CHAPTER 3 Beatles gear
“ People were like:
'My God, what's John playing? We've never seen anything like that before.' Some players asked if he'd had it made
specially, and he'd explain that he
bought it at a shop. ”
PETE BEST, ON THE REACTION IN LIVERPOOL WHEN JOHN LENNON BROUGHT HIS NEW RICKENBACKER 325 BACK FROM HAMBURG IN 1960
29 1960 1960 FIVE BEATLES GO TO HAMBURG
INTO 1960, AND THREE DISILLUSIONED QUARRY MEN / MOONDOGS WERE
DETERMINED TO PERSEVERE, AND TO PUSH FORWARD. AS FATE WOULD HAVE IT,
THIS TURNED OUT TO BE A YEAR OF CRUCIAL DEVELOPMENTS FOR LENNON,
MCCARTNEY AND HARRISON. IT ALL STARTED WHEN LENNON PERSUADED HIS
FRIEND FROM ART COLLEGE, STU SUTCLIFFE, TO JOIN THE GROUP AS BASS PLAYER.
As the story goes, Sutcliffe had some of his work displayed at the Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool. One of Sutcliffe's canvases was purchased for ?65. At the tune this was a large sum of money for a starving artist - it's the equivalent today of about ?900 or $1,250. But instead of using the money to further his art career, Sutcliffe was cajoled by his friend Lennon and the other Quarry Men into buying a bass guitar and joining the group.
McCartney recalls the opportunity to add a bass player to the group's line-up when Sutcliffe won his monetary prize. They pointed out to Sutcliffe the terrific coincidence that his prize money would exactly cover the cost of a Hofner bass. Sutcliffe at first insisted that the money was supposed to further his art career. "Well," says McCartney, "we managed to persuade him - over a cappuccino at the Casbah, Pete Best's mum's club in West Derby. We'd kind of helped to make the club, there were painted stripes on the wall and we'd painted a stripe each - very much [like in Cliff Richard's movie] The Young Ones. It was a coffee bar, everyone was doing that. It was a nice little hang-out. I remember we were sitting around a table - me, John, Stu, maybe George - and we persuaded Stu to do it. So he bought the giant Hofner, again at Hessy's or Rushworth's in Liverpool, those were the two, depending on who had it in stock, probably Hessy's. You had the little book, paying in each week, like a Christmas club or something.
"The bass dwarfed him a bit, he was a smallish guy. But it looked kind of heroic, he stood a certain way, he had shades, he looked the part ... but he wasn't that good a player. And that was the problem with me and Stu - it was always much reported that we didn't get along. There were two reasons really: one, I was very ambitious for the group, and I didn't actually like anything that might hold us back. Cos there's enough stuff holding you back anyway, without someone in the group who's not that good. Any of our mates could look at the group and spot it, any of the good groups around - Kingsize Taylor & The Dominoes, The Big Three, Faron's Flamingos - any of those guys would just spot it: bass player's not much. You knew that, there was no kidding people from Liverpool, or kids of that age, they don't mess around. It was just: lousy bass player, man. So that was always a little bit of a problem, you know?
"We sometimes used to tell him to turn away when we were doing pictures, because he sometimes wasn't in the same key we were in. We always used to look. I still do. To see if Elvis could play guitar, [checking out the musicians in the movie] The Girl Can't Help It, anything. He's doing a D and he's ... yes,
it's all right. Whereas [with some] you could tell they couldn't play, it was just a prop. That was one of the things we used to love about guys in the audience. The girls would look at us, the guys would look at the chords. You'd nudge each other: look, eh, this guy down here. He'd be looking deadly serious at you, you 1could see him copping all the chords."
