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. ”


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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. ”




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 could see him copping all the chords." 1

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 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 Crickets.

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 had been removed. The 333 is sometimes incorrectly labelled a President Bass, a model name which did not appear until later.
The audition

The Beatals would often hang around in the Jacaranda, a Liverpool coffee bar owned by Allan Williams. The music scene was starting to take off in the city, with groups such as Rory Storm & The Hurricanes, Cass & The Cassanovas and 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

A Selmer Truvoice Stadium amp.

Stadium control panel.

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 gig, you know? So we all showed up." 2

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 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 one of the scousers backing Billy Fury either." 3

This June 1960 hire-purchase receipt for George's Truvoice amp shows that Paul took over the amp a few months later, and that manager Brian Epstein settled the account in 1962.

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 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 seven-date tour of Scotland supporting another of Parnes's charges, singer Johnny Gentle.

With Tommy Moore as their drummer, The Silver Beetles 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 only lasted a short time, because the group soon found themselves once again without a drummer. Tommy Moore had quit.


Pete Best, on The Beatles early Hamburg dates
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 good. But McCartney obviously did not intend to stay in the position permanently. Soon after his 18th birthday in June he decided it was time for a new guitar.

McCartney retired his old Zenith -which he still owns to this day - and on June 30th purchased a Rosetti Solid 7 six-string electric guitar from Hessy's. The Solid 7 was acquired on hire purchase. Despite the rather optimistic name, it wasn't a solidbody guitar. It had a semi-hollow double-cutaway body 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 McCartney £21 (about $58 then), making it a relatively inexpensive guitar for the time (around £290 or $400 in today's money). As McCartney would discover, he got what, he paid for.

During July another drummer, Norman Chapman, had a shortlived stay in the band, quitting after only a few shows. Yet again Harrison, Lennon and McCartney were drummerless. By that summer, Allan Williams had built a relationship with German club owner Bruno Koschmider who was interested in bringing over British bands to play at his Kaiserkeller and Indra clubs in Hamburg. Williams suggested The Silver Beatles, Cass & The Cassanovas, Gerry & The Pacemakers and a number of other local Liverpool outfits. Soon, Williams approached The Silver Beatles with an offer to play in Hamburg.

The only catch was that Williams demanded the band secure a permanent drummer.

"Mrs Best's little lad", Pete

In a desperate search, The Silver Beatles headed for the West 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 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.

No. BW2 Broadway

Solid Seven

Rosetti Solid 7 catalogue.

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 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 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 light. They were adequate for my purposes." 4

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 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 tempting and exciting offer," 5

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 auditioned in those days?" 6

The Beatles packed their gear into this van, seen here being loaded on to the ferry on its way to Hamburg.

Pete would have chosen his Premier drum set and bongos from catalogues like those pictured (right).
I t was his lovely blue Premier kit that Best played at the audition for The Beatles on 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!' Thus I became the fifth Beatle." 7 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 Germany.

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 together ... things like that." 8

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 powerful. We had to project that sound." 9

A Watkins Westminster amp (above) like the one used by Stu. This example has the later WEM logo on the front, where Stu's had a Watkins logo.

Paul used an Elpico AC-55 amp like this one on the group's first visit to Hamburg. It was made by the Lee Products Co in northwest London.
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 information and indicates just how much Harrison thought about guitars. Harrison talked in the letter about another British musician who was playing in Hamburg at the time, Tony 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."

hen 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 considered a real member of The Beatles? Maybe this was because most of the group's drummers so 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 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

The Beatles frontline, live in Hamburg. Left to right: Stu with Hofner 333 bass; John playing his Rickenbacker 325; Paul with the Rosetti Solid 7; and George on his Futurama.

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 us. We only had beat up, crummy guitars at that stage. We still didn't really have any money to buy them, but I remember that John got that Rickenbacker ... what they call 'on the knocker', you know? [Money] down and the rest when they catch you. I don't know if he ever really paid them off." 10

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 purchase. Whatever it cost, it was a hell of a lot of money to me at the time." 11 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.

