John Lennon's Guitars, Part 3

The year: 1958.  The place: a guitar trade show in New York.  The man at the Rickenbacker exhibit, trying out the new merchandise: Jean "Toots" Thielemans.  Behind him, at his elbow: a certain model 325 that will soon change the sound of popular music?

Photo: (c) Rickenbacker Int'l Corp., all rights reserved


0811960: 1958 Rickenbacker 325 Capri (5/8 scale, hollow-body electric). The Holy Grail of guitars.  Lennon bought this "short arm" guitar, with a natural finish, gold pickguard and Kaufmann vibrato, on the Beatles' first trip to Hamburg, after he saw jazzman "Toots" Thielemans playing a Ric model on an album cover.  Later in 1960, in Hessy's Music, Chris Huston of The Undertakers mounted a Bigsby B-5 vibrato and "bow tie" bridge (for more on this operation, click here).  At the same time they replaced the "oven" knobs with new ones from Curry Electronics.  Somewhere along the line, Lennon disconnected the middle pickup, and in September '62 had it painted black.  In his well researched piece Baby's In Black, Peter McCormack tracked the job to a subcontractor, Mr. Derek Adams, and suggests the refinishing was part of Brian Epstein's effort to spruce up the band's look.  But another source credits the refinish to coach painter Charles Bantam, who reportedly sprayed the Rickenbacker with black coach paint while the band took a brief holiday.  Later inspection led Ron DeMarino (below) to speculate the finish had been brushed on!  So perhaps we'll sort out this point in time.  At any rate, in '63 Lennon changed the knobs again when he had some electrical work done by Burns of London.
Lennon played this guitar onstage and in the studio right through to the first Sullivan show (below) and the Carnegie Hall shows (2/12/64), then, except for a bit of work on Beatles For Sale, retired the beat-up workhorse.  In 1972 he had it restored to its natural finish by Ron DeMarino of New York, who also replaced the cracked pickguard.  (Read DeMarino's account  here.)  Many listeners, including myself, maintain that it makes its final appearance on the Double Fantasy sessions ("Stepping Out").  I also believe, but cannot substantiate, that Lennon used this guitar on Yoko's "Walking On Thin Ice" in December 1980.  Regardless, as guitar aficionado Frank McLallen wrote: "That guitar . . . from Hamburg to the Plaza in New York City, and a national broadcast on the Ed Sullivan Show -- doesn't get any better."   This priceless instrument, recently displayed at the Lennon museum in Japan, is now owned by Sean Lennon.

Note: Only 28 of this model were made in 1958 but still several didn't sell, and in late '58 or early '59 those guitars were reconfigured from two knobs, one switch to four knobs, two switches.  Lennon's was long thought to be made from maple, but the body and neck are actually alder. Some who've researched the matter insist the Musikhaus Rotthoff in Hamburg wound up with the prototype from the '58 New York trade show and sold it to Lennon.  Scrutiny confirms that the pickguard, screw arrangement, the wood grain and an unusually bent Kaufmann vibrato arm are identical.  According to Harrison, who bought a Gibson amp at the same time, the deal was "a knocker: a pound down and the rest when they catch you . . . I don't know if we ever paid them off."  This guitar would have cost about 100 in 1960, but because it apparently had been hanging around the store for a while, Lennon probably picked it up for a lot less.  In 2002 Rickenbacker introduced the 325C58, an exact replica of Lennon's 325 as it left the factory. 


1964: The battered "Hamburg" 325 made its 
last public appearance at Carnegie Hall.

The stripped-down "Hamburg" of today sports a white pickguard, although Ron DeMarino swears he replaced the cracked original gold one -- a gift from Lennon, along with the original tuning heads -- with another gold one. 
 For a big pic, click here.

Onward to Part 4

(c)2000, 2015  John F. Crowley