Liverpool in 1960 was not a place where you could walk into a music shop and find a selection of different bass guitars, much less find affordable ones. American-made Fender and Gibson basses were unavailable in Liverpool at the time, and had only just begun to trickle in to the country after the lifting of an eight-year US import ban. Their prices alone would have made them unobtainable to most. Availability and price - if not quality - favoured the Hofner line, and in this case the German-made hollowbody 500/4 Bass, one of the few electric basses available in Liverpool. It managed a rich bass sound and the neck was playable, even if the overall performance was relatively crude compared to better instruments.
Sutcliffe chose such a Hofner bass, known in the UK by its Selmer catalogue number 333. According to the original hire-purchase receipt that has recently been unearthed, Sutcliffe acquired his bass at Frank Hessy's music store on January 21st. On this original document the bass is described as brunette in colour - it was also offered in blonde - with the serial number 199. And the receipt reveals that Sutcliffe did not pay ?65 for the bass. In fact, Sutcliffe put down a deposit of ?15 and acquired the instrument on credit, known then as hire purchase. He had to make weekly payments that would add up to a total credit price of ?59/15/- (?59.75, about $165 then; around ?800 or $1,130 in today's money).
At last, the Hessy's document most likely pinpoints the precise date that Sutcliffe joined The Quarry Men: January 21st 1960. As McCartney has suggested, Sutcliffe barely knew how to play the bass. But the addition to the group of a good-looking guy with an impressive new Hofner bass must have given them a new spark of life. It's important to remember that until this point Lennon, McCartney and Harrison had never worked with a "real" electric bass in their band. The sound of the bass complemented the three-guitar arrangements, and must have provided the band with a palpable lift to their sound. The only element now
30 BEATLES GEAR 1960 1960 1960
lacking was a drummer. With Sutcliffe in the group, the
band's name was changed from The Quarry Men to the self-
consciously mis-spelled "The Beatals", adopting the insect
theme started by hero Buddy Holly with his group The
The hire-purchase receipt from Hessy's store
for Stu Sutcliffe's Hofner 333 bass indicates
the date he effectively joined The Beatles:
January 21st 1960. Selmer's Hofner
catalogue (right) features a 333 bass.
This is Stu Sutcliffe's
Hofner 333, the first
bass guitar used in The
Beatles, and one that
Paul also played before
acquiring his own
Hofner. By the time the bass was sold at
auction, its pickguard The audition had been removed. The The Beatals would often hang around in the Jacaranda, a 333 is sometimes
incorrectly labelled a Liverpool coffee bar owned by Allan Williams. The music President Bass, a scene was starting to take off in the city, with groups such as model name which did Rory Storm & The Hurricanes, Cass & The Cassanovas and not appear until later. Gerry & The Pacemakers springing up from skiffle bands to
become fully-fledged rock'n'roll outfits. As a businessman,
Williams found a way to cultivate some of this new talent
hanging around in his club. He was approached by Larry
Parnes, the famous British manager and impresario.
Parnes worked with artists like Marty
Wilde and specialised in grooming wild
rockers into all-round entertainers. In the
middle of I960 he was in search of backing
bands for some of his solo acts: Billy Fury,
Johnny Gentle, Tommy Steele, Georgie Fame
and others. So it was that on May 10th
Williams arranged for Parries lo hold an
audition for some of Liverpool's
instrumental hopefuls. In attendance with
Parries at the Wyvern Social Club
(later Williams's Blue Angel club)
was Billy Fury. Cass & The
Cassanovas (later The Big Three)
were friends with The Beatals, and
tried to persuade Williams to let
the newly-named group audition
for Parnes. But the band needed a
drummer. Williams found drummer
Tommy Moore and invited The
Beatals lo the audition.
Unfortunately when it came to the
audition Moore was late, and so
Cassanovas drummer Johnny Hutchinson
had to till in. Adrian Barber of The Cassanovas
31 1960 1960 FIVE BEATLES GO TO HAMBURG
recalls the day. "Tommy Moore used lo be our drummer.
