Equipment’: The Beatles Expert Discusses John Lennon’s Favorite Guitars

Brian Kehew shares some details behind Lennon’s old guitars.

Throughout his recording career with the Beatles, John Lennon utilized several different six-strings. And while it may be impossible to list every single one Lennon ever strummed or plucked, he certainly had his go-to’s. In this exclusive excerpt from my 2021 book, “John Winston Ono Lennon”, Beatle expert Brian Kehew discusses the specifics of Lennon’s three prime axes of the ’60s.

“There were lots of people who were obsessed with his little Rickenbacker 325 guitar – which starts out way back in Hamburg, and goes all the way through into later years. And when John was in New York, he went out and he took it to a guy, and said, ‘I want to strip this back to a wood finish.’ And the guy didn’t really want to, because that’s the guitar John Lennon is playing on TV, when we first see him. But John actually remembered in the early days, when the guitar came, it had no paint on it. So, he didn’t really care about ‘the Beatles look’ and ‘The Beatles memory,’ as much as, ‘When we were back in Hamburg, this is what my guitar looked like. Take it back to the wood’.”

“An acoustic guitar, which is kind of ‘the secret main guitar of the Beatles’ – the J-160E, it’s a Gibson model – and it has a pick-up in it. Most acoustic guitars would not plug into an amp – that’s why they’re called ‘acoustic,’ and electric had a pick-up on it, but they tended to be solid. This is an acoustic guitar with a pick-up added, and the Beatles got them very early on, so that they could play those songs acoustically on stage, as well as plug into amps. But one of the strangest parts about the Beatles and the studio is that I think they often took those acoustic guitars, and you could mic them up in the studio and get a good sound. That is the point of an acoustic guitar in the studio – it doesn’t matter about the volume, you can move the mic and get all these different sounds. Whereas a pick-up is a fixed sound.”

“That’s an interesting concept. There is a Gibson called a 330, which is essentially almost the same thing – maybe a little nicer, in most cases – but all three guys kept the Epiphones, all three guys used them, and those guitars get used a lot. However, I think people have come to find they’re great guitars. Epiphone was a subset of Gibson – for many years, they were their own company, and then Gibson bought them. And Epiphone guitars were originally as good as any Gibson ever made – but they bought the company in order to have a cheaper value line. Like in modern days, we have Squier from Fender, and Gibson still has Epiphone being their cheaper guitars. But, they’re still made at the Gibson factory, they’re still good quality, and in fact, many people have found that Epiphone Casinos – the various different versions of them – are fantastic guitars.”

Lastly, Kehew described most of the Fab Four’s personalities – which included some surprising insight into Lennon and his beliefs concerning the importance (or rather, lack of importance) of guitar gear.

“When I talked to the guy from Vox Amplifiers, he was the guy that gave the Beatles their endorsement, and when I asked, ‘How would you describe their personalities?’ – Ringo of course not relevant, because he didn’t deal with Vox. He said, ‘Paul was Mr. Sociable – ‘How’s your wife? How’s he kids?’ ‘Good to see you again, mate. What’s happening?’ And George was like, ‘What does this new amp do? What’s different about it? What is this one going to give me that the other ones didn’t have’? And he said, ‘John didn’t really care about equipment.'”

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