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Gear Spotlight: Rickenbacker 360/12 MG 

On a blustery day in March, I finally did it—I trekked out to Burlington on GO Transit and procured my dream guitar. I present to you the Rickenbacker 360 electric 12-string guitar in a Mapleglo finish:

Rickenbacker makes its guitars to order, one at a time, at their factory in Santa Ana, California. If you're in Canada and you order through Rickenbacker's Canadian dealer, Long & McQuade, it takes up to a year for the instrument to arrive, and you can't try before you buy. The guitar comes in three colours: Jetglo (basic black), Fireglo (a sunburst red), and Mapleglo (the gorgeous woody beige you see here).

Sometimes, I suppose, people order a Rickenbacker and, for whatever reason, bail when it comes to making the purchase. These rare birds end up hanging on the racks at various Long & McQuade locations throughout Canada till someone snaps them up. For months, I'd been checking stock as I madly saved every dollar I could. I had my eye on the Mapleglo all along, as it's the variety played by two of my folk-rock heroes: Paul Kantner and Roger McGuinn.

By the time March rolled around, I'd saved up enough to justify financing the rest, and L&M had two 360/12s in stock in the whole country: a used Jetglo at their North York location and a brand-new Mapleglo in Burlington, a bedroom community about 60 kilometres from Toronto. I called Burlington long-distance to place a hold on the MG and hustled over there the same day.

Now, I'd also been looking at this (cheaper) Gretsch 12-string, which the Burlington store happened to have in stock as well. My heart was set on the Rick, of course, but I'd heard that its narrow neck could cause problems for those with big hands; in other words, the Gretsch might be easier for someone like me to play. So, it was fortuitous that I could try both out during the same trip, then decide.

I tried the Gretsch first. It was okay, though it felt a little clunky to play and I had to keep re-tuning. It had its own chime, but not that chime—the one you hear on those '60s classics that were all played on, you guessed it, Rickenbacker 360/12s. The bass pickup sounded a touch muddy as well, but all told, the G5422G-12 is certainly a decent guitar. If I were on a budget, I'd have considered it. However: then I plugged in the Rickenbacker, played the opening lick to The Byrds' version of "Mr. Tambourine Man" and promptly acquired a first-class ticket to jingle-jangle nirvana. Wow! The Rickenbacker felt great to play and was a lot easier to tune than the Gretsch, but most importantly, it had that chime.

I'm not a technical guitar person, so I can tell you very little about the 360/12's specs or even what kind of wood it's made of. Okay, I looked it up: maple body, maple neck, rosewood fingerboard. Perhaps all that means something to you. It has two pickups and a three-way toggle switch for bass, treble, or a combination of the two in the middle position. Each pickup has its own dedicated volume and tone controls. Then there's the mysterious fifth knob, which really isn't so mysterious once you experiment with it. It's a blend knob, used when your toggle switch is in the middle, that adjusts the ratio of treble pickup and bass pickup in the signal.

Rickenbacker's guitars come in two varieties: 330 and 360. Cosmetic differences aside—and there are a few—what differentiates the deluxe (360) from the standard (330) model is the addition of a separate stereo pickup. This allows you to route the signal through separate effects chains or amplifiers. Rickenbacker calls this Rick-O-Sound, and I have successfully used it on a recording. I had the toggle switch in the middle position and routed the treble pickup through my Vox amp on the AC-30 setting. The bass pickup went through the "Black Panel + Trem" preset on my Pocket Pod, and voila: one guitar, one take, two different sounds. Fabulous!

To me, the 360/12 is the crown jewel of guitars. I've wanted one for years, and as I've gotten to know it over the spring and summer, I'm loving it even more. I don't know how Rickenbacker does it, but there's something about the way they build their guitars that gives them ... that chime. One thing I know they do differently with their 12-string guitars is reverse the usual course of the strings, with the lower octave of each pair on top. Also, their clever design makes the headstock a lot more compact than that of other 12-strings, the Gretsch included. And yes, the neck is thinner and my stubby fingers occasionally block strings I don't intend to block, but I've not found it to be such a problem as to render the guitar unplayable. I need to be mindful of it, that's all.

Amazingly, the guitar has that same magical chime and ring even when I play it unplugged. I've been copping some of Paul Kantner's licks from Jefferson Airplane's Woodstock set, and when I play the opening bars of "Eskimo Blue Day," my guitar sounds exactly like Paul's. And in true Kantnerian tradition, the Rickenbacker 360/12 MG will be my go-to rhythm guitar on most of my recordings from this point on. As Roger McGuinn will attest, though, it's not merely a rhythm instrument; in the Byrds, McGuinn used it as more of a lead guitar, with David Crosby holding down the rhythm on a Gretsch six-string.