But when we got Hutchinson in, Cass gave Tommy to The
Beatles, because they didn't have a drummer - in fact they had
problems keeping a drummer. Allan Williams arranged it. All the
Liverpool bands went down to the audition - because this was
Larry Parnes, man, the big-time promoter! But we all hated him,
we hated his acts. He was the epitome of the clichéd British
showbiz guy: the mohair coat, always smoking a cigar. They
used lo call him Larry Parnes Shillings And Pence. But it was a 2gig, you know? So we all showed up."
Gerry Marsden and his band The Pacemakers were among
the many who auditioned for Parnes and Fury that day. "We
weren't excited about it," Marsden says. "It was just something to
do to pass the time and make a couple of extra quid. That's all it
was. There wasn't even a piano,-so my pianist had to play the guitar. We just came in and did it, and when we finished Larry A Selmer Truvoice Stadium amp. Parnes said, 'Well, we'll be in touch,' and all that. That's all it was.
Just in and out. I didn't want to be a backing band-really. The
Beatles basically got the same reaction - they didn't want to be 3one of the scousers backing Billy Fury either."
The Beatals had renamed themselves yet again for the
audition, this time as The Silver Beetles. They ran through their
four-song audition routine, with Lennon playing his Hofner Club
40. Harrison his Futurama, McCartney the Zenith archtop with pickup attached, and Sutcliffe his new Hofner 333 Bass. The Stadium control panel. Silver Beetles didn't get the prime prize - to be Billy Fury's
backing band -but nonetheless netted a job as the hand for a This June 1960 hire-purchase receipt for seven-date tour of Scotland supporting another of Parnes's George's Truvoice amp shows that Paul
took over the amp a few months later, charges, singer Johnny Gentle. and that manager Brian Epstein settled With Tommy Moore as their drummer, The Silver Beetles the account in 1962. set out on their first set of "professional" shows, starting on May
20th and continuing to the 28th. There is only one known
photograph from the tour and it shows Tommy Moore on stage
singing, with Harrison playing his Futurama in the background.
On these dates McCartney had his Zenith with added pickup,
Lennon his Hofner Club 40, and Sutcliffe the Hofner 333 Bass.
The Selmer Truvoice Stadium amplifier
No one knows what kind of amplifiers The Silver Beetles used
at the time, but one old theory involves a Selmer Truvoice
amplifier. The story is that Lennon and Sutcliffe, who both attended the adjoining Liverpool Institute and Liverpool College of Art, had managed to convince the education authorities that in the name of art and music the school ought to purchase a Truvoice amplifier for the students to use at social functions.
Lennon and Sutcliffe obviously had other intentions for the amplifier, and some say that the two managed a long-term loan of the amp for use with The Silver Beetles. A Selmer Truvoicc was considered then as one of the best and biggest amps available in Liverpool. Pictures taken at the Panics audition reveal The Silver Beetles playing through Selmer Truvoice amplifiers provided for all the bands to use at the audition. These pictures may even have provided the source of the art-college story.
The UK Selmer operation had been started in London by Ben Davis back in 1929, at first to import Selmer Paris instruments. But as we've already seen with Hofner and Futurama, Davis was gradually adding products from other makers to the musical hardware he distributed. Davis's Selmer operation, which lasted to the late 1960s, also began to manufacture items in Britain - int. hiding a line of Selmer-branded amplifiers. The all-valve (tube) Selmer Truvoice was a 15-watt, amplifier with built-in 10-inch speaker, similar in sound and tone to a Fender Deluxe amp but with a little more volume. It's easy to see why it would have been among the top choices for British bands at the time. But there is no firm evidence for the art college story.
Their first "professional" tour had given the group a fleeting taste of life on the road. And Allan Williams now looked on The Silver Beetles as a real band. Acting effectively as their manager, he began booking the group around Liverpool venues, including his own club, the Jacaranda. But this stint of gigs
32 BEATLES GEAR 1960 1960 1960
only lasted a short time, because the group soon found themselves once again without a drummer. Tommy Moore had quit.
