Roger Smith’s Recollections
M y Rickenbacker 4001 in Azureglo was first manufactured in October 1980, the date being traced thorough its serial number using Rickenbacker’s dating system. It was purchased new for me by my parents in July 1981 as a ‘deal’ for my going on to further education at school, which I didn’t want to do – I wanted some money to buy the things I wanted!
The ‘deal’ was struck much earlier than July in 1981 so that I could spend time looking for the right 4001, but all I seemed to be able to find were 4001’s in Jetglo. I wanted something a little different; I found a 4001 in white but that was already sold, otherwise I would have bought that. I was beginning to lose hope of finding another one when, quite by chance, I wandered into my local music shop one day and saw a 4001 in a fetching shade of blue hanging on the wall – and at a price premium too. It was imported to the UK from the US by a businessman as part of a collection of six new 4001’s in varying colours. As the man who owned the shop had never seen a 4001 in this colour before, he decided that it would be the one that would sell easily. 4001’s, regardless of colour, were selling for £390 at the time but this one was priced at £490. I was fully expecting my parents to refuse me the instrument on grounds of price, £390 was a lot of money in 1981 (especially to our family) and I was now asking for even more! The following day I received a phone call from the shop saying that the 4001 in blue had been reserved in my name and could I go and collect it in a week or so, which of course I did.
It wasn’t long after that when the trouble started. The instrument refused to stay intonated, there never seemed to be enough adjustment in the standard Rickenbacker bridge/tailpiece assembly to keep it intonated either. I had it professionally set-up, but it didn’t last. After a year or so I moved to standard gauge roundwound strings (from the Rickenbacker standard fit flatwounds), then quickly realised that they were too heavy for the instrument so I moved to the next lighter gauge a few days later and had it set-up again. Whilst this didn’t help the intonation, it did help the playability a little but it still wasn’t intonated properly after a few weeks had passed by. I decided to leave it alone and suffer for a while. I was despairing though because not only had my parents worked hard to earn the money to buy it, I loved it to bits but knew it wasn’t all it should and could be.
Early in 1983, after leaving it alone I noticed that, whilst it wasn’t intonated and wouldn’t intonate, it hadn’t drifted any further either. Then one day during the summer in 1983 someone was recommended to me who knew an awful lot about guitar and bass set-up. I spoke to him and he said it wasn’t the first time that he’d heard of or seen a 4001 that refused to stay intonated or lacked the adjustment to allow proper intonation. After much discussion and his advice, I decided to do a ‘Geddy Lee’ on it and replace the whole bridge/tailpiece assembly with a Badass bridge assembly instead. So off it went for the modifications to be made by a professional. When the guitar came back it needed setting up – again!
Once set-up, the transformation was astounding – it was fantastic, with the strings almost sitting on the fretboard all the way down their length. The intonation was so precise it defied belief after the previous problems. I was very impressed with it and felt that it was now what I had expected it to be all along.
About three years passed and I got through two or three speakers during that time. I’m not sure the amplifier/speaker set-up I had at the time could keep up with the sound my blue 4001 generated and the fact that I was using extra-light strings to aid speed of play didn’t help either. I had been in a job for three years so I decided to do it justice and bought a Trace Elliot 250w amplifier with 11 band graphic, a Trace Elliot 1×15″ speaker cabinet and a Trace Elliot 4×10″ speaker cabinet. I still use this same equipment to this day and my 4001 still sings! I am now using Elites strings, roundwound in extra-light gauge. I haven’t had to set-up the 4001 up in ten years it is so stable!
But what about that colour? Various people in various music shops have seen it to value it for insurance purposes and everyone who has seen it has commented on the colour. I have never seen another 4001 in this colour in the UK but I am sure they are here somewhere. I have been offered interesting sums of money from people wanting to buy it but it isn’t and never will be for sale. The true name for the colour escaped me and everyone who saw it until 1998 (yes – 1998!). I e-mailed Rickenbacker (I was new to the Internet at this time) and described the colour and gave them the serial number. They don’t keep a record of individual models but it was identified as Azureglo, as that was the only shade of blue Rickenbacker used at the time on 4001’s. That for me was the final piece in the jigsaw.
I’m sure that, like everyone else who owns one of these magical instruments, when they are right they are truly amazing. I don’t get too much time to play these days but when I do, my other basses are left in their cases and the 4001 is the one that comes out to play!
~ Roger Smith ~