Rickenbacker A-25 Lap Steel Electric Guitar (1934)

Rickenbacker  A-25 Lap Steel Electric Guitar  (1934)
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Item # 9307
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Rickenbacker A-25 Model Lap Steel Electric Guitar (1934), made in Los Angeles, gold enamel finish, cast aluminum body and neck.

This extremely rare Rickenbacher A-25 Electro Hawaiian Guitar, nicknamed the "Frying Pan" for its distinctive shape is simply one of the most historically important of all 20th Century guitars. This was the first commercially successful electrified string instrument as well as the first (more or less) solid body guitar. It was the initial carrier of the celebrated pre-war 1 1/2 inch horse shoe magnet pickup, the first such electro-magnetic instrument pickup to be perfected and still one of the greatest-sounding units ever. While Rickenbacker went on to produce many other instrument designs, the "Frying Pan" is where it all began for both this California company and electric guitars in general.

The instrument was first offered in extremely small numbers by 1932 as the Model A-25, with a 25" scale length. A companion A-22 model with a 22" scale quickly followed and as the short scale became more accepted on Electric Hawaiian guitars the A-25 was heavily outsold by its short scale sister. The number of extant A-25 examples is very small; many are rumored to have been collected for scrap aluminum drives during WWII! They rarely come up for sale 80+ years later in the 21St Century. The A-25 was marketed and almost always used as a Hawaiian guitar, but the neck is round-backed and with a different set-up this instrument could have been played Spanish style - something designer George Beauchamp alludes to in the original patent application.

The very first Electro steels from 1932-3 have no onboard controls, this example has a single volume pot with an octagonal knob on the top. The fingerboard is integral with the neck and has raised ridges for frets and black position dot markers. The entire instrument extremely futuristic for the 1930's, a high deco minimalist design fabricated from a single piece of cast aluminum with a hollow space inside. This body is finished overall in a fairly fragile gold enamel wash that is still partially intact on this example. The strings run through the body and over a separate chromed metal saddle, through the horseshoe magnet pickup and on over a chromed brass nut to the slotted headstock.

The pickup is an early transitional version of the famous Rickenbacker horseshoe unit. It is still built inside the original style thicker 3/8" magnets but with the newer coil (new for 1933-4!) with individual poles. It is adjustable for height with a knurled knob at each end; the first pattern mounting flanges have no "Pat. Applied For" stamp. The slotted headstock is fitted with 1920's open gear strip tuners with ivoroid buttons as seen on older Martin and Gibson guitars. A brass metal name plate mounted on the headstock face reads "Richenbacher Electro, Los Angeles" with "RE" between mirrored lightning bolts. This combination of features suggest this example dates to 1934; it bears no serial number but that is not unusual on early examples as the Los Angeles factory was pretty lackadaisical about such fine details.

This example has had some internal restoration and sounds fantastic. Amazingly enough even 85 years on the guitar itself is still a very fine musical instrument and remains one of the best-sounding steel guitars ever produced. While there will always be some debate as to who made the "Absolute First" electric guitar, the introduction of the Rickenbacker Electro established a market for the amplified instruments, and the company dominated it in these first years. Inventor George Beauchamp's electro-magnetic stringed instrument pickup was by far the best sounding and most successful of the early designs and set the basic pattern form all that have come since. The A-25 remains unique, in some ways as modern as when it was first introduced and certainly one of the most distinctive guitars ever designed.
 
Overall length is 31 1/4 in. (79.4 cm.), 6 3/4 in. (17.1 cm.) across at the widest point, and 1 1/2 in. (3.8 cm.) in depth, measured at side of rim. Scale length is 25 in. (635 mm.). Width of nut is 1 7/8 in. (48 mm.).

This rare Rickenbacker steel shows a decent amount of wear overall but remains a fine playing and sounding example of this most historically important and sought-after of all lap steel guitars. It has had some internal restoration by Todd Clinesmith, one of the finest dedicated builders of vintage steel guitars and a true expert in the field. The original pickup has been rewound to spec. by him, and the volume knob is his re-creation of the original. The jack, volume pot and some of the internal wiring is newer. The original pickup coil, poles and magnets were used and the sound is still sublime.

The finish on these very early Rickenbackers is inconsistent and often proved fairly fragile in use. This one has numerous chips, scrapes, dents and dings with larger areas completely rubbed away on the face from contact with the players hands. The front of the instrument is covered in spots where moisture has worn into and through the finish, resulting in a sort of "spider-webbed' appearance. This is actually beautiful in a reliced "Decasia" sort of way but of course is not as it looked when new.

The treble side pickup magnet has some plating loss and corrosion near the tip, the bass side one not so much. The flat-plate tuners are original except one shaft, button and gear are somewhat later replacements; this is noticeable but not overly conspicuous. Everything works as intended and this is a wonderful player's example of this sublime instrument; despite scars from a long life this still represents one of the true holy grails for steel guitar players and electric instrument collectors worldwide. Very Good + Condition.