Luckily for music, the remaining Silver Beetles had no intention of giving in. On June 14th, the day after Moore's last show with the group at the Jacaranda, Harrison went to Hessy's music store and purchased a Selmer Truvoice amplifier. The original hire-purchase receipts show that Harrison paid a whopping ?63 for the amp (some $175 then, and around ?850 or $1,200 in today's money). It's clear that Harrison was serious and committed to his group - with or without a drummer.
Drums, or a Rosetti Solid 7 guitar? The Silver Beatles (with an 'a', as they were now subtly but significantly renamed) continued to play without a drummer. McCartney, in an early demonstration of musical versatility,
took over the drums briefly with the group. The arrangement
of McCartney on drums, Lennon and Harrison on guitars and Sutcliffe on bass worked out well and probably sounded quite NOTHING WAS good. But McCartney obviously did not intend to stay in the
position permanently. Soon after his 18th birthday in June he MIKED UP, APART decided it was time for a new guitar.
McCartney retired his old Zenith -which he still owns to FROM THE VOCAL ... this day - and on June 30th purchased a Rosetti Solid 7 six-
string electric guitar from Hessy's. The Solid 7 was acquired THE SOUND YOU on hire purchase. Despite the rather optimistic name, it wasn't
a solidbody guitar. It had a semi-hollow double-cutaway body
PRODUCED WAS THE without f-holes, was fitted with two pickups, and came in a
black-to-red sunburst finish. It was produced for UK
distributor Roseiti by the Dutch Egmond company, and cost STAGE SOUND - A
McCartney ?21 (about $58 then), making it a relatively
inexpensive guitar for the time (around ?290 or $400 in today's RAW SOUND, AND
money). As McCartney would discover, he got what, he paid
for. VERY POWERHOUSE. During July another drummer, Norman Chapman, had a
shortlived stay in the band, quitting after only a few shows. THAT'S WHY I Yet again Harrison, Lennon and McCartney were drummerless.
By that summer, Allan Williams had built a relationship with DEVELOPED THIS German club owner Bruno Koschmider who was interested in
bringing over British bands to play at his Kaiserkeller and STYLE OF Indra clubs in Hamburg. Williams suggested The Silver
Beatles, Cass & The Cassanovas, Gerry & The Pacemakers DRUMMING WHICH and a number of other local Liverpool outfits. Soon, Williams
approached The Silver Beatles with an offer to play in THEY NICKNAMED Hamburg.
The only catch was that Williams demanded the band THE ATOMIC BEAT. secure a permanent drummer.
"Mrs Best's little lad", Pete Pete Best, on The Beatles early In a desperate search, The Silver Beatles headed for the West Hamburg dates Derby area of town and the Casbah coffee bar. This was the
same club that, as The Quarry Men a year earlier, they had vowed never to play again. At the Casbah they found their new drummer. Pete Best, son of club owner Mona, was playing
drums there with his band, The Blackjacks. The guitarist in
The Blackjacks was no less than ex-Quarry Men strummer Ken Brown. Also on guitar was Chas Newby, who would later have his own brush with The Beatles. The Casbah was hopping, but The Silver Beatles had their eyes on Pete Best and his brand new set of Christmas-present Premier drums, finished in blue mother-of-pearl. It was The Silver Beatles' chance to land a steady drummer.
The Premier Drum Company had been set up in London in 1922 by drummer Albert Della-Porta, making drums under the Premier brandname from 1925. By the early 1930s Premier was a major manufacturer of the early kits with their distinctive metal "console" on which cymbals, drums and other percussion was mounted. A strong export market in the US was developed. During World War II Premier's
33 1960 1960 FIVE BEATLES GO TO HAMBURG
London factory was destroyed in an air-raid, and production was moved to Leicester in the Midlands. After the war Premier invested in die-casting machinery and quickly re-established their supremacy in the home market. In 1958, barely months after Remo, Premier introduced Everplay plastic drum-heads. At this time Premier also made Krut, Zyn and Super Zyn cymbals. Best bought his Premier drum set from Rushworth's music
store in Liverpool. Mr Swift, who looked after percussion at the
store, told him that Premier was the most recognised brand of
drums in England at the time, and that they were ideal for his
purposes. The store happened to have a Premier kit in stock in
marine pearl finish, a very pale blue. The drums seem to have
been a mixture of types rather than from one particular Premier
kit model, although the cheaper method of clipping fittings to
the rim of the bass drum implies model 50 components. Best's
kit wasn't from the top of the Premier line, but the drums were
certainly good compared to most of the cheaper, lesser-known
brands available in Britain in those days.
