From the Beatles to the Byrds, from ’70s prog to the Paisley Underground, ’80s jangle pop, Britpop and beyond, Rickenbacker has stayed steady while entire rock movements have ebbed and flowed around its feet. It’s a unique position for a guitar manufacturer to have taken – and on top of that, Rickenbackers have never produced instruments in the Far East and has never, ever had a ‘budget’ line.
The Hall family has owned Rickenbacker since 1953, and all their guitars are made in the same factory in California. Even today demand for these guitars exceeds supply, so it appears that remaining – almost – exactly the same has been the secret of Rickenbacker’s success.
The 650C Colorado has a very familiar body shape but the 24-fret through neck is a relatively recent feature. The neck itself has a centre-jointed two-piece construction with Rickenbacker’s famous dual truss rods. A maple fingerboard is added along with walnut ears to create the headstock, while the body is formed from maple wings glued to the through-neck. The pickups are Rickenbacker’s HB1 mini-humbuckers, with higher output than traditional Rickenbacker pickups and slightly darker tone.
The bridge has a contemporary character too – it’s a very chunky item that looks as though it’s been made by Schaller. Interestingly, each saddle has a roller that can be adjusted to set the string spacing, almost like six miniature Gretsch Space Control bridges. The chrome theme continues with the control cavity cover, switch and knobs.
It’s funny how some guitars inspire you to play them in a certain style. This 650C is a perfect example because the last thing we initially considered was heavy rock, country or pentatonic noodling. Rickenbacker necks can sometimes feel a bit cramped but this one has a wide fingerboard and a D profile with pronounced shoulders. Plugging in, we headed straight for playing open chord arpeggios with lots of seconds and fourths followed closely by big power chords with sparkling treble chiming through the overdrive. Although the looks and sound aren’t especially ‘classic’, the tone and feel certainly are.
The control layout takes some getting used to, incidentally, because it’s different to the Gibson layout copied by most. It’s perhaps more logical, with both volumes on top (from a player’s perspective) and the tones underneath.
The treble pickup does a decent job for blocky rhythm and spiky chords. It’s clear without being too trebly and the low strings pack a solid wallop. There’s also a thick, throaty, nasal quality we’d usually associate with Gibson-style humbuckers. The neck setting is louder than the bridge and it generates some mellow and woody sounds with a surprisingly jazzy tonality. The overall tone is rich and vibrant, with both pickups capturing a lot of sonic detail as well as the 650C’s ample sustain.
The pickups are pleasing and toneful, but neither is as inspiring individually as they are in combination. This Rickenbacker’s magic happens at the in between position where the full sonic range of these very different-sounding units join together with a hint of phasey midrange scoop. We’ve heard similar effects before, but few have approached the degree of natural chorus that this Rickenbacker conjures up. It’s such a delicious sound that we felt compelled to jangle rather than strum. Cranking up an amp actually accentuates the effect as the complex overtones drift into overdrive to thicken and broaden the sound further. It’s an almost pseudo 12-string effect that recalls Tom Petty or the glory days of REM.
The 650C is a quality instrument and it’s apparent that a lot of hand-shaping still goes on at the Rickenbacker factory, though this example would have benefited from a bit of extra attention to set the intonation. Compared to more traditional Rickenbacker semis, the 650C has a thicker and darker tone with extra sustain but a more subdued response.
Traditionalists may crave more openness and chime, but the 650C has the ability to work well for heavier tones and lead playing while things remain smooth and even in jangle mode. Despite the higher output humbuckers and the through-neck, it’s still a thoroughbred.