Baby's In Black:

Refinishing The Most Famous Rickenbacker

by Peter McCormack

Part 3: Who Refinished the 325?

The Refinishing Hypotheses

There are three refinishing hypotheses that have been considered thus far. These include: the Professional Luthier Hypothesis; the Professional Refinisher Hypothesis and the Personal Contact Hypothesis.

The Professional Luthier Hypothesis, is based on the assumption that Lennon would want to use a professional service to insure that his guitar was refinished in a quality way. The downside is that most companies have a backlog and may not be able to do this at a moments notice. Remember The Beatles were not well known in 1962 and may not have had much clout with such companies. Two companies were likely candidates for this type of refinishing in 1962 namely, Burns Company, London and Hofner Company, in Germany. Both of these companies were contacted and the information obtained is presented below.

The Professional Refinisher Hypothesis, assumes that professional refinishers have experience refinishing most furniture pieces and wood products and can carry out this task relatively quickly. They might be expect to complete a project such as this one faster than a guitar company such as Burns or Hofner. Two companies would be able to foot the bill in 1962,

The Personal Contact or "On The Fly" Hypothesis, relies on a friend or local contact to have the refinishing take place in a reasonably professional manner in the shortest time frame and at the best possible price. The refinisher would work for a private or government agency and the work could be done "under the table" so to speak.

Professional Luthier Hypothesis: Burns Company

A frequent account of the 325's refinishing offers Mr. Jim Burns, of Burns Guitar Company in London, as the technician responsible for this work. Although a most able technician, his responsibilities as a company president probably did not afford him the luxury of attending to this task himself. According to Paul Day (personal communication) there are employees of the Company who recall that their corporation was involved to some extent. From a documentation standpoint, up until the time of this current research there was no evidence to link the Burns Company directly with the refinishing. Burns Company, however, was about the only company that was set up to carry out the refinishing of instruments in the early 1960s. They were in London and according to Paul Day, Burns did contract out some jobs of this nature.

An interesting observation made by several researchers was that problems with the middle pickup wiring occurred at the time of the refinishing. That there would be wiring problems following such a routine procedure raises doubt about whether this could have been carried out by a professional, knowledgeable in guitar repair. It does not seem reasonable that a reputable maker of mainstream instruments such as Burns, or any other company for that matter, would risk their reputation by performing careless work. Moreover, it is also equally unlikely that Burns would out source work unless they had some reassurance that the job would be done properly. All factors considered it would appear unlikely that Burns Guitar Company was directly involved in the refinishing process. The possibility remains, however, that they may have sent it out to a third party.

Professional Luthier Hypothesis: Hofner Company

It has been postulated by some Beatle historians that the Hofner Company may have carried out the refinishing. This is reasonable to assume based on the Beatles early and continued use of Hofner guitars, the availability of the Hofner plant and the Hofner type knobs that Lennon installed on his refinished 325. It is, of course, also possible that these knobs came from another instrument or were purchased separately from the manufacturer, a dealer or second hand. Lennon may have added these knobs himself as he had been known to do on previous occasions. This may explain why one of the knobs is missing or a potentiometer damaged as is noted in a photo of the instruments debut at the Star Club in Hamburg in December 1962. In any event, it would seem that the refinisher was not a guitar technician.

Discussions with Hofner have consistently revealed that no one within their ranks has any knowledge that the Company was involved in the refinishing. In fact, personal communication with a Hofner representatves on June 24, 1999 and November 18, 1999 revealed that Lennon did not have his instrument finished by the Company and moreover, that The Beatles have had no direct contact with them. Older workers with the firm were also solicited with the same outcome. While it is possible perhaps that some projects may have taken place without the knowledge of supervisors at the top levels of the Company hierarchy, Hofner's June 24, 1999 response from Mr. Klaus Schöller was clear.

"Dear Mr. McCormack, We have no information that Lennon's Rickenbacker was refinished within our company. Best regards, Klaus Schöller"

Professional Refinisher Hypothesis: Derek Adams

Mr. Derek Adams was an independent refinisher of furniture and instruments in London in the 1960's. He was located at the Railway Arches in London in an area often referred to as SE2. Mr. Adams used a faster curing polyester finish that could be completed in short order and refinishing could be done within a period of a day or so. This process would have allowed for the faster turnaround required by Lennon in the fall of 1962. It has been established by Burns Company and guitar guru Paul Day that Mr. Adams did refinishing work for Burns Company.