I suppose I'll finish up by talking price. Rickenbackers in general don't come cheap, and the 360/12 is the most expensive of all, coming in at a cool $3,225 Cdn. before taxes. By comparison, the Gretsch G5422G-12 retails for $1,280. To my mind, the Rickenbacker blows its competitors away in build quality and sound, and there truly is no substitute. If you want to check it out, here's its Long & McQuade page ... but know that at the moment, there are no Rickenbacker 360/12s in stock anywhere in Canada. And here it is on Rickenbacker's website, sans pricing info for the United States or the rest of the world. I guess you'd have to find a dealer in your country, then go from there.

"In the jingle-jangle morning, I'll come following you" - Bob Dylan, "Mr. Tambourine Man"

Gear Spotlight: Vox Mini3 G2 Modelling Amp 

Peanut butter and jam. Snow and ice. Sand and surf. Certain things just naturally go together, don't they? Here's a more musical example: Vox amplifiers and Rickenbacker guitars, the epitome of mod cool in the '60s, '70s and beyond. While I save up to acquire the second component, a Rickenbacker 360 12-string, I recently acquired its mate. Introducing the Vox Mini3 G2 modelling amp:

Coming in at a very reasonable $200, the Vox Mini3 G2 is ostensibly a practice or busking amp, but don't let those three watts of output fool you: it packs quite a punch. At a little over 10 inches wide, it fits snugly into the corner nook of my tiny apartment. Size requirements aside, the main reasons for my purchase were twofold: one, to have an amplifier, period (I've not had one since I've been living in apartments—20 years now); and two, having a genuine Vox to pair with the coming Rickenbacker.

And I'll tell you, for $200, Vox has been more than generous in terms of features. The Mini3 G2 models 11 amplifiers, has two dedicated effects sections and a separate mic input with trim and effects send should you wish to busk or play a small club date. For you buskers out there, yes, it can run on batteries. There's also a simple tuner and a headphone out for late-night practice or, more importantly, a direct in to your recording device.

Let's dive in first to the effects, which are really quite impressive for this price point. The main effects section consists of compressor, chorus, flanger and tremolo, all controlled by an easy-to-use pot that increases either the depth or speed, depending on the effect. You can only use one of the four at a given time, but hey, for $200, I'll take it. (Back in my day, even high-end amplifiers had at most two effects: tremolo and reverb.) The second bank of effects features analog delay, tape echo, spring reverb and room reverb. Again, you can use only one at a time. The pot controls the dry/wet balance this time, but you can adjust the speed of the delays via an adjacent "tap" button that also doubles as a tuner.

The amp models, and what I think they're modelling, are:

  • BTQ Clean (Dumble Overdrive Special, clean channel)
  • Black 2x12 (Fender Twin Reverb)
  • Tweed 4x10 (Fender Bassman)
  • AC15 (Vox AC15)
  • AC30TB (Vox AC30, top boost)
  • UK '70s (Marshall JTM45)
  • UK '80s (Marshall JCM800)
  • UK '90s (Marshall JCM900)
  • Cali Metal (Mesa Boogie Dual Rectifier)
  • US HiGain (Soldano SLO-100)
  • Line (tube preamp; i.e., neutral clean sound with no modelling)

Gain, tone and volume round out the controls, and what with the choice of amp models and two concurrent effects, this little dynamo produces a wide range of tones. I'm more the jangly, '60s/'70s singer-songwriter type, so the shred-o-rama models (UK '90s, Cali Metal, US HiGain) don't do much for me. Though I've found that even these can produce useful sounds if you turn down the gain.

The many models and effects are a bonus, but I was really after a Vox amp. And who better to model Vox than Vox, right? I put both Vox models through their paces with my Epiphone Les Paul, and they're fantastic: gritty, chimey, the sound of the swinging '60s. By switching between pickups on the guitar and adjusting gain and tone, a broad sonic palette is easily achieved with just the AC15 and AC30TB models. The UK '70s and Black 2x12 are terrific as well. The Tweed is very mid-range-y, perhaps excessively so, but might be useful in some applications.

Rather like buying the licence plate and bumper stickers before you get the car, along with the amp I bought a guitar strap, a stand and an extra set of strings. That way, when I finally pull the trigger on my coveted Rickenbacker 360/12, I can confidently and easily drive it straight off the lot, so to speak. More on that in the coming months ...