Rickenbacker 4001 vs 4003: Which Bass Guitar is Better?

In this article, we’re comparing the Rickenbacker’s 4001 vs 4003 bass guitars. Our objective is to help you decide which guitar is better.

We carefully reviewed each guitar’s key features, pricing, benefits, and drawbacks to help you come to the conclusion of which guitar suits you best.

Let’s start with what makes them different from one another.

Main Differences between Rickenbacker 4001 vs 4003

The main differences between Rickenbacker 4001 vs 4003 are:

  • The Rickenbacker 4001 uses a horseshoe and toaster pickup, whereas the Rickenbacker 4003 uses high hot gain pickups, which create a more punchy sound.
  • The Rickenbacker 4003 has a wider (fatter) neck profile, whereas the Rickenbacker 4001 has a slimmer neck profile making it a better fit for people with short fingers.
  • The Rickenbacker 4001 is set up with caps in its circuits to produce its vintage sound, whereas the Rickenbacker 4003 is mostly set up with the caps cut out for a brighter sound.

Both guitars sound about the same if they are set up the same way; however, players hardly set them up the same way in reality.

So depending on the sound you want to create, both guitars come with their unique offerings.

Key Specifications

CRITERIA 4001 4003
Body Shape Double cutaway Double cutaway
Body Material Maple Maple
Neck Maple, Walnut Maple
Frets Bubinga, Rosewood, 20 frets Rosewood, 20 frets
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Comparing Key Features: Rickenbacker 4001 vs Rickenbacker 4003


Famous guitarist Paul McCartney’s guitar greatly inspired the Rickenbacker 4001’s design, hence its use of horseshoe and toaster pickups.

This is to aid it to produce the vintage sounds that Paul’s guitar produced as well. Unfortunately, many guitarists dislike horseshoe pickups because it gets in the way of their playing hand.

The Rickenbacker 4003 follows a more modern design that uses hot high gain pickups. These make the guitar produce a more punchy sound. And the good news is they don’t get in the way of your playing hand.

Both guitars use single-coil pickups. Need help getting a pickup for your guitar? Check out our guide on the top 5 best single-coil pickups for your guitar.

Neck Profile

Rickenbacker 4003

The difference in the neck size and shape between the Rickenbacker 4001 and 4003 is too wide to overlook. The 4003 model has what few guitarists have described as wide and fat. This could be good or bad, depending on how you look at it. On the bad side, it makes playing difficult for guitarists with short fingers.

This gives the 4001 model an edge over the Rickenbacker 4003 since it’s a better fit for guitarists with short fingers.

Several guitarists on forums have also complained about a neck loosening issue in the 4003 model. However, we discovered that these comments were directed to models built before 2012. Models produced from 2013 received good feedback for improvement on the issue.

Rickenbacker 4001

While the 4001 model is a better option for guitarists with short fingers because it isn’t wide, its thin neck profile has some cons. Its neck profile was too thin, which caused the bass to have issues with round wound bass strings due to the extra tension. This is where the 4003 model has the edge over 4001 because its design resolved this issue.

Sound Difference

Many guitarists love the Rickenbacker backer for its unique vintage sounds. This is thanks to the use of a cap in the circuits.

However, Rickenbacker 4003 produces a brighter and higher tone compared to the 4001 model. This is because, during the guitar set up, guitarists cut out the caps.

Other factors that cause a difference in sound in both of these bass guitars include the string setup and pickups. If you use the same setup on the 4001 and the 4003, you get a roughly similar sound. So it’s safe to say that both guitars offer unique sounds depending on the sound you want to create.

Celebrities Who Played the Rickenbacker

Here’s a list of famous guitarists that have strummed Rickenbacker guitars:

  • Paul McCartney
  • Geddy Lee
  • Chris Squire
  • Lemmy Kilmister
  • Steve Howe
  • Roger Glover
  • Susanna Hoffs
  • Mike Campbell

Pricing: Rickenbacker 4001 Vs Rickenbacker 4003

It is no secret that Rickenbacker guitars are expensive. In our opinion, there isn’t much of a difference in the price between both guitars. However, the price you come across is dependent on several factors.

For example, a 4001 model would be considered a rare item because it is no longer in production. Even though you will be buying it used, it could be sold at over $2,000.

Newer models like the 4003 are available for about the same price if they are used. In contrast, brand new units could sell for a higher amount going as high as $3,000 or more.

Pros and Cons: Rickenbacker 4003 Vs Rickenbacker 4001

Rickenbacker 4003 Pros

  • Thick neck profile that allows for a more sustainable feel
  • Improved dual truss rod system
  • Improved neck lamination for intense use
  • Pickup doesn’t get in the way of playing.

Rickenbacker 4003 Cons

  • A thick neck profile is unsuitable for people with short fingers.

Rickenbacker 4001 Pros

  • Two pickup system – this allows for more flexibility.
  • More control- thanks to the pickup sector, volume, and tone controls

Rickenbacker 4001 Cons

  • Very thin neck profile.
  • Horseshoe pickup gets in the way of playing.

Factors to Consider When Buying a Rickenbacker Bass: 4001 Vs. 4003

S and FL

If your bass has “FL” specified on its model, it means it is a fretless variation. Regardless of the fact that Rickenbacker bass kits have offered fretless guitars for a few decades, fretless 4000 series guitars are relatively scarce in the market.

Guitar models labeled “S ” are part of the more affordable Rickencaker product line. “S” guitars are cheaper than “FL” guitars because they don’t make use of body binding and stereo outputs. They also make use of dots instead of triangular inlays.