Unusually, his kit had a large 26-inch bass drum. "That was
a lot different to the standard 22-inch bass drums that were
around at the time," Best says. "Of course, I didn't know a great No. BW2 Broadway Solid Seven deal about the difference at that time. But when I started playing it, that 26-inch bass drum really gave me a thump, a great big Rosetti Solid 7 catalogue. bass sound. The kit was a standard four-piece - snare drum, top rack tom, bass drum, and floor tom - in fairly conventional sizes,
other than the large bass drum. It also had calfskin heads, though
I replaced them later with plastic heads. I got fed up having them
re-skinned: soaking them, drying them and all that." Before Best
had owned a proper kit and joined groups he'd had a snare drum,
and also played around on some bongos. So when Swift told him
that some Premier bongos could be ordered in the same stylish
finish, Best did not take long to make a decision.
"The first cymbal I had was a Zyn," Best continues, "which
was a very big brand at the time. Actually, I put my own rivets
in it. I'd bought it from Rushworth's. Later, when I was in
Germany, I needed a hi-hat and Zildjian was available, so I got
14-inch Zildjians for hi-hats, which gave a very big, heavy
sound. When I needed a crash cymbal, again it was a Zildjian, I
think a 20-inch, which had a hell of a boom to it. I loved that! I
could make a right noise with that one, finishing up a number.
So that's how I ended up with two cymbals and a hi-hat. As for
sticks, I tended to go with 5As, they felt comfortable in my
hands. I didn't want them too heavy and I didn't want then too 4light. They were adequate for my purposes."
Best recalled later that his drumming had been improving
steadily. "It must have made some impression on Lennon, McCartney and the others," he wrote, "for there was a telephone HP book for Paul’s Rosetti guitar. call for me at the house one afternoon. 'How'd you like to come to Hamburg with The Beatles?' an excited voice asked at the
other end of the line. It belonged to Paul McCartney -
surprisingly, I often thought later, because John had always struck me as the boss. It was an extremely 5tempting and exciting offer,"
Best says all the bands around at the time were playing a very similar type of music, mainly cover versions of heroes such as Chuck Berry, Little Richard and Gene Vincent. So he would know the basic repertoire required. Best checked with the rest of his group, The Blackjacks, because he didn't intend to leave them in the lurch if he got the new job. But they had no intention of going professional, and said that if Best was successful, they'd be quite happy going back to college. "Once I sorted that out and had talked with my parents, it was a matter of, well ... do it. So I phoned Paul back and said, 'Yeah, we're on.' He surprised me and said, 'Oh no, you've got to come down and audition.' And it was like, audition? Who 6auditioned in those days?"
34 BEATLES GEAR 1960 1960 1960
It was his lovely blue Premier kit that The Beatles packed their gear into this van, seen here Best played at the audition for The Beatles on being loaded on to the ferry on its way to Hamburg. August 12th, at Allan Williams's Wyvern Club.
"John Lennon was the only one there when I
arrived," Best wrote later. "He played a couple
of bars of 'Ramrod' while I beat the skins,
until George and Stu turned up and we had a
further session. Paul was late, as usual, but
once there they all joined in such numbers as
'Shakin' All Over'. We played for about 20
minutes in all and at the end they all reached
the same conclusion: 'Yeah! You're in, Pete!' 7Thus I became the fifth Beatle." Without
delay, Best was in the group. A few days later,
with the band now renamed The Beatles and
the equipment all packed up in Allan
Williams's little van, they were off to
Pete would have chosen his Premier
drum set and bongos from catalogues
like those pictured (right).
