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Author Topic: Carl Wilson Prototype Rickenbacker Guitars - Very Rare, W. Photos + History  (Read 5926 times)
guitarfool2002
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« on: December 10, 2012, 09:01:07 AM »

I had never seen these guitars nor heard about this project, which was a collaboration between Carl Wilson and Rickenbacker to create a “Limited Edition” Carl Wilson signature model Rickenbacker guitar. This information came from Rickenbacker’s owner John Hall, and “Premier Guitar”. I don't think many fans have ever seen these.

The two guitars shown here are one-off prototype “Carl Wilson Limited Edition Signature Model” Rickenbackers, which unfortunately never made it to the production line and which were replaced by what we know as the Carl Wilson or “CW” model Rickenbacker tribute guitar.

According to John Hall, whose father was F.C. Hall who previously ran Rickenbacker, he was working with Carl to design and produce a guitar that wouldn’t be a replica or a copy of an existing model, but instead a “dream guitar” which would include the features each musician would request or want on their own guitar. It seems like they were going for everyday working guitars rather than display pieces, and Hall specifically mentioned a more modern vibrato system and humbucking pickups, along with the solid body design as items specific to Carl’s guitar. He also mentioned one request Carl made for a “more ornate” carved look on the cutaway. When artist models are being designed and fabricated, often the designers will make a prototype incorporating the player’s requested options, then the player will give it a road test, and send it back with any comments or changes that he/she would like to be made. A prototype guitar could go through this process for months, but having a mock-up or a working model such as these two guitars is crucial to the process. These prototypes are the most rare of the rare guitars, because there may be only one or only a few working models ever produced before the design goes to the manufacturing stage after all approvals from the player and designer.

When you look at the photos, notice they look like Rickenbackers, but at the same time they do not - The cut and style of the body is different than even the 600 series solid body models, yet the familiar headstock remains, as does the “checkerboard” binding around the body and triangle “shark tooth” fingerboard inlays on the model on the right. The model on the left seems to be a more workingman’s model, less ornate, no binding, dot versus triangle fretboard inlays, no binding on the headstock, etc. The model on the right is more ornate, and closer in features to Rickenbacker’s upscale models like the McGuinn 360 and others.

The tremolo/vibrato mechanisms are interesting. The chrome vibrato on the right is a Rickenbacker “Hi Tek” tremolo bridge, which was also available as an option on certain 600 series models around this time. That is a standard Rick part - whereas the gold/brass tremolo system on the guitar hanging on the left is another story. The closest product this resembles to me is a Kahler tremolo bridge, where the features are similar but at the same time they don’t seem to match standard Kahler models. If someone has an idea what this may be, please let us know because I have no idea what that bridge could be other than it looks vaguely like something Kahler would make. These definitely play into what Hall said about wanting to add a more “modern” vibrato system on Carl’s guitar.

The reason why these never went to production is the sad part of the story. As the designs and prototypes were still being refined, Carl’s health began to decline rapidly, and he was not able to complete the project. Carl’s family eventually chose the design which would be Carl’s signature model Rickenbacker. Instead of continuing with this original design as shown on the prototypes, they chose a more traditional look and style which was more closely associated with the Rickenbackers Carl had played in the 60’s, and that model is what was released and sold as the Carl Wilson model. Those are based on the original 360 design, and were numbered 360-6CW for the six-string, and 360-12CW for the 12-string.

It’s hard to say what would have been had these guitars been completed and sold. They were a pretty radical design for Rickenbacker, who was known for a very specific and often very traditional, unchanged design style. I think it is quite a testament to Carl’s legacy as a guitarist for Rickenbacker to work with him on designing his “dream guitar”, and bending their design standards to such a degree to produce a totally fresh take on the familiar Rickenbacker design. In the interview, you can still detect the sadness as John Hall describes Carl’s declining health as the reason why this project was never completed. I think there was a mutual respect which led to this project and which keeps Carl’s name and legacy very much remembered in the Rickenbacker legacy. It is important to note that Carl’s influence was most strong as he was seen playing his Rickenbacker on stage and on television when he was still in his teens, and barely out of his teens, and was so strong too that a lesson book was published under his name which included photos of Carl demonstrating chords on that same guitar.

I believe this tells more of the story of how the Carl Wilson Rickenbacker came to be, it clarifies where and how the project originated, and also how the original goals for the project were actually different than the final design which was eventually sold. That final product was a very special and unique guitar, and a great tribute to Carl, but at the same time it was fascinating to hear and see what their original intent was and what may have been produced had these prototype designs made it to the factory.

