331 Lightshow (second version) Guitars

1971 Rickenbacker 331 Lightshow (second version)

Color: Mapleglo, Rating: 9.50, Sold (ID# 02266)
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Super Rare Rickenbacker 331 Lightshow
Probably the Finest Example Extant…


1971 Rickenbacker 331 Lightshow (second version)


This absolutely amazing and super rare Mapleglo (natural), 14 3/4 inch-wide and just under 2 inch thick, full-size 'psychedelic' guitar weighs 8.60 lbs. Unbound hollow maple body. One-piece maple neck with a nut width of between 1 5/8 and 1 11/16 inches, a standard Rickenbacker scale length of 24 3/4 inches and a wonderful medium profile (0.83 inches behind the first seven frets and then rising minimally to 0.84 inches behind the 9th to the 15th frets). Single-bound rosewood fretboard with 24 original jumbo frets and small white dot position markers. Headstock with white opaque plastic logo plate with black lettering. Individual dual-line Kluson Deluxe tuners with oval metal buttons (all stamped "D-169400 / Patent No." on the underside). Two Rickenbacker "Hi-Gain" pickups with chrome surounds and outputs of 7.47k and 8.45k. Two translucent plastic pickguards, each secured by seven screws. Six controls (two volume, two tone, one blend and one light sensitivity control) plus three-way pickup selector switch, all on lower level of 'treble-side' pickguard. Seven-sided black plastic knobs with metal tops with black lettering (blend control and light sensitivity controls slightly smaller. The potentiometers are stamped "137 7125" (CTS June 1971). Rickenbacker bridge and Rickenbacker "R" tailpiece. "Rick-O-Sound" stereo and "Standard" jack inputs. The serial number "KJ 650" (October 1971) is stamped onto the jack plate. This super rare guitar is almost brand new, untouched, unplayed mint (9.50++) condition with almost no signs of playing wear whatsoever. Complete with the separate 'Lighshow' transformer. Housed in its original Rickenbacker three-latch, rectangular black hardshell case with orange plush lining and black leather ends (9.50).

"The Rickenbacker Light Show Guitar is without question one of the most bizarre and off-the-wall instruments ever manufactured - a guitar with inbuilt lights that flash in time with the notes and chords played… The Light Show was introduced as a brave new concept, something that had never been seen before and an all-out showstopper". (Tony Bacon. Rickenbacker Guitars - Out of the Frying Pan into the Fireglo. pp.274-275).

The Model 331- commonly called the "Light Show Guitar" because of its frequency-modulated internally-lit body-reflected the psychedelic 1960s in both sound and substance. The flashing began when the player hit the strings: yellow for treble notes, red for mid-range, and blue for bass. (Rickenbacker also produced a kaleidoscopic light projector called the Phantasmagorian.) Production figures for 1971 are not known but is is thought that only between 25 and 100 Lightshow's were produced between 1970 and its discontinuation in 1975. (Rick Resource).

"At Rickenbacker, Dick Burke reckons it was about this time [1969] that demand for the company's guitars began to decline. He estimates that the slower years were 1969, 1970, and 1971. From a peak of just over 100 factory workers at one point during the busy 1965-1968 period, there was a time between 1969 and 1971 when just eight workers were employed at the factory, he recalls. A few changes were made to the guitar at this time. In 1969, a new type of high-output pickup called the Hi-Gain was introduced. The same year saw the introduction of 24 frets for the family of 300-series guitars, which until then had 21 frets as standard. Production of both 21-fret and 24-fret models continued into the 70s, but by the middle of the decade the 21-fret versions had all but disappeared." (Tony Bacon. Rickenbacker Electric 12 String , p.85).

"The company first offered the Model 331, nicknamed the light show guitar, in 1970. It was the psychedelic spin-off of the Model 330. Stephen F. Woodman and Marshall Arm created the initial design for the 331 and then licensed Rickenbacker to develop and manufacture it. Rickenbacker dropped the 331 from the price sheets in 1975.

To convey the intent of this guitar, here is an excerpt from the brochure that described it… "The Model 331 combines a fine musical instrument with the thrill of a light show. Internally lighted by a set of frequency modulated lamps, this instrument will shimmer with infinite color and pattern variety. This instrument also features Stereo out put, Hi-gain pickups, and 24 frets. The three modulation channels are variable with a sensitivity control to make this patented instrument a beautiful performer in the stage situations professionals encounter."

What did it do? The top of the instrument was translucent and the body had lamps built into it. Red lamps lit on for treble notes played, yellow (or green) lamps lit for middle range notes played, and blue lamps lit for bass notes played. You can imagine how cool it looked. A Rickenbacker factory employee remembers that Buck Owens played the Model 331 frequently on the Hee Haw television show. Rickenbacker built the light show guitar with two different light circuits. The first version relied on clear light bulbs with colored filters--the factory invoice called it the "Xmas Tree Special." They delivered a prototype on January 20, 1970, while actual production began after June 22, 1970. The factory hand wired the first versions. The second version of the Model 331 was a superior design; it had colored lamps and a better circuit the company mounted on a P.C. board. The second 331 also had a larger outboard transformer. The factory built both versions of the 331 guitar around the body and neck of a Model 330." (Richard R. Smith. The History of Rickenbacker Guitars. p. 170).

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