Hamburg first trip - the Indra and Kaiserkeller clubs
On August 17th The Beatles started their engagement at Bruno Koschmider's Indra club on the Grosse Freiheit in Hamburg. Publicity photographs taken on stage at the Indra provide the most detailed record of the first equipment used by the group now officially known as The Beatles. Lennon has his Hofner Club 40 guitar, Harrison his Futurama. Both are plugged into Harrison's new Selmer Truvoice amplifier. McCartney is pictured playing his new right-handed Rosetti Solid 7, strung left-handed and going into his Elpico amplifier. Sutcliffe poses with his Hofner 333 Bass, plugged into a Watkins Westminster amplifier that belonged to Best. Best himself is pictured with his Premier drum set, including the large 26-inch bass drum that would help in the development of his "atomic beat" drum sound. Best also used his Premier bongos with the kit.
It was in Hamburg that The Beatles began to learn about how to function as a proper band. Performing regularly in front of a rough gathering of drunk, heckling Germans quickly taught the group methods to entertain a crowd. Playing from four to six hours every night for some three months certainly helped them develop their own voice and improve their musical skills. "I think that's where we found our style," Harrison recalled later. "We developed our style because of this fella there, he used to say, 'You've got to make a show for the people.' He used to come up every night shouting, 'Mach schau!' ['Do a good stage-act!'] So we used to 'mach schau' ... John used to dance around like a gorilla and we'd all knock our heads 8together ... things like that."
The accommodation provided by Koschmider for The Beatles in Hamburg was behind a movie screen at the Bambi-Filmkunsttheater, a small cinema that Koschmider also owned. The conditions were nothing less than deplorable. The impressionable teenagers were thrown into the wild nightlife and decadence of Hamburg's subculture. Their new playground was the Reeperbahn, overflowing with prostitutes, drugs and every kind of excess. The Beatles were transformed from innocent British boys to young men, virtually overnight.
Their performances at the Indra club lasted until October 3rd when, due to a complaint from tenants living above about noise, The Beatles were moved to Koschmider's other venue, the Kaiserkeller. By today's standards, it's hard to believe that The Beatles' little amplifiers and a drum set could provide the appropriate volume, but drummer Best insists they were loud- "Initially we had three amps: a Truvoice, the Elpico and a Watkins - and that was it. John and George were both taking-lead breaks, even though George was the dominant lead guitarist. And we had Stu playing bass. To get the volume we needed we had to crank those amplifiers up. Nothing was miked up, apart from the vocal mike. The sound you produced was the stage sound - a raw sound, and very powerhouse. That's why I developed this style of drumming which they nicknamed the atomic beat. The rest of the group were playing at this volume, and I needed something to hang in and hold everything together, in a way to amplify the sound. So I got a great big backbeat, slap bang behind it. I kept working on that style because it fitted in with the stage sound - it was loud and it was 9powerful. We had to project that sound."
35 1960 1960 FIVE BEATLES GO TO HAMBURG
As well as shifting clubs, The Beatles had their contract
extended by Koschmider to perform at the Kaiserkeller until
December 31st. At the same time there was talk of an additional
three months of bookings in West Berlin. For almost two months
at the Kaiserkeller the group shared the bill with another
Liverpool band, Rory Storm & The Hurricanes. It was there that
Lennon, McCartney and Harrison built up a friendship with The
Hurricanes' drummer, Ringo Starr.
