Dating Rickenbacker Lap Steels

Email from Brad Bechtel on October 25, 1999

The following information is courtesy Carl Dixon, as posted on the Steel Guitar Forum.

Rickenbacker did not keep Serial # to date records until after the Second World War. I will tell you what is generally known and some distinguishing features that should help.

It is impossible to tell the exact year many of the early Bakelites were built because of this lack of record keeping.

However there are some features that will help you to come close. Rickenbacker was issued a patent on the pickup effective August 10, 1937. Old Adolf Rickenbacker was so happy that on that very day, all guitars had the patent number clearly stamped on the little metal piece that holds the pick up in place. Prior to that date all guitars said, "Patent Pending". So one can tell whether it was built before or after that date.

One other feature was whether it had just a tone control or a tone and volume control. 1938 is the year that is generally believed the volume control was added.

Another feature that is very good in dating is the width of the big horshoe magnet. All guitars before the war had magnets about 1 and 1/2 inches wide. After the war they decreased the width to about 1 inch. Many, including Jerry Byrd (I share this belief) said the narrower magnets did not give as good a tone. Also prior to the war the strings came up thru the body of the guitar. After the war they came up thru a metal tail piece installed on the top of the guitar. Again, many believe the latter does not give as good a tone.

If it is bakelite, 6 or 7 strings, has the wide magnets, has only a tone control, has no patent number, strings come up from the body it was built before August 10, 1937. And they are extremely valuable. If any of the aforementioned items is not the case, they are still valuable but not as much so.

If it has a tail piece where the strings come thru, then it is definitely post war and just does not have the sound and subsequently the value as the others do. Example: Pre-war are fetching $500 to $3000 (I paid $925 for my 7 string 2 years ago). Post war $100 to $450.

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