Richard Smith Data Revisited
by Peter R. McCormack
Introduction to Production
Most Rickenbacker enthusiasts are aware of Richard Smith and his publishing of the "Production Totals for
Guitars and Basses 1954-1968." This information was presented, more than 10 years ago, in Appendix Four to
Smith's 1987 classic entitled "The History of Rickenbacker Guitars." This data regarding the types of
instruments produced from the mid-1950's to the late 1960's would probably be better labeled
"A Sampling of Instruments Produced by RIC from 1954-1968." Much recent discussion among members
of the alt.guitar.rickenbacker newsgroup, including CEO John Hall, has highlighted the fact that
the totals are based on a substantially incomplete number of shipping invoices. Even a cursory review
of the data presented in the appendix reveals several areas in which there is incomplete information. Some examples include: only a couple dozen invoices found for some years; just a
limited number of exports for 1967, a historically busy year for Rickenbacker; and an acknowledgement
that invoices were not available from the first couple of months of 1968. With the
understanding that the available information suffers from several limitations, both quantitative and
qualitative in nature, it is considered that a brief revisitation may reveal some historical pearls
from the early years that have been hidden in this ocean of raw data yet to be analyzed. While incomplete, the available data may
provide some interesting information about the models and finishes of guitars for some years.
It has always been somewhat perplexing why this data was not analyzed further. The purpose of this review, is to examine the information collected by Richard
Smith by providing summary totals and percentages of categories that are not immediately self-evident
from the data matrix provided in Appendix Four.
Smith Data Meets Spreadsheet
In developing the present analysis, Richard Smith's raw data was simply
loaded into a spreadsheet and the raw data entries tabulated. Every effort was made to insure
accuracy, however, a quick thumbing through the pages will remind even the most enthusiastic
and budding Rickenbacker historian of the exceedingly mundane venture of entering into the "statistical zone" and the
need to rely on more than one Espresso to enter in all the model numbers, their associated
"finish codes" and year of production. You end up with a spread sheet that is about 22 columns
across by 209 rows down in order to store the raw data and allow enough space for the summary statistics.
For your torment or viewing pleasure I have posted a link to this "matrix of love" at the end of the article for others to capture and massage themselves. I will try to remember one cardinal rule
in the presentation and discussion of this information. You may remember the old adage "If you torture your data long enough, they will confess to anything."
One of the findings from this analysis is the discovery that
the Pages 233 to 241 contain a rather large sample of instruments: 14,499 of them. Even with the substantial missing
data, a company producing guitars at this rate would still be crafting somewhere in the vicinity of 1000 instruments a year. The number of instruments for which invoices
were found ranges from 36 in 1954 with a significant increase generally year to year until a highpoint
of 4596 instruments in 1966. Even as an gross underestimate it points to the steady growth of the
Rickenbacker International Corporation. The pace must have been a blistering one for Rickenbacker as based
on the 1966 data, one can anticipate no fewer than about 90 instruments of high quality a week. In addition to being able to have some estimate (albeit an
an underrepresentation) of the number of instruments produced annually, of some interest also is the
particular model and related finish that was most highly produced. This observation may shed some light
on perhaps the most sought after guitar by artists of the day or even the leading edge of new instruments produced by Rickenbacker
International Corporation during the early to middle Rock 'n Roll Years. One cannot but help notice the parallel between
certain finishes and models produced that correspond roughly to the models used by popular performers of the day.
The table below provides the year, total number of models made in that year, and the model number and finish
of the first and second highest produced instruments according to company invoicing.
To the "Finish"
The results regarding the most frequent finish produced are not surprising.