A lust for gear
During their shows at the Kaiserkeller The Beatles began to
acquire new equipment. Most young guitarists dream about and
lust over seemingly unobtainable instruments, and the 17-year-
old Harrison was no exception. A letter he wrote back home in late October 1960 to his friend Arthur Kelly is packed with A Watkins Westminster amp (above) information and indicates just how much Harrison thought about like the one used by Stu. This example guitars. Harrison talked in the letter about another British has the later WEM logo on the front,
musician who was playing in Hamburg at the time, Tony where Stu's had a Watkins logo.
Sheridan, saying, "He's now got a Fender guitar and amp like
[Buddy Holly's] and I play it well. It also has a vibrato and his
bass player has a Fender Bass." Harrison continued, "Look out
as I am thinking of getting yet again another new guitar. I may
leave solids out of it this time and get an Everly Brother type
massive Gibson as they are gear."
Then he gave Kelly some vital information needed to send
off for a free Fender catalogue, carefully writing out the Fender
company's address in Santa Ana, California. "I might manage a
red Fender Stratocaster with gold plating," said Harrison - but
added that the guitar he really wanted was made by Gretsch. The
valuable document reveals how
the group felt about their new
drummer, Pete Best. "We have
Pete Best, Mrs Best's little lad,
with us from Kasbah [sic] fame
and he is drumming good."
Perhaps Harrison's "with us"
implies that the drummer wasn't Paul used an Elpico AC-55 amp like considered a real member of The this one on the group's first visit to Beatles? Maybe this was because Hamburg. It was made by the Lee most of the group's drummers so Products Co in northwest London. far had dropped out. It's almost as
if they felt that Best might quit too, just like all the rest.
Coincidentally, this same letter refers to Ringo Starr. Harrison described
Rory Storm & The Hurricanes as "crummy" but said that "the only person
who is any good in the group is the drummer". Presumably this indicates that
Harrison and The Beatles looked favourably on Ringo and probably got on
well with him, even at this early stage. He also described a new piece of
Beatle equipment. Sutcliffe had bought a "big" Gibson amplifier for ?120,
reported Harrison, drawing a large amp and a small Sutcliffe alongside to
help Kelly comprehend the stale of the monstrous new device. "It has a
fabulous tremolo in it and is the Les Paul model." Little did Harrison know
that this Gibson amp would soon be his. The tweed-covered Les Paul GA-40
amplifier was a 16-watt all-valve (tube) amp, with tremolo effect and a 12-
inch Jensen speaker.
Gibson was a grand old name of the US instrument industry, having
originated with its founder Orville Gibson in Michigan in the 1890s. Leading
the way over the following decades in the mandolin, banjo and guitar fields,
Gibson was one of the pioneers of the electric guitar, pleasing many modern
musicians with the early launch of a solidbody model in 1952, endorsed by
36 BEATLES GEAR 1960 1960 1960
the famous American guitarist Les Paul. Gibson had made amplifiers since the 1930s, adding the GA-40 to the line at the same time as the Les Paul guitar. Sutcliffe's Les Paul amp was the first piece of American-made equipment to be added to The Beatles' growing arsenal.
John's first Rickenbacker
Lennon was the next Beatle to change his equipment. Harrison recalled years later that the first Rickenbacker guitar he ever saw was during that first Beatles trip to Hamburg. "We went into this shop ... in Hamburg," said Harrison. "John bought that little Rickenbacker that became very well known through the Beatle concerts, with a scaled-down neck. I think he'd just seen an album by Jean Thielemans, who used to be the guitar player in the George Shearing Quintet and had one of those Rickenbackers.
"You have to imagine that in those days, when we were first
out of Liverpool, any good American guitar looked sensational to The Beatles frontline, live in Hamburg.
Left to right: Stu with Hofner 333 bass; us. We only had beat up, crummy guitars at that stage. We still John playing his Rickenbacker 325; Paul didn't really have any money to buy them, but I remember that with the Rosetti Solid 7; and George on John got that Rickenbacker ... what they call 'on the knocker', you his Futurama. know? [Money] down and the rest when they catch you. I don't 10know if he ever really paid them off."