While numerous attempts to reach Mr. Adams directly have failed over the period from August 1999 to September 2001. Apparently Mr. Adams has gone on record that there was very little money to be made by refinishing guitars. In any event, his whereabouts is not known and the reader can be assured that trying to locate him is one of the dead ends discussed at the outset of this article.

The first indication that Derek Adams may have been involved in the refinishing of Lennon's guitar came from Burns London Limited in October 2000. Personal correspondence from Mr. Barry Gibson of Burns London on October 3, 2000 was brief but to the point. He was most helpful in tracking down the details and his efforts, in spite of a busy schedule, were truly appreciated. On the matter of spraying the instrument black, Mr. Gibson writes,


While the Burn's correspondence confirms the expectations of Mr. Day, that Derek Adams may have been involved, recent research argues against the likelihood that Adams did the original refinishing work. This is not to discredit the investigation of Mr. Gibson who was most helpful, however, he did not provide the source of his information and we are researching an event that took place nearly 40 years earlier. The are numerous reasons, in my view, for excluding Mr. Adams as the original refinisher for Lennon's guitar. As it came to pass Burns London did have a later encounter with John Lennon's 1958 Rickenbacker Model 325 in September 1963. They performed repairs to the frets and electronics of the guitar, however, their involvement may not have involved refinishing in September 1963. There are several reasons arguing against Adams' involvment.

To begin, very few people if any were aware that Jim Burn's may have sourced out the job to Derek Adams. If Mr. Burns had done a favor for John Lennon in this way, I am confident that in sometime in his lifetime he would have mentioned it to other members of Burns London and this surely would have become part of the Company history. It is clear, after my dialogue with Mr. Barry Gibson that this was not the case.

Second, Mr. Adams did do work for Burns and other guitar dealers in the London area. He was well known for his work and while he did not fancy refinishing instruments after a while he was, nonetheless, an experienced craftsman. To this end, he would not have returned Lennon's Rickenbacker with the pickguard assembly the wrong way round. Lennon complained that the pickguard was not assembled correctly and this has been confirmed by Billy Kinsley of The Merseybeats and Chris Wharton who took the instrument to the Cavern for Lennon to inspect.

Third, Adams was a busy refinisher and it seems unlikely that he would be able to accomodate a request to have a guitar finished in short order. Lennon had a need for the instrument and would not have settled for letting his number one guitar disappear to London.

Fourth, London was about a 6 hour drive away and in 1962 Lennon did not have the financial resources or connections in London that he would eventually have in 1963. It makes sense that he would at least try to make affordable arrangements locally in Liverpool.

Finally, there is recent information obtained by Chris Wharton of Liverpool explaining that he was the person responsible for arranging the refinishing of this instrument. Mr. Wharton's story is included in its entirety later in this article. Just in passing, the dedicated Beatle historian will have read that the New York luthier, Ron Demarino, commented on brush stokes on Lennon's then black Rickenbacker when he was asked by Lennon to restore it in the 1970s. Assuming this to be factual, it must suggest that at some point an amateur was involved in refinishing or touching up this instrument. It is possible that another party may have touched up the instrument subsequently, however, this would not have been necessary following a proper finish. It would seem from all accounts, that Derek Adams was an experienced refinisher and had he done the work have sprayed the Rickenbacker as reported by Barry Gibson of Burns London Limited and Paul Day.

A conversation with Chris Huston confirms conclusively that Lennon's 325 was professionally refinished. Mr. Huston saw the instrument shortly after it was refinished and indicated "To my recollection the finish on the guitar looked professional. I would have definitely noticed a 'do-it-yourself' paint job, especially back then, when our instruments were a source of pride." Moreover, both Billy Kinsley and indeed Chris Wharton, as we shall see, confirmed that the paint job was professionally done.

Professional Refinisher Hypothesis: Knight Piano

Assuming that the refinishing work was notsourced out by Burns, then to whom?

In the 1960's there were a limited number of firms that were involved in the refinishing of instruments. The Knight Piano Company specialized in refinishing their own pianos initially made in Loughton, Essex and then in London. In addition to their own work, the company seems to have taken on piece work from other manufacturers such as Vox and Burns. The company was known for producing a high quality cellulose finish that apparently took upwards of 6 to 8 weeks to do properly.

Lennon's musical engagements were extensive in the fall of 1962 and he could not afford to be without his trademark guitar for an extended period such as this. For this reason it would seem unlikely that the Knight Piano company had sufficient time to work on this instrument. Personal communication with Knight Piano has revealed that there is no formal record regarding such a refinishing and no one within the firm has a memory of this event. A copy of their correspondence on the subject can be seen in the following letter.