Enjoy a dozen shots of the rarely seen Rickenbacker Carl Wilson prototype guitars:












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"All of us have the privilege of making music that helps and heals - to make music that makes people happier, stronger, and kinder. Don't forget: Music is God's voice." - Brian Wilson
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« Reply #1 on: December 10, 2012, 09:23:37 AM »

Wow, I had never seen these before.  I see they are 6 strings.  FWIW the only Rickenbacker 12 string I can even play is the 660-12 that I own, because it has a normal neck width.  The 360-12 Carl played was WAY too narrow for me (and most players).
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guitarfool2002
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« Reply #2 on: December 10, 2012, 08:51:38 PM »

Wow, I had never seen these before.  I see they are 6 strings.  FWIW the only Rickenbacker 12 string I can even play is the 660-12 that I own, because it has a normal neck width.  The 360-12 Carl played was WAY too narrow for me (and most players).

Not many have seen those guitars, not many even know they exist(ed) because everyone knows the Carl Wilson model which eventually was produced. I've played some 360-12 models that just didn't feel right and one had disappointing craftsmanship issues, but that's not to say they're not great/iconic guitars in general. I prefer the Fender style 12-strings, both in tuning and neck issues.

I do think every serious guitarist of a certain age and style has a certain model Rickenbacker on his/her "want list".
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"All of us have the privilege of making music that helps and heals - to make music that makes people happier, stronger, and kinder. Don't forget: Music is God's voice." - Brian Wilson
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« Reply #3 on: December 11, 2012, 02:04:44 AM »

Wow, these look great, the body shape reminds me a little of Veleno aluminium guitars. Don't suppose Rickenbacker have a custom shop that would consider doing a limited run of these ?
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guitarfool2002
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« Reply #4 on: December 11, 2012, 08:00:13 AM »

Judging from the response so far to posting these previously unseen (for 99.9% of the fan population) one-of-a-kind Carl Wilson guitars on a Beach Boys forum that regularly discusses Carl Wilson, I seriously doubt there would be enough people asking for them to justify a limited run. Which is sad, because John Hall for one seemed to be pretty enthusiastic about his collaboration with Carl and sad that it never produced a finished model due to Carl's health.

Seriously, this forum goes on for pages about Brian's t-shirts, yet something unknown/unseen directly connected to Carl doesn't get anywhere near the enthusiasm. I think a better place to ask would be on a guitar forum or group, I think Carl's legacy as a guitarist who inspired a lot of folks to play guitar might carry more weight in approaching the custom shop.

It's an interesting body shape, isn't it? Looking at it again, I also see a Stratocaster/Telecaster hybrid in the design of the body itself, and the Veleno reference is a *great* call, it does share some of that style!
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"All of us have the privilege of making music that helps and heals - to make music that makes people happier, stronger, and kinder. Don't forget: Music is God's voice." - Brian Wilson
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« Reply #5 on: December 11, 2012, 08:17:05 AM »

I think part of the reason Carl and his guitars are underlooked is that a lot of BBs productions after 1965 didn't empathize guitar work.
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And production aside, I’d so much rather hear a 14 year old David Marks shred some guitar on Chug-a-lug than hear a 51 year old Mike Love sing about bangin some chick in a swimming pool.-rab2591
guitarfool2002
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« Reply #6 on: December 11, 2012, 08:54:50 AM »

Carl's most influential guitar work was and will always be the lead guitar he played from 1962 to 1966, I don't think anyone would dispute that in the guitar community and elsewhere. Keep in mind that those same songs like Fun Fun Fun which inspired people in the 60's were the same songs that always received the enthusiastic crowd response in the decades to follow, until Carl's passing.

I think the Carl Wilson signature project was like the projects they did with John Kay (Steppenwolf) and Susanna Hoffs, where there are some very loyal fans of those artists but the main point was producing a top of the line guitar, rather than cashing in on the legions of fans who would buy anything with the name attached.

In the case of the Susanna Hoffs model, the black and white tuxedo version of her signature model is one of the coolest things I think Rickenbacker has done in the past 25 years or so. I'm a fan of Susanna's music, but even if I were not the quality and look of that guitar would inspire me to buy it, whatever the name.

And some of these models were produced in such limited runs (250-500, perhaps) that they weren't intended to be for mass consumption anyway...unfortunately we'll never know what the goal was for Carl's design unless John Hall talks in more detail about it. For all we know, it may have gone into Rickenbacker's regular line, or have been a 250 piece limited run...who knows.
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"All of us have the privilege of making music that helps and heals - to make music that makes people happier, stronger, and kinder. Don't forget: Music is God's voice." - Brian Wilson
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