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I have been a Beatle fan forever and I have always dreamed of owning a set of their guitars. I have an old Hofner bass and an old SG but I wanted to get my hand on at least a Country Gentleman and a Lennon type Rickenbacker. The Gretsch can be found at reasonable price because they have moved production to Japan and they also issued a close copy in Korea. Rickenbacker are still made in the states and a lot of the process is still done by hand. The used Rickenbacker prices have been going up & up. Where as you used to be able to find one in the $1000 range, now expect to pay $2000-$3000 or more. Since I began searching for one I discovered that they have been and still exist several clones. No-one has of yet compiled a list so I have decided to share what I have found.
Les Paul & Stratocaster models have to be the most copied guitars ever. This is due to their long established popularity. Rickenbacker copies are very rare.The reason being is that Rickenbacker vigorously fights to keep copies out of the USA.They have to do this to keep jobs in America.They even attempt prevent individuals from selling their used copies on EBay.
I have never owned one but I have tried a few out. The 320, 325 models are ¾ sized and after playing Gibson and Fender guitars for many years, the Rickenbacker ¾ feels flimsy but the tone variety is amazing. The prices are relatively high but if I factor in inflation, they are priced relative to what a good guitar cost 30-40 years ago. The difference today is that we have many more products competing for our dollar.
Aria Pro II
Guitar players are like any part of society. We see our idols owning dozens of guitars and we just can’t be happy with 1 or 2. When I was about 21 years old I already had 3 Gibsons and two of them were Les Pauls. I always wanted a Strat. I eventually bought a Japanese Fender. I also have a Jay Turser knock–off which is a fine guitar. So I set out seeing if I could get a Rickenbacker new or used for a reasonable price. Eight years ago you could still find a 325 or 320 for around $1000.00. I missed the boat. While searching I discovered that there were copies out there more in my budget range. Further more some of these copies were excellent guitars.
The new ones I found for sale are branded Dillion, Jet, Eagle, Galveston, Rockinbetter and some questionable weird Chinese brands. Custom branding of products has always existed in electronic industry. Manufacturers in the Far East will offer distributors their products which can be branded with the distributors own brand name. Because of this you’ll see numerous similar guitars with different brand names. I have seen the same Rockinbetter model branded Tokai, Dillion, Jet, and Galveston etc. I somehow doubt that there are 4-5 factories churning out these marginal models. The Dillion copies bear the same model names as the Tokai copies. The general opinion is that these copies look and sound very good. That is why Rickenbacker is so committed keeping these out of the USA.
From user reviews and lots of research it would appear that Tokai, Aria, Greco and Jay Turser made the best ones. Tokai may still be making these but they appear no longer branded Tokai. You can imagine that when researching a product that is considered illegal and counterfeit, getting accurate information is extremely hard. Tokai, Aria and Greco were all involved in legal battles in the 1980’s with Fender and Gibson amongst others. Apparently the copies made then are considered by many to be better that the originals. The prices for these babies are going steadily upwards.
We have also seen the copies with such brand names as Wolk,Fernandes,Encore,Tanglewood,Chandler and Hutchins.
Rockinbetter 12 string RG-43
The Jet or Eagle URK300
Thirty some years ago better copies were coming out of Japan. The Japanese had a knack for copying and they started to come out with more unique models. The majors started to realize that they would miss a major chunk of the guitar market if they could not lower their costs. Fender started making the Squire line in Japan. Then Fender Japan appeared. Here too some of these older models are in high demand. Within a few years we started to see Mexican & Korean ones. Rickenbacker for what I see never went this route. With a limited production, the cost of a real Rickenbacker remains high.
Now there are people out there who buy fakes and augment them with real Ric parts. So some unscrupulous person may try to trick you. Be forewarned. One way to tell the difference is that Rickenbacker necks are set, not screwed on. The better copies are also set. The the fret boards on the real ones are sort of a red cedar color. Then there are the tail pieces. The fakes often have a strange squiggly design.
While researching copies using the URK300 part number, I may have found the source. The Un-Sung Musical Instrument in Inchon Korea manufactures guitars for Gibson, Epiphone etc and markets the models URK300, URK500 and URK512 under the Silver Star line.
You can still find the Rockinbetter brand in the UK. The latest batch have an R tail piece and may come from Tokai. They are made in Indonesia.
I believe that copies of the 4001 bass are easier to find. Ibanez was amongst others who made a very good copy.
Here is a link to the Unsung company. I have tried to contact them but they have never replied.
Lately there are a slew of Chinese forgeries and by forgeries I mean guitars being sold as the real thing , complet with face name plates and documentation. Be aware. Some of the Les Paul copies I've seen are hard to tell apart from the originals.