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.

or 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.

George advised his friend Arthur Kelly to send away to the States for a real Fender catalogue. This (above) is what he would have received.

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 Kauffman arms are either straight or have a single, angled bend in them. But the arm on Lennon's 325 had an

John Lennon, on his prized 1958 Rickenbacker 325

extremely unusual and distinctive double bend. The 1958 trade show photographs also reveal a distinctive wood grain on the upper bout of the guitar that can easily be matched to later pictures of Lennon's guitar. These early pictures of what became Lennon's guitar also underline how unpopular the model must have been, because this particular example took almost two years to find an owner.

With model 325 poorly received at trade shows, Rickenbacker decided to make some modifications. Back at the Los Angeles factory the company's engineers fitted the 325s with new electronics. With a new complement of two volume and two tone controls, the model now had greater capabilities for variation in sound. The instruments were also fitted with a new set of Art Deco-style knobs, today known as "stove" or "oven" types. Everything else on the 325 remained the same. Rickenbacker no doubt hoped that the changes would help to revive the model's sales potential.

But why did Lennon end up with this odd Rickenbacker 325 model? It may just have been a matter of circumstance, rather than choice. One of the possible stories is recounted by John Hall, son of Francis Hall and current owner of Rickenbacker. "Apparently Lennon had gone into the Steinway store in Hamburg and he wanted a Rickenbacker - that much he knew," says Hall. "He told a sales person there to get him one. Someone from the store came to one of the US trade shows very shortly thereafter, I believe in New York City. My clad thought this was Mr Steinway himself, but I rather doubt that; it was probably a store manager. This guy said to my dad, 'I've got a customer that wants one of your guitars, and I'd like to take it back with me." Well, what model does he want? The guy said he didn't care, just give him anything. And that's how Lennon ended up with the 325, because that's what we had left over from the show. The guy carried it back with him. The reason why John Lennon wanted the Rickenbacker was because one of his favourite artists, Jean 'Toots' Thielemans, was using one of our old 400-series guitars at that lime." 12

Hall's account seems to make sense. Lennon asked a music store in Hamburg to find him a Rickenbacker, but didn't specify a model. Probably Lennon assumed that the German-sounding Rickenbacker must be a German-made guitar, so surely they could find one easily? The store manager was going to a trade show in the US, and so probably bought the least expensive model that Rickenbacker had left at the end of the show (and the most unpopular - hence the price). The manager brought back this Rickenbacker for Lennon, and the Beatle fell in love with the beautifully-made American guitar. It's an interesting story.

However, a recently uncovered document from the Rickenbacker archive details the shipping of three model 325 guitars, including serial number V81, to the Framus company in Germany. Framus was not only an important instrument manufacturer but also an importer and distributor in Germany of various musical equipment, including Rickenbacker products. The document notes that Francis Hall's wife delivered these guitars to the airport, along with 11 other Rickenbackers, for shipment out of the US on October l5th 1958.

The Beatles played at four different clubs in Hamburg: the Indra, the Kaiserkeller (poster below), the Top Ten, and the Star Club.

So now a different story emerges. Perhaps Lennon simply walked into a music shop in Hamburg in 1960 and by chance found a Rickenbacker there - and, as we now know, one that had been in Germany for some time. "[Toots Thielemans] was the only one we'd ever seen with a Rickenbacker, so when John went in and saw that guitar, he just had to have it and bought it instantly," 13 Harrison recalled recently. "It was a great looking guitar, a nd I think in England you had to order them specifically and wait for six months - not just for Rickenbackers, for anything, Fenders, Gibsons ... And I think it [came about] purely because John needed a decent guitar and that one happened to be in the shop and he liked the look of it." 14

Pete Best too remembers being with Lennon when he purchased the Rirkenbacker. "We used to mooch around Hamburg and find these little music stores that were locked away in side streets. We found that there was equipment in Hamburg which you couldn't get in Liverpool. For example, I bought some Zildjian cymbals over there, and you'd get back to Liverpool and people would say, "Where on earth did you get. these?'

