Lennon Rickenbacker GuitarThe Beatles went to Hamburg in August 1960. John had seen guitarist Jean "Toots" Thielemans, George Shearing´s Quintet, playing a Rickenbacker 325 in 1959. He immediately became interested in the guitar. One day John and George went to Steinway´s in Hamburg (local research suggests that the guitar may have been acquired from the nearby Musikhaus Rothoff). George bought a Gibson amplifier and John bought the "guitar of his dreams", a Rickenbacker Capri 325 in natural finish. It´s quite amazing to see that the connection between "Toots" and the Capri 325 began as early as 1958! When bringing the question up about the cost of the amplifier and the guitar George Harrison recalls: - I think we bought them on "a knocker". One pound down and the rest when they catch you. He adds: - I don´t know if we ever paid them off, but.....??
Here´s a photo from the Trade Show 1958. John Lennon´s Capri 325 is the guitar to the left in the bottom row, equipped with two control knobs and a Kauffman Vibrola tailpiece.
1960. John Lennon in Hamburg on a fairground, near the Reeperbahn, called "Heiligengeistfeld". His guitar is still unmodified.
In Hamburg John Lennon soon started to modify his guitar. The first alteration he made was to remove the TV-style control knobs and replace them with Hofner types. Through the years he was using both Burns and Hofner type knobs. It seems he was either constantly losing them or perhaps could not decide which type were more appealing. There is a picture on p.45 in "The Vox Story" (Petersen & Denny, 1993) showing John´s guitar with only three Hofner type knobs. After returning to Liverpool he replaced the Kauffman Vibrola tailpiece. He bought a Bigsby unit from salesman Jim Getty at Hessy´s music store in Liverpool. Also a new Bigsby bow-tie bridge was mounted. The guitar was put on the counter and the modifications were made while still being in the store. Perhaps the reason for this was that the Kauffman Vibrola rarely returned to pitch and threw the instrument out of tune. It would appear that the Bigsby was considered as a more reliablevibrato tailpiece. Unfortunately the Bigsby bridge was somewhat oversized for the smaller 325 body. It was probably the pickguard that prevented it from fitting properly or perhaps it was improperly installed. Pictures of the guitar reveal that the low E or 6th string was out of alignment and actually was outside the fretboard and off the neck from somewhere around the 14th fret and higher.
It would also seem that the middle pickup was disconnected.One plausible reason for this altered wiring might have been to achieve greater difference in tone between the different pickup-switch positions. Most of the pictures of John playing this guitar reveal that the pickup-switch is set to the mid-position. An up or down position would result in a more distinct change in tonal characteristics. Whether this was a deliberate action on John´s part or not, is not known. After all John Lennon did not have the reputation of being the most technically minded person.
Please note that the fact that his middle pickup was disconnected has not, to my knowledge, been verified by John himself in any interviews. Maybe the reason simply was that the pickup had been damaged from being hit hard a countless number of times, while John was strumming wild (or damaged because of some other reason), and he just left it that way. After all he never modified his other 325 (Miami) or 1996 (Rose,Morris) guitars to have that same pickup wiring.
Lennon Rickenbacker Guitar
There are few topics that hold the attention of avid Beatle fans more than the guitars played by the Fab Four in general, and by John Lennon in specific. His adopting of the 325 Rickenbacker and his eventual refinishing to black has sent many an enthusiast on the hunt for the reasons underlying this change. Whatever the reason, no single guitar at that time had theimpact of Lennon's black 325. The reasons for its change in color are not known, however, the most realistic explanation is probably Lennon's pension for the unusual and different. The Cuban footwear, the leather hat, the long beard, the Lennon spectacles, the purple shirts and the shaved head are but a few examples of his trend setting ways. So why should his guitar be any different? Jim Burns, of Burn's Guitar fame, is credited with the finishing. The 325 in its natural finish is portrayed in a photo of the Beatles rehearsing at the Cavern in October 1962. The first photo of Lennon with the 325 with black finish was taken on December 31, 1962 at their last performance at the Star Club in Hamburg, Germany.So the refinishing of Lennon's instrument was sometime between October and mid December 1962.
Another possible reason for the refinishing was to make it match George´s black Gretsch Duo Jet, which was his main guitar at that period. It is also known that John´s guitar was quite scratched and beaten after being heavily used for a long time, and badly in need of cosmetic changes. Also the white pickup-switch was replaced with a black one. Finally, black was John´s favorite "color". Maybe another reason?
The pictures below provides an excellent illustration of how John Lennon´s guitar looked after being refinished.
"1958" 325 Capri. Reproduction of John Lennon´s first Rickenbacker after being refinished by Jim Burns in 1963.
Here are the specifications:
* Correct 2 inch thick body w/ 1/8 inch thick back
* Correct (Lennon) shaped headstock w/ 50's logo & correct screws
* Unfinished fretboard
* Elongated Jackplate
* Raised single gold pickguard w/ correct (Lennon) "5" mount screw points
* Burns reproduction knobs
* 1960's Bigsby w/ Aluminum handle w/ "Phillips" head stud
* Thick string nut (as on early '58 325's)
* No volute on back of headstock base
* Short pole pickups re-wound to 50's specs
Left: 325 Capri 1958 reproduction. Right: Picture highlighting the correct shaped headstock, headstock logo & thick nut on this repro '58 325 (no serial#).
The 2" thick body on the 325 Capri reproduction.
John Lennon with his '58 Rickenbacker 325 at the City Hall in Sheffield, November 2 1963.
John Lennon´s second Rickenbacker 325
Later in February 1964 John Lennon received his second 325. It was sent to him at Hotel Deauville in Miami where the they recorded their second performance in "Ed Sullivan Show" on February 16th. The Beatles arrived to Miami on February 13th and the guitar was delivered some day between these two dates. The updated version of the model 325 had following specifications: JetGlo body, double white pickguards, 5 control knobs and a modern Rickenbacker Ac´cent vibrato tailpiece. John quickly adopted this guitar to his main instrument.
John Lennon´s second Rickenbacker 325
John Lennon’s ’64 Rickenbacker 325-12
At their New York meeting, Lennon asked Hall to make him a twelve-string model to match his 325, and in March ’64, Rickenbacker shipped this guitar to him in London. The only differences are the headstock and the tailpiece. This short-scale guitar was used on a Dutch TV show, in the studio (Beatles For Sale) and served as a backup throughout 1964, and saw actual use at a show in Boston on 12 September. Tom Hartman, who recorded in Abbey Road as a young man, recalls seeing it in the storage area with a set list taped to it.
Rickenbacker CEO John Hall remembers “seeing this guitar at one point with a vibrato on it as the model number describes (which didn’t work well at all).” Because it made the guitar impossible to keep in tune, the vibrato was removed and replaced with a trapeze tailpiece before this prototype was sent to Lennon. Most recently on display at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Owned by the Lennon Estate.
John Lennon sitting with his ’64 Rickenbacker 325-12 String!
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