The original ad:
Rickenbacker 1971 Model 331 "Light Show", KF368, jetglo, exc-, OH.
An historic marker to the late '60s/early '70s psychedelic era, before disco came along and devoured everything. This one was modified by Rickenbacker for battery operation since the original DC-current powered one was said to be a "toaster with strings" and soon became so hot, in performance, that it couldn't be held (an excellent test of your underarm deodorant). It is sort of resembles an older style 360, with its non-carved top, having outputs for Ric-o-Sound and the regular octane, but here you get the festival of lights for secular purposes. It also has a third output (or input), a DIN-plug, which may have been utilized for the electric current (do not play while bathing). The sound strongly recalls the clean, pop Rickenbaker tone (you get instant John Fogerty), and the colors, as seen in a darkened room, really are beautiful. It has the usual five knobs, three way toggle, plus an additional Rotary Mystery Knob and two more toggles - one for the lights and one whose purpose (like our own) is yet to be determined. You have complete and easy access to every one of the 24 frets. There are 2 cracks in the Lucite pickguard, which guard bears the legend "Patent Pending." It is a true modern collectible.
Well after all much anticipation the Lightshow Rick arrives, we plug it in, switch it on.... except for a great playing and sounding guitar... nothing happens. Nary a light...much less a light "show". Hmm... thinking it could be a battery issue, (this one was supposedly modified for battery operation by the factory), decided to remove the covers on the upper half of the body, which consist of a clear plexi panel on top and a psychedelic swirl pattern panel underneath.
Surprise!..........here's what we see!. Jumping Junipers Batman.... looks like a mess in there! Let's see.... where is the battery power supply? Oh there it is. Looks like the stock in Reynolds aluminum (foil division) just went up!... Hey... it looks like Christmas in there! Where are the shiny balls and tinsel? Can you read the address stickers? We could...Connecticut...now that's nowhere near Santa Ana!
Well, what about the nameplate? Did the design mavens at Rickenbacker decide to build a model that requires just a slight nameplate retrofit adjustment. Gosh, no problem... we'll just file a little bit off each of these namplates around the E tuner for every one of these we produce. Notice any other anomalies on this one?
In their defense, the sellers of the 331, a noted vintage guitar dealer, have agreed to return this one to stock. Oh well... back it goes, new vintage style silver case and all.
An interesting email we received:
BW writes: The lights "guts" on that 331 you had were thoroughly non-original. The real thing has 2 raw, open circuit boards lining the back of the cavities, and 9 - 12v bayonet mount, automotive tail light bulbs (which had to be dipped in translucent paint for the colors), and sockets mounted to it, not those wimpy Xmas tree lights. The power supply was a separate box housing the transformer, whose cable did indeed enter the guitar via the DIN jack. The "mystery knob" is the master sensitivity. You left it fully counter clockwise until you wanted the lights on (They tended to bleed a little light, even with the knob fully off). Inside, on the board, were three individual mini pots, sesitivity for each of the three color channels. The 2 little switches on the 331 pictured are mods, not original.
I did once see a 331 at a guitar show in Florida about 1987 that was missing the lights innards. Perhaps it's the same guitar.
I used my 331 full time for about six years all over the Midwest with a band called Yancy Derringer. We did an album called "Openers" (soon to be rereleased on CD on GearFab Records) on which I used the Rick for open E slide on one cut called "Weedburner."
Anyhow, the heat problem you speak of is, in my opinion, quite overstated, although I only used the guitar, usually, for one 10 minute song per night. I never noticed a problem.
The bulbs were available in nearly any automotive section of any common department store. The paint for the bulbs, however, was another matter, as it had to be transparent or translucent, but a bit special as to tolerate the heat that the bulbs did give out. Rather than color them at all (hey, no matter what you were stoned on, the effect was just as "mind blowing," or NOT, as any other "color organ" or musical "audio light" of the time. To begin with, ALL of these things got it wrong trying to create a spectrum from yellow, blue, and red. That's for paint or printed material. For light, it should be green, blue, and red. Look close at a color TV), so I left them clear white. Following a stage blackout in a dark club, the effect this way was much, much better, in fact, it was what you might call KILLER, BABE!
If you can imagine a how bright an average tail light is in the dark, then imagine it with no red lens, then imagine NINE of them shimmering behind this diffraction grating (the pearly plastic sheets), you may get the idea. It happened all the time that when I would tell people what band I was in, they wouldn't quite remember if they ever saw us or not, until I sighed and said "I'm the guy with the guitar with the lights...
"OH, YEAH, MAN! I REMEMBER YOU GUYS! THAT WAS GREAT!"
As for the nameplate,...??? Mine fit just fine.