Two amps similar to those owned by The Beatles. George had a Gibson GA-40 Les Paul (top) and John used a Fender Deluxe.
"The same thing happened with the guitars. John was looking around, he had his old Hofner Club 40, and we went into this music shop. We were all there together - we used to hunt around in packs, discovering what was available. Just mooching in general, as musicians do. John saw this Rickenbacker, and what actually knocked him out was the short scale of the fingerboard. Whereas before he had to stretch, John found that he could do the same riffs and everything without hardly moving his fingers. He just fell in love with it. He liked the sound. The Rickenbacker was his guitar! That was the one he was in love with and that was the one he came back with and made everyone's head turn in Liverpool. 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." 15

"The most beautiful guitar..."

Lennon acquired the Rickenbacker 325 by "ratenzahlung", or credit payments, in Hamburg in November. A Mr Höper who worked at the Steinway store at the time has said 16 that Steinway did not sell Rickenbacker guitars in 1960, and suggests that Lennon bought his guitar somewhere else in Hamburg, possibly at the nearby Musikhaus Rotthoff. Claus-Dieter Rotthoff remembers hanging out as a teenager in his late father's shop on Schanzenstraβe at this time. "We were very close to all the clubs, so musicians would often come to us, The Beatles among them. I particularly remember The Beatles because when they showed up they always had a following of nice girls with them. I'm sure John bought his first Rickenbacker guitar at our shop." 17

Irrespective of which shop he acquired it from, the fact that Lennon ended up with this odd Rickenbacker guitar actually saved the model 325 from almost certain extinction. Instead, it would become one of the most popular and sought-after guitars ever produced by Rickenbacker. In an interview a few years later, Lennon was clearly still in love. "I sold my Hofner," he said, "made a profit on it loo ... [the Rickenbacker] is (he most beautiful guitar - the action is ridiculously low." 18

But before Lennon sold bis Hofner Club 40, McCartney had managed to borrow it for a spell. In the famous photographs that Astrid Kirchherr took of The Beatles in Hamburg in November 1960 (see page 40), McCartney can be seen holding Lennon's Hofner, re-strung left-handed. Soon after these pictures were taken the Club 40 was indeed sold, as Lennon said. Many guitar collectors lose sleep dreaming of that natural-finish ex-Lennon guitar - which is presumably still out there. Somebody may have a very valuable guitar tucked away somewhere.

There's no evidence of what Lennon paid for his Rickenbacker 325. In the US in 1960 its retail price would have been $269.50 (about £100 then) which would translate to about $1,600 (£1,130) in today's money. Presumably the still relatively poor Lennon got a good deal from the Hamburg shop, which must in turn have been pleased to get rid of something that had been on the wall for some time. A new guitar always deserves a new amplifier - and Lennon decided to spend some more of his hard-earned Deutschmarks. Lennon picked a new Fender Deluxe amp, a tweed-covered, all-valve (tube) 18-watt amplifier with a single 12-inch speaker, making a good match for his new guitar; We'll discover more about the Fender company later on. Hut Lennon now had what most British musicians wanted and few possessed: an American-made guitar and an American-made amp.

This famous picture taken by Astrid Kirchherr in Hamburg in 1960 captures The Beatles perfectly. No longer are they the innocent boys from Britain, but a group clearly revelling in the decadent Hamburg lifestyle. The photo also illustrates virtually all the instruments they used at the time (left to right): Pete and a snare drum from his Premier kit; George with the Futurama; John and his Rickenbacker 325; Paul with John's Hofner Club 40 strung left-handed; and Stu cradling the Hofner 333 bass.

