Richard Smith Data Revisited

by Peter R. McCormack

Rickenbacker Forum

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."

"Nearly" Totals

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.

1954 36 800 BLD 600 BLD
1955 24 800 BLD 600 BLD
1956 286 400 BK 400 BG
1957 671 1000 NC 400 BK
1958 334 1000 NC 365OS DK
1959 583 360OS AG 365OS DK
1960 804 450 FG 450 JG
1961 552 425 FG 450 FG
1962 376 425 FG 625 FG
1963 825 425 FG Astro
1964 1599 1996 FG 1998 FG
1965 2403 360/12NS FG ES17 FG
1966 4596 360/12NS FG 365NS FG
1967 100 1997 FG 1998 FG
1968 1310 366/12 FG 4001 FG

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.

Fireglo 8779 61.0%
Mapleglo 2376 16.0%
Jetglo 1270 9.0%
Autumnglo 753 6.0%
No Color 549 4.0%
Other 249 2.0%
Green 169 1.0%
Blonde 136 1.0%
Brown 44 0.30%
Blue 20 0.15%
Gray 8 0.06%
White 1 0.01%
Total 13289 100%

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 4178 31.0%
Solid Body 3748 28.0%
Twelve String 3294 22.0%
Rose Morris Exports 1210 8.0%
Three-Quarter 1197 8.0%
Bass 727 5.0%
Full Body 145 1.0%
Total 14499 100.0%

"Type" Casting

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.

Six String 9268 69.0%
Twelve String 3294 25.0%
Bass 727 6.0%

Closing Remarks

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.

Spreadsheet Analysis

Article Submitted on January 7, 1999

1999 Peter R. McCormack. All rights reserved.

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