This guitar that Lennon acquired in Hamburg would be the one most associated with him through the years - a 1958 Rickenbacker 325. This legendary guitar would become Lennon's own favourite too. Writer Ray Coleman interviewed Lennon during a tour of the Beatle's new house, Kenwood, in 1965. During the interview Coleman asked Lennon for a list of his prized possessions. "My first Rickenbacker guitar," Lennon replied. "It's a bit hammered now, I just keep it for kicks. I bought it in Germany on the hire 11purchase. Whatever it cost, it was a hell of a lot of money to me at the time." Lennon was a millionaire by
the time of the interview, and had already acquired an abundance of material items. Yet it was the Rickenbacker 325 that he selected above all as his most valued possession.
37 1960 1960 FIVE BEATLES GO TO HAMBURG
Lennon would use this Rickenbacker 325 from the moment he got it in 1960 for the next four years exclusively for live shows and on many Beatle recordings. Lennon's first Rickenbacker 325 is revered by most collectors as the holy grail of all Beatle instruments. The guitar is surrounded by stories interwoven with elements of myth, mystery, fact and fiction, and there has been much controversy and debate about it. Very few were produced, and so an original late-1950s Rickenbacker 325 is a rare guitar in any circumstances today, with examples highly sought after.
The Rickenbacker company began life in Los Angeles, California, in the 1920s when Swiss immigrant Adolph Rickenbacker established a tool-and-die operation there. One of his early customers was the nearby National guitar company. A collaboration between some National men and Rickenbacker resulted in the important "Frying Pan" lap-steel guitar of 1931, the first electric guitar with a magnetic pickup, and thus the basis for all modern electric guitars. Rickenbacker guitars continued to appear during the 1930s, mostly electric lap-steels, including some unusual models with bodies made from Bakelite. The "unpopular" 325 model
Alter World War II, Adolph Rickenbacker became weary of the business and in 1953 sold it to Francis Gary Hall, who ran the Radio & Television Equipment Co in nearby Santa Ana. Hall soon hired German guitar-maker Roger Rossmeisl to design a series of new instruments to update the Rickenbacker line, including in 1958 the distinctive and stylish semi-hollow "Capri" guitars. The Capri name was soon dropped and the guitars became better known by their 300-series model names. Hall believed that scaled-clown versions of the design - designated model numbers 310, 315, 320 and 325 - would make a good addition to the line as they would be easier to handle. But guitar buyers did not embrace the smaller models, and at first they seemed doomed to an early death. These Rickenbacker three-quarter size semi-hollow electric guitars were designed in 1957 and first introduced to the public in January of 1958.
For years the consensus has been that Lennon's first Rickenbacker 325 was manufactured in 1959. But the serial number on the guitar, still owned today by Yoko Ono, is V81. This dates the manufacture of Lennon's Rickenbacker to early 1958,
making it one of the first 325 models
ever produced. Rickenbacker's
production records indicate that 28
examples of model 325 were made in
that first year of production, 1958.
Twenty were in sunburst finish (which
Rickenbacker called autumnglo) and
just eight in natural (mapleglo) like
Lennon's 325 had no f-hole in the
body, although most of the other 325s
manufactured at the time had this
feature. The 325 he bought in Hamburg
had been photographed at a July 1958
music trade show in the States, the
pictures revealing a guitar with only
two knobs, one each for volume and
tone. There are two distinct cosmetic
differences that stand out on Lennon's
325 when it's compared to all other
similar Rickenbackers and thus identify
it in the trade-show photos. First is the
number of screws in the pickguard. At
the time Rickenbacker used four
screws to hold down the pickguard on
to the body, but Lennon's had five,
with an extra screw added near the
volume knob. The second
distinguishing feature concerns the
guitar's "Kauffman" vibrato arm. Most George advised his friend Arthur Kelly to
Kauffman arms are either straight or send away to the States for a real Fender
catalogue. This (above) is what he would have a single, angled bend in them. have received. But the arm on Lennon's 325 had an