Top Ten club - and problems in Hamburg

By the end of October 1960 the new Top Ten club had opened on the Reeperbahn in Hamburg. It was owned by Peter Eckhorn, who intended to take Bruno Koschmider's lucrative business by winning over the Kaiserkeller's clientele. Eckhorn had booked British singer and guitarist Tony Sheridan to headline at the new club.

The Beatles looked up to Norwich-born Sheridan, who'd already appeared on several of Jack Cood's influential British TV rock'n'roll programmes. Between shows at the Kaiserkeller, the group would often visit the Top Ten to watch Sheridan's performances. It wasn't long before they were up on stage at the club, jamming with their new friend. But news of The Beatles performing at the competing Top Ten did not please Koschmider. Using a clause in their contract that prohibited them from performing within a 25 mile radius of the Kaiserkeller, Koschmider served The Beatles with notice of one month's termination of contract, dated November 1st, effectively ordering the band to leave on the 30th.

It was rumoured that Koschmider even tipped off the German authorities about Harrison being under 18 - which made it illegal for him to be in a nightclub after a certain time. Best, however, said that problems arose at first because Allan Williams did not have the correct papers for them to work in Germany. The group was told that they had to register with the "aliens police" - and it was then officially discovered that Harrison was under-age. Best says that as this in effect meant the guitarist couldn't finish the final set with his band, which often had to play until around 2 in the morning, Harrison decided that to stay in Hamburg was pointless, and went home to Liverpool.

Detail of John's '58 Rickenbacker's unusual elongated jack plate, which also shows the guitar's serial number.
The rest of The Beatles stayed, continuing the remainder of their booking at the Kaiserkeller, but still spending most of their free time at Peter Eckhorn's Top Ten club. Eckhorn befriended the group and took them under his wing. Relations with Koschmider deteriorated to the point where The Beatles made a deal with Eckhorn to be the Top Ten's house band, backing Tony Sheridan. Eckhorn also offered them better living quarters, above the club. Perhaps it was because he recognised the raw talent in The Beatles, but whatever his motivation, Eckhorn negotiated a one-month booking at the Top Ten for them the following April.

With the group's new accommodation sorted out, McCartney and Best went back to the deplorable hovel at the Bambi to pack up their belongings and move out. According to Best, this proved to be difficult. "We had to scrabble our goods and chattels together in the pitch darkness of the windowless dungeons," he wrote later. "In desperation, we invented a novel method of illumination to help us see to pack..." The pair pinned four rubber contraceptives to the frayed wall-covering in the corridor outside their door - and set fire to them. "The condoms spluttered and flickered and gave a vile smell," Best continued, "but at least we had a little light. By the time we made our exit through the pit of the cinema the condoms had almost burned out, having scorched and briefly singed some of the rotting material on the wall." 19

The fire eventually went out, after they left, but when Koschmider found out he suspected that they meant to burn down his cinema. Promptly, Koschmider had Best and McCartney arrested by the German police on charges of alleged arson. Allowed only to take a few personal belongings and their passports, McCartney and Best were forced to leave their instruments behind at the Top Ten. The authorities soon made the decision to have the two Beatles deported to England. They were flown back to London where they barely had enough money for a train to Liverpool. The Beatles had officially played at the Top Ten for only one night.

By the beginning of December, McCartney, Harrison and Best were all back in Liverpool, with Lennon and Sutcliffe left in Hamburg. On December 10th Lennon set out on his trip home with his two valued possessions. He carried a guitar case with his new Rickenbacker guitar inside, and had his Fender Deluxe tweed amp safely strapped to his back. Sutcliffe, in the meantime, had decided to stay in Hamburg with his new German girlfriend, Astrid Kirchherr.

Regrouping in Liverpool

With the majority of The Beatles back in Liverpool it was time to re-organise. The first course of action was to try to retrieve the equipment left behind in Germany, with Best and his mother Mo taking charge of the task. "The future of The Beatles seemed to concern me more than the others," wrote Best. "It was obvious that there wouldn't be [a future] at all if we didn't make some effort to retrieve the kit we had been forced to leave behind at the Top Ten. John had staggered home with his guitar across his shoulder, but Paul's was still in Hamburg, stranded there with my shining mother-of-pearl drums, and 1 wondered if I would ever see them again.

