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Adjusting Rickenbacker Truss Rods on 360/12C63 Guitar

After getting the Rickenbacker restrung and putting the new 12-saddle bridge on, I'm doing the final setup.  That includes adjusting the truss rods.

First thing to do is take off the truss rod cover, which cleverly doubles as a nameplate.

You may find it easier to slip next-to-highest E string and the octave E string of the bottom pair out of their slots to better access the screws nearest the nut.

Depending on the individual guitar, you'll probably also need to detune the fundamental G, and the bottom B and E strings to get enough clearance to slide the cover out.

Holy neck adjustment, Batman!  There are two truss rods!

Why yes, yes there are.  This is one of the best but most misunderstood features on Rickenbacker instruments.  I'll get to that momentarily.

The two rods give added strength to the neck, and give a high degree of adjustability to the neck.

Two truss rods are not totally unique to Ric instruments - Guild 12-strings have them as well.

Here's the headstock with the cover removed.  Note the famous shedua (not walnut) laminate 'stripe.'  Love that look!  It also gives a great resistance to twisting - the laminate of maple and shedua is super strong.

The arrangement of the 12-string tuners is simple genius.  In my view, it's up there with the belly and arm curves on a Stratocaster.

Some folks grouse about the fact that the 6 slotted tuners are hard to restring.  Eh, whatever.  You're not doing it every day, are you?  And it just takes a little more time, that's all.

Now we just use a 1/4 inch driver and adjust the truss rods as needed.

This guitar had some bow on the treble side, and a lot on the bass side.  It was easy enough to adjust and get virtually flat.  I just adjusted the bass side more.

Now, this is where the confusion on Rickenbackers comes in.  You'll notice that the neck set is extremely shallow.  In other words, unlike most other guitars, the horizontal pitch of the neck - the angle the neck lies in a horizontal plane - is just a few degrees.  Therefore, the best setup is to have the neck as close to being flat - no backbow - as possible.

On most guitars, you'll have a bit of backbow.  If you adjust the neck flat, you may wind up with backlash and buzzing and the guitar will be hard to play, particularly in the middle of the neck.  That's because of the relationship of the neck to the body.

With a Rickenbacker and its shallow angle, a flat neck will allow super low action without buzzing.  The adjustment is the same, it's just adjusted to a different point.  Once you understand the design, and why it's made that way, it makes sense.

Now, one clarification.  In 1984 Ric redesigned their truss rods.  (The famous Forrest White is responsible for that).  Any guitar made after September, 1984, can be adjusted in the traditional manner as I've done here.  For earlier guitars, the neck must be physically moved to the desired bow, and then the truss rod nuts adjusted tight to hold that position.  If you do the adjustment via the truss rod nuts, you may pop the fingerboard off!

Ric literature suggests just moving the neck by hand.  Unless you have 2 people (one to move it and one to tighten the nuts), it's hard to do that.  So the best solution is to clamp it into position with a sturdy long board, cauls and clamps.  See Dan Erlewine's book on guitar repair for this.

I should add that that clamp method works for any guitar where there isn't enough truss rod adjustment, not just older Rickenbackers.  And finally, Rickenbacker is very clear on all of the above. 

Now, you can adjust the neck so there is a small amount of back bow, but the guitar will be much harder to play.  The adjustment is critical on the 12-string models, because you have twice the string tension to press down.  This guitar is now adjusted with incredibly low action, and it's super easy to play.  I didn't measure it, but I'd guess it's about 3/64 on the bass side and 1/32 on the treble. 

After the neck is adjusted, I set the action (low as noted above), and I also filed the nut slots a bit deeper.

Here's the headstock afterwards - note the red silk string ends on those Tomastik-Infeld wound strings.

This model has the old-style flat trapeze tailpiece, rather than the "R" tailpiece.  I like the look of the "R," but it's a real pain to string.  This is much better.

And you get to see those red string ends.

Did I say I love maple guitars?

Closeup of the new bridge.  You can see that it does make a difference in intonation adjustment - the fundamental and octave strings have different string lengths.  Not by much, but it's there.

One of the fascinating things about Rickenbacker guitars is the way the hardware - the bridge and pickups and knobs - is nice to look at.  And with the beautiful design of the body and the amazing finish, it's just stunning.

Here's one of the famous 'toaster' pickups.  That chimey tone starts here.

Notice how the pickups are mounted above the body rather than sunk in.  I think that high string height above the body also contributes to the tone.

I want to build a Telecaster with one of these pickups in the neck position.  Hmmmm.


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