that were as memorable as the songs themselves. Try to imagine Down In The Tube Station without that jagged bass line. It just doesn't work.
A lot of the attack and tone comes from him playing the bass with a plectrum. It was only as I started researching this bass that I found out that 1) The Jam started off as a 4-piece band, and 2) Bruce was actually second guitarist in the original 4-piece line-up - with Paul Weller on bass. It took the departure of Steve Brookes in 1975, and some failed auditions for a replacement guitarist, for them to settle on the 3-piece line-up we all know, with Paul Weller encouraging Bruce to play bass while he took on the lead guitar. I suppose if I'd been a guitarist first and foremost, I'd have stuck to the pick too.
And, of course, the other source of all that attack is the 4001 itself. Those Hi-Gain pick-ups and varnished board bringing that famous Rickenbacker brightness, and the maple neck-through-body adding some counterbalancing sustain. Nothing sounds quite like it. This one, from 1974, is a perfect example - even though it's clearly lived life to the max, with some heavy wear to the neck and body testament to a life on the road. I'm pretty sure that it's also been played left-handed at some point in its history, based on some DIY strap button screwholes on the lower bout. All part of its character, nothing that affects its playability. Tonally, it's got everything you could wish for. All that toppy attack, for sure, but also more deeply resonant bass than you'd expect from the neck pick-up. All you have to do is decide where you want to start: Down In The Tube Station . . . or throwing down the Ace Of Spades?
See & Hear It In Action
1976 Rickenbacker at Norman's Rare Guitars: A little bit of history, a little bit of a demo, with the always entertaining Mark Agnesi at Norman's Rare Guitars. It may be a couple of year's younger than the 1974 here, but it features all the same small design changes that came in around 1973. Sounds peachy too.
Going Underground, The Jam (1980): By this time, The Jam were so big, the release of Going Underground went straight to number 1. I remember being utterly blown away by it. The power and punch, the poetry and anger of Paul Weller's lyrics, and the look - all two-tone black and white, and a pair of Jetglo Rickenbackers. And it still cuts it today.
Number of Frets
Schaller BM Clover Leafs
It was Fender who took the prize for coming up with the game-changing first electric bass put into production in 1951 - and pretty much dominated the market through the mid-50s. Gibson were slow to respond to the new market. They put out the bizarre violin-shaped Electric Bass (later EB-1) in 1953, but didn't really get into their stride until 1958, when they introduced the ES-335 shaped EB-2. By which time Rickenbacker had stolen a march on them, launching their unique 4000 bass, with its distinctive cresting wave upper bout and headstock, in 1957.
Unique not only for that cresting wave, but also as the first production bass with a neck-through-body design - with tailpiece, bridge, pick-ups, nut and tuners all mounted onto one piece of wood. At the time a bit of design perfectionism from Rickenbacker luthier Roger Rossmeisl - with its double truss rod, an assurance of a straight neck - and ever after the source of that magical sustain that one piece of wood can give you.
The 4000 was the one pick-up version. The two pick-up 4001 followed in 1961, and it's that one that then became famous in the hands of players like Paul McCartney and Chris Squire. And then Bruce Foxton and Lemmy in the 1970s.
It went through some design changes over the years - most notably the replacement of the Rickenbacker horseshoe pick-ups with Hi-Gain pick-ups - but retained that eye-catching shape until 1983 when it was replaced by the 4003, which is still in production (and also retains that eye-catching shape!).
1973 saw the biggest changes in design - all small, but all in the course of one year. And those may help put a date Bruce Foxton's original 4001. His looks to have the top-to-bottom triangle inlays in the fretboard. During 1973, these were replaced by the slightly smaller triangles you see on this 1974 4001. In the same year, the standard body binding was changed from a patterned block binding to plain white. Look at any pictures of The Jam in action and it's definitely a plain white binding on Bruce's 4001. So, his original was most probably a 1973, produced in that year of change.
Tiny design changes aside, pretty much everything about this 1974 4001 is original. Including that ingenious Rick-O-Sound double jack socket for standard mono output and the rarely used stereo output (unless you're into that dual amplifier thing). The bridge pick-up cover is long gone, like so many, and I haven't the heart to replace it. The bridge pick-up itself bears a "Kent Armstrong Reworked" sticker. It's original, but it's had the Kent Armstrong upgrade, in the days of his rewind and repair shop, before launching his own range of custom-built pick-ups. The best of mods.
The wear to the body and neck is definitely original. This guitar has led a life on the road, with plenty of dings, dents and erosion to that Jet-Glo finish. That's all cosmetic, and gloriously so. In terms of playability, this bass plays and sounds the business. The fretboard and frets are in great shape, the electrics and intonation perfect, and those two Hi-Gains pack a punch to die for. You can take my word for it, or, better, you could try it yourself!
Sources & Links
The Players: Bassplayer Magazine: It's not everyone, but it's the greats - and includes, as it should, Bruce Foxton from the outset.
The 4001 Story: Guitarist Magazine: Great compact piece courtesy of Guitarist Magaizine from the origins of the 4000 to the arrival of the 4003.
Vintage Bass World: 1974 Rickenbacker 4001 Spec: If you really want to get into the 4001, then Vintage Bass World really has everything you need to know. It may look like one page, but every link gives you the absolutely lowdown on every component of the guitar. And, you can always follow the evolutions across the years by going to the Rickenbacker 4001 launch page. A treasure trove!
The 4000 Series on Rick Resource: If you're more into paging down than hitting links, then the Rick Resource lowdown on the spec evolution of all the 4000 series basses is the one for you.