The following table provides a listing of the color of the finishes, based on invoicing,
used by Rickenbacker Internaltional Corporation over the earlier years. The data has been analyzed by tabulating the
invoices identifying a particular color of guitar shipped. In but a quick review of the data, the viewer will
note as many as 4% of the invoices did not list a color and are hence coded in the table as
"No Color." That Fireglo instruments have been identified as the highest number produced is not rocket science
as this is part of Rickenbacker's legacy. It would still seem to be the case in more modern times. The percentage of 61% for Fireglo
does not seem unreasonable given the known historical demand for this color. This proportion
finish is certainly higher, however, than another very small sample of guitars on the Rickenbacker
Registration Page (predominantly from the 1980's and 1990's) which places the Fireglo finish at 33% of total registrations. The
table below reveals Mapleglo as a distant second with a value of 16%. This is comparable to
the current sample from the Registration Page at 21% for the Mapleglo finish. The Smith data
has the Jetglo finish in third place with a value of 9%. The data from the Registration Page
has Jetglo in second place with at 25% of the registrations. If these data hold up, it would provide support
for the view that Fireglo has always been and continues to be the most popular finish of all
those offered by Rickenbacker. Whether we needed an analysis to tell us this is, of course,
another question. It would seem that Jetglo has gained in its popularity over the years and
currently has the edge over Mapleglo. Going way out on a limb, it may be that this increasing
interest in the Jetglo finish was due to John Lennon's preference for Jetglo in the mid 60's. Mr. John Hall of
Rickenbacker International Corporation commented to the alt.rickenbacker.guitar newsgroup in February 1999 that "We produce a lot of Fireglo units . . . because that's what stores order! It
is the best selling color, followed by Jetglo black, and then Mapleglo
natural." This article, having gone beyond the limits of speculation already, will
leave the reader alone to speculate about the other finishes used by Rickenbacker International Corporation, past and present.
A "Series" Look
In examining the data with regard to different models crafted, the
same classification of instruments has been adopted as used by Richard Smith in his analysis. Just
over one-quarter of the instruments are of the Thin Hollow Body type (28%) with the
Solid Body instruments a close second at 26%. This data is consistent with the information
obtained in following the Rock Music scene of the time with a noticeable preference for
these instruments. The popular twelve string models are close behind in third spot with
invoices indicating that they comprised 22% of the models produced. The Three-Quarter
Scale and the Rose Morris 1900 Export Serices are seen to comprise 8% each, followed by
Bass models at 5% and the Full Body Series guitars at one percent.
|Thin Hollow Body
|Rose Morris Exports
This brief review of the Smith data ends with a quick look at the distribution of
6 string, 12 string and bass instruments produced over the period 1954 to 1968. As displayed in the
following table, 71% of the invoices available were six string instruments. This far exceeds the
small sample on the Rickenbacker Regisration Page which has the proportion of six string guitars at about 42%.
The proportion of 12 strings in the Smith data is 22% and this is very close to the
data from the Registration Page sample of 28% registered thus far. Finally, the proportion of
invoices indicating that a bass instrument was shipped is only 6 percent and this
is far below the 29% figure currently seen on the Registration Page. To generalize, it would seem that
the six string production has decreased over the years in favor of the production of basses while the
twelve string models have continued to remain more stable at nearly one quarter of the
total instruments made.
Although intriguing, the Smith production numbers are based on
limited data and there is no way to be sure which information is accurate and which may be misleading. Many of the comments made during this revisitation must be considered speculative but it would seem that some of the
trends that have been described are reasonable when placed in the historical context
of which artists were playing which instruments over the period 1954 to 1968. The data
tell nothing about the full extent of the production of the RIC, nor was that the point of this review. The aim
was not to estimate the production of guitars but simply to try to understand from
a more global point of view, which models of instruments were more likely to be
seen at a particular point in time. The data was available and it seemed a waste not to use it. This current review may provide some answers to questions
about specific instruments, and how many of a kind may have been produced. In some cases,
the data provided by Smith may represent the entire number of guitars made while in the majority of others
it may be far short of the actual number. It is understood that a number of the views
expressed here go beyond the data and are speculative. For this
I beg the reader's indulgence. I have heard my data crying uncle on several occasions
and I had best stop short of complete torture. Nonetheless, this exercise was great fun and getting to know this
invoice data is a visit to the past that almost feels like working in the back rooms of one of the finest guitar manufacturers of all time. Now you may wish go to the
raw data collected by Smith and make your own sense out of it. Be forewarned, should you be starting anew you
may wish to budget an hour or two for the analysis. Q.E.D.
Article Submitted on January 7, 1999
© 1999 Peter R. McCormack. All rights reserved.