Johnny Marr singing live.

The True Story of Johnny Marr’s Rickenbacker

Johnny Marr needs no introduction, and if you know the guitarist you are bound to know his legendary Rickenbacker JetGlo 330 guitar. This iconic black Rickenbacker is often seen as synonymous with Johnny Marr’s playing, but why is this? 

Well, let’s take a look at this legendary guitar and look at when, how, and why it was used by the indie legend. 

Let's look at the guitar first

Johnny Marr holding his Rickenbacker JetGlo 330 guitar.

The Rickenbacker that Johnny Marr used was a JetGlo 330 guitar with six strings that was built in 1982. The guitar features that recognisable Ricky shape and of course is a Semi-Hollow design. The guitar has a black finish alongside a white pickguard and chrome tone control covering. And of course, has two high-output cutting single-coil pickups. 

Essentially it is a Rickenbacker through and through. 

Marr on Getting his Rickenbacker

Johnny Marr purchased his iconic Rickenbacker from a music shop in Manchester called A1 Repairs. In 1983, the guitarist had recently received his first publishing check and had decided to treat himself to a new guitar. He liked the look of the Rickenbacker, but his real reason for getting the guitar was more deliberate. 

Rickenbackers were synonymous with a different type of guitarist than the shred-heavy bands of the day. They were more chord-focused. Marr favoured this approach to playing, with the guitarist viewing the show-off guitaring of the 80s as “Naff”. 

Marr knew this guitar would allow him to play his iconic arpeggios easily and force him to play more melodically. Funnily enough, this is precisely what would happen.

Here he is talking about the guitar on That Pedal Show. 

Why the Rickenbacker was perfect for Marr

The guitar was the perfect choice for Marr for a multitude of reasons. For starters, the guitar’s semi-hollow build adds an extra dimension of airiness to the already luscious textures of Marr’s reverb and delay-heavy tone.

Combined with this are the high-output single-coil pickups, which are excellent at articulating every note played. This factor helps to prevent the muddiness that could be prevalent within the guitarist’s arpeggios approach. The single coils brought that iconic twang and the necessary brightness of The Smiths and Marr. 

When was the guitar used

The Rickenbacker was first deployed on The Smiths Song, “What Difference Does it Make”. The guitar provided the perfect backing to the melodic lead line that opens the track. The other tracks that predominantly feature this guitar are “Reel Around the Fountain”, “Still Ill”, “You’ve Got Everything Now”, and “Accept Yourself”, as all of these tracks were written on this guitar.

The main driving force behind this Marr becoming synonymous with this guitar is due to its extensive use on tour. This guitar would be Marr’s main guitar throughout his time with The Smiths. Every Smiths song at some point had been played on this guitar.

However, there is a myth when it comes to this guitar. Contrary to expected knowledge, the Rickenbacker wasn’t used much on The Smiths recordings. The guitar you hear in the Majority of The Smiths’ music is a 1954 Telecaster. So despite TOTPs showing Marr playing a Rickenbacker for “This Charming Man” it was actually a Tele. 

Moving on from the Rickenbacker

Johnny Marr's Signature Fender Jaguar (Credit: Fender)
Johnny Marr's Signature Fender Jaguar (Credit: Fender)

Marr and a Rickenbacker was one of the most iconic combos in indie rock. Even after The Smiths, this guitar would remain his main axe. If you went to see Marr play live, you were guaranteed a cameo from this guitar, and of course, it wasn’t his only guitar, as he was still a guitarist after all! 

This would be the case until 2005 when Marr would take on a new primary model, the Fender Jaguar. This shift in his gear was for similar reasons to his adoption of the Rickenbacker. The Jaguar provided the same single-coil tone but gave more tone-shifting options. Eventually, Fender would release a signature Jag sealing the shift in guitar.

Johnny Marr's Rickenbacker legacy

Johnny Marr’s Rickenbacker was pivotal in defining The Smiths’ unique sound. It is clear that the guitar became more than a tool, and it in fact helped Marr execute his vision. The fact the two became an iconic duo is testament enough to the guitar’s impact. 

While Marr would move on, in terms of his primary guitar, the impact that Rickenbacker had on the world of indie rock would remain. Without this Rickenbacker we may never have had some of Marr’s best riffs.

Read more about another iconic guitar combo here! 

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