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The 4000 series were the first Rickenbacker bass guitars, production beginning in 1957. The 4000 was followed by the very popular 4001 (in 1961), the 4002 (limited edition bass introduced in 1977), the 4008 (an 8string model introduced in the mid1970s), the 4003 (in 1979, replacing the 4001 entirely in 1986 and still in production in 2010), and most recently the 4004 series. There was also the 4005, a hollow bodied bass guitar (discontinued in 1984); it did not resemble any of the other 4000 series basses, but rather the new style 360-370 guitars. The 4001S (introduced 1964) was basically a 4001 but with no binding and dot fingerboard inlays. It was exported to England as the RM1999. However, Paul McCartney received the very first 4001S (his was left-handed, and later modified to include a "zero fret"). Rickenbacker basses have a distinctive tone.

The 4000 bass has neck-through construction for more solid sustain due to more rigidity. The sustain at the bottom end is particularly striking, and by routing the two outputs from the stereo "Rick-O Sound" output, the brighter bridge pick up through a guitar rig and the bassier neck pickup through a bass setup, a particularly distinctive bass sound is produced. The 3000 series made from the mid-1970s to mid-1980s were cheaper instruments with bolt-on 21 fret necks. There was also a set neck 4000 version in 75 & 76 (neck set like a Gibson Les Paul) which had a 20-fret neck, dot inlays, no binding (similar to the 4001S) but only a single bridge position mono pickup.

Rickenbacker basses became a staple of 1970s hard rock and were featured on countless recordings of the decade. A good example is Roger Glover, who used a Rickenbacker bass on the Machine Head and Who Do We Think We Are albums by Deep Purple in the seventies. Glover's 4001 was modified, however, to include a pair of Fender Jazz Bass pickups replacing the stock neck pickup. His successor in Deep Purple, Glenn Hughes, also employed a 4001, but very soon changed to a Fender Precision Bass. Another good example is Geddy Lee of Rush, who used a 4001 bass with a modified bridge from around 1975 to 1984, and was seen using a Ric bass again on Rush's 2007 tour. Lee also occasionally used a double-neck Ric instrument, the Rickenbacker 4080 bass/guitar. One more example is Geezer Butler of Black Sabbath who used a 4001 bass for Black Sabbath's Never Say Die tour.

These instruments were also widely used among progressive rock bassists, notably Yes's Chris Squire, P-Funk's Cordell "Boogie" Mosson, Genesis' Mike Rutherford, Renaissance's Jon Camp, The Frame's Clint "Father Goose" Wilson, and Cobol Tongue's Rory Hinkel, among others. Another notable player was Rod Deas of rockabilly exponents Showaddywaddy.
Rickenbacker basses were not as visible among the punk/new wave explosion of the late 1970s and early 1980s; however, there were some notable users: Glen Matlock of the Sex Pistols played a Rickenbacker during his tenure with the band, allegedly stolen, like all the Pistols' equipment, from David Bowie's band. Kira Roessler (Black Flag, now dos) also plays a Rickenbacker. Barry Adamson of Magazine used a 4001 on most early recordings. A lot of 80's underground/alternative bands also used Rickenbacker basses, such as Sex Gang Children, Play Dead and Joy Division (although Bassist Peter Hook used a Hondo clone). Brent Liles of Social Distortion played a fretless 4001.

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