"Mo and I went into action and made some frantic phone-calls to Peter Eckhorn. He was extremely sympathetic and promised to get the stuff back to us by sea as soon as possible. He was a man of his word. Within days he called me to say that the kit had been crated and that the freight invoice would be in the mail. On the day of the ship's arrival in Liverpool, Mo and I booked a taxi - there was no family car at the time - and headed off to the Customs shed at Dingle. The crate was massive and would never fit into a cab, so mother and I set to work on the wharfside and broke it down. Drums, guitar, sound equipment, personal gear - we piled the lot into the taxi and left the debris on the dock. This was the first hurdle cleared, thanks to Peter Eckhorn, and I began to feel a little more optimistic." 20

Jean "Toots" Thielemans demonstrating guitars at the Rickenbacker display at a 1958 US music trade show. It was Toots playing a Rickenbacker guitar with George Shearing that inspired John to get one. And to complete the circle, the actual Rickenbacker 325 that John bought is just behind Toots's right elbow in this picture.
Best was reunited with his Premier drum set and McCartney with his Rosetti Solid 7 and Elpico amp. With their equipment in place, this left The Beatles to their next problem. Sutcliffe's decision to stay in Hamburg with Kirchherr left The Beatles without a bass player. The group turned to Best's old bandmate from The Blackjacks, Chas Newby. "Chas was a very versatile guitarist," says Best. "He was left-handed, too, though at the time we didn't pay any notice to that. We had four dates, and Stu had decided to stay over in Hamburg for another two or three weeks. We needed a bass player to stand in, so I asked Chas, who said he'd give it a go. We borrowed a bass off someone for him to play - and then it suddenly became apparent he was left handed. My God, he's playing it upside down! But he knew full well that Stu would be back, and it was only a matter of filling in until he returned." 21

Newby only performed with The Beatles for four shows, in December. One of these - on the 27th at the Town Hall ballroom in Litherland, north Liverpool - is now recognised as a turning point in the group's career. At this hugely successful show The Beatles played a powerhouse performance, the like of which the stunned teenagers of Liverpool had neither seen nor heard before. Arguably, this concert marked the birth of what would later become identified as Beatlemania.

Best saw the magic unfold in front of him from his vantage point on the drum-stool at the back of the stage as he deployed his "atomic" drum heats. "I didn't realise what was happening at first, because we'd gone out to Germany and developed this powerhouse style. It went down great with the audiences there. Basically, we came back and did the same thing here. It. became apparent as I listened to a lot of the bands that the drummers played quite a lightweight style, with a very light bass-drum pattern - if there was any bass-drum pattern - and light cymbals and hi-hat. So when we brought back this sound and image and the power that we had, a lot of the bands and drummers tried to imitate it, because it was going down well with the kids. All of a sudden you found a lot of the drummers in Liverpool increasing their volume and tempo." 22

John's original Rickenbacker 325 was his first "real" American-made instrument. The guitar, which he used for the four years of the group's climb to fame, became a virtual extension of his stage persona: and is considered among guitar collectors as one of the most important Beatle instruments. Through the years John made a number of modifications to the guitar. Pictured here as it appears today, the guitar has had its original pickguard changed to a white one, and the body refinished back to a natural colour.

From Rickenbacker's archive, this document includes John's 325 (serial V81) among a batch of guitars shipped from Los Angeles to Rickenbacker's

German distributor, Framus.

After the impact of the Litherland Town Hall performance, promoter Brian Kelly booked The Beatles for 36 shows, to start on January 5th of the new year. But along with this good fortune came more changes. Chas Newby's last performance as The Beatles' bass player was on December 31st at the Casbah. He then left the group and returned to his college studies.

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