Rare Finishes

Over the years, Rickenbacker guitars have had three primary finishes- Fireglo, Mapleglo, and Jetglo. These are sunburst, natural, and black. However, Rickenbacker has also produced a few rare and limited edition finishes.

An example of these are guitars with burgundy or white finishes. It shouldn’t be a surprise that these limited-edition guitars are more expensive. There are also some years where the brand has offered all its models in special colors.


A majority of Rickenbacker style bass kits are equipped with Ric-O-Sound, a unique output system. It is a stereo output option with each channel tied to the guitar’s pickups. It’s not difficult to tell whether a Rickenbacker bass has this feature or not.

You can tell if your guitar has one or not by inspecting the number of output jacks on its body. To use the Ric-O-Sound feature, you have to output through a stereo Y-cable. Any other single splitting device can also get the job done. Many guitarists assume that you’re meant to use both output jacks at once, which isn’t the case.

Reissue Models, Artists, Limited Edition

Both the Rickenbacker 4001 and 4003 models have been made in special editions or signature models over the years. After the guitar’s numerical designation, if you see the letter “V” or “C,” it indicates that the guitar is an artist reissue or reissue model.

For a clearer picture, the 4001C64S is a reissue of Paul McCartney’s 4001 guitars from 1964. Other reissue models include the 4004LK and 4001CS models.

Alternatives to Rickenbacker 4001 and 4003

Here are some other guitars to choose from if you don’t feel the 4001 or 4003 are the right choice for you:

Peavey T-40

Peavey T-40

The Peavey T-40 is a guitar popular for its construction and affordability. The T-40 is heavy but its build makes it able to withstand constant use.

It has two toaster-style pickups and also has a fretless model under the name Peavey T-40FL.

Many guitarists have praised the guitar for being the closest alternative to a Rickenbacker you will find.

Danelectro Longhorn

Danelectro Longhorn Bass Copper Burst | Amazon

The Danelectro Longhorn Bass in Copper Burst features a Solid Basswood Body, Satin Finish Maple Neck Rosewood Fretboard, "C" Shape Neck Profile, 24 Frets Aluminum Nut and Original Danelectro Tremolo with Swivel.

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09/23/2021 09:51 pm GMT

The Danelectro Longhorn is another guitar that few guitarists suggested could work as an alternative to the Rickenbacker bass.

The guitar is popular for its eccentric design and sound.

Frequently Asked Questions

Question: What is the Ric-O-Sound, and how do I use it?

Answer: Some Rickenbacker guitars have a stereo output jack that separates the sounds coming from each pickup. If your guitar is a three-pickup model, the stock wiring circuit will combine the neck and middle pickups into a channel, while the bridge pickup is on another channel.

There are three ways to use the Ric-o-Sound:
• A Ric-o-Sound adaptor;
• A stereo Y-Splitter
• A stereo guitar cord

UGREEN Stereo Y Splitter | Amazon

Ugreen 3.5mm audio splitter allows dual headphones/speakers connected to most devices with 3.5mm auxiliary port (AUX), like MP3 player, smartphone, tablet, computer, etc.

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The Ric-o-Sound allows you to use different amplifiers, effects, and equalization on each channel to create different sounds.

Question: What kind of strings work best with Rickenbacker guitars?

Answer: The best strings to use with a Rickenbacker guitar are flat-wound strings. Many guitarists have praised Pyramid flat-wound strings for their quality. You can buy them directly from the company website or on Amazon.

Pyramid Flat-Wound Strings | Amazon

Chrome-Nickel Flat Wound on Round Steel Core.

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Question: How do I care for my guitar’s design?

Answer: The factory cloth is the best thing to clean your guitar, but eventually, you’ll need to be more aggressive in caring for your guitar. Pure Carnuba and Turtle Wax (diluted with water) can be used on your guitar if it is particularly dirty or scratched. The cloth should be soft and damp.

To know if you’re cleaning your guitar right, observe how it dries. If you wipe the guitar and see little beads of moisture that disappear as the guitar dries, then you’re doing it right. However, if your polish gets sticky or leaves a coating on your guitar, the cloth is either too dry, or your wax isn’t diluted enough.

Question: Why does Rickenbacker require me to trade in my old truss rod cover for a new one?

Answer: Over time many “copy guitars” have been spotted with genuine Rickenbacker nameplates; this forced the company to adopt a stringent nameplate policy. To purchase a new nameplate, customers have to return at least half of the old one.

Jack plates are also controlled items. To obtain a new jack plate, the buyer must return the existing plate or receive a new plate with a special sequence serial number. All limited edition pick plates are similarly restricted.

The reason for all these restrictions is aimed at maintaining the resale value of genuine Rickenbacker guitars. It is also meant to protect less knowledgeable buyers from buying non-Rickenbacker products as the “real deal” since they carry original plate numbers.

Question: What type of wood is used for Rickenbacker Fretboards?

Answer: The company uses both African RoseWood and Bubinga for their fretboards. Both are classified as Hong Kong Rose Wood in some areas, a more accurate description since the wood is grown in Asia and not Africa as the name implies. In case you’re new to this type of material, here’s a guide on how to properly clean your Rosewood fretboard.

Our Verdict on Rickenbacker 4001 vs 4003

After critically reviewing both guitars, we have to admit that both of them are evenly matched. But if we had to pick one, we’d say the Rickenbacker 4003 guitar seems to be the better option.

Overall, our opinion of the 4003 is an improved version of the 4001 model. It came with an improved truss rod system and a thicker neck for a more sustainable feel.

However, its drawbacks include its horseshoe pickup, which could get in the way of your playing hand. And it’s thick neck has given a few guitarists trouble, for those that have short fingers.

Check out more comparisons from Rickenbacker models:

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