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One of two kind replies from Alfred Knight Ltd.

Personal Contact Hypothesis: Chris Wharton

In writing this article the author had the very good fortune to have made contact with Mr. Chris Wharton. He indicated that he was from Liverpool and that he was responsible for having John Lennon's guitar painted black. After five years of research the most straight forward explanation of the why, how, where and when the guitar was refinished finally emerged. Before providing the details, he first explained his relationship to The Beatles and his involvement with them from 1960-1962.

He began "I was around during the Beatle era as a small time promoter." It turns out that Wharton actually booked The Beatles in the very early days at the Barnston Institute and being a contemporary, knew them well. In fact, Chris Wharton and George Harrison went to the 1962 London Motor Show in his Mini Van and "we gave Paul McCartney and his girlfriend at the time a lift."

Although an affable man, Chris Wharton took a no nonsense approach in his discussion of the Beatles' days in Liverpool. It was his view that "A lot of rubbish has been written about the group because most of the people writing were not there at the time and they are going on information that is perhaps a little unreliable." That Wharton was there to see and hear things for himself is evident by the story he tells. Billy Kinsley in Andy Babiuk's Beatles' Gear and Tim Dugdill in his review of The Georgians have reminded us of Wharton's work as a D.J. at the Mardis Gras Club.

Mr. wharton related that during the early 1960s there was an explosion in the number of bands on the music scene in the Port City. A Liverpudlian from Birkenhead, he recalls that being amazed at the staggering number of musicians. He recalled "When I think back to that 1960-62 period it was quite amazing. Over 400 bands in Liverpool and Birkenhead all being employed at live music venues in the area."

Chris Wharton and The Beatles go back to the very early days. He had many vivid memories of the venues where they played as he attended their performances and managed a band himself at the time. He was an able historian and recalled "I remember the band as the Silver Beatles playing not at The Cavern but at places like Neston Institute and The Grosvenor Ballroom in Wallasey, way before The Cavern knew of their existence. I managed a band at the time called The Deesiders who played at venues with them along with Gerry & The Pacemakers and Cass and the Casanovers later to become The Big Three, perhaps the greatest band to emerge from the Merseybeat scene. In fact, Johnny Hutchinson the drummer with The Big Three stood in for Pete Best after he failed to turn up at The Riverside Ballroom, Chester after being told he had to leave the group. I was there that night."

In what must have been a moment of shear excitement, Wharton exclaimed, "I remember their first performance of Twist and Shout at The Majestic Ballroom, Birkenhead. I was there and witnessed the last rehearsal in the band room." These are ground-breaking events that would lead to the beginning of the British Invasion. But for Chris Warton, having been on a first name basis with The Beatles, these moments are brushed aside in a very calm manner. He referred to these exciting events as "a few tid bits." and then began the explanation of how Lennon's guitar was sprayed black.

"My father had a haulage business in Birkenhead and when I left school I worked for him. We transported fresh Irish beef from Birkenhead to London's Smithfield Meat Market. We had Albion wagons, high quality Scottish built vehicles. I was more interested in groups and dances than the business which I was forced to go into being an only child.

The vehicles were painted by Charlie Bantam, a perfectionist, who worked for my father. He was the type of guy who would completely wash down a room prior to decorating to the extent that when he had finished you thought the room had already been decorated. He was also an excellent coach painter and signwriter.

John Lennon asked me whether I could get his guitar painted black. I cannot remember if there was any specific reason I think he just fancied a change of colour.

I told him I could get the job done by way of a favour and this was arranged. Charlie Bantam reluctantly agreed to paint it. He didn't know who the Beatles were and, to be fair, it was a time when they were not that well known outside Merseyside. He painted it with black Tecaloid enamel which was the make of coach paint used on the vehicles. It certainly had several coats of paint and it took several days to complete because I remember John kept asking if it was ready.

The control panel retained it's gold finish but I think this was also repainted. I remember when we returned it to John he said we had put it back the wrong way around.Billy Kinsley from The Merseybeats can confirm all this as I remember he was with me when John got the guitar back.

As far as the precise time of year I would guess September 1962 but I cannot be absolutely sure.

Brian Epstein had no involvment or knowledge that the guitar was being painted. He took the band over in the earlier months of 1962 and was still learning the business.

Well that really is all I can tell you about the black Rickenbaker but it was painted in Birkenhead and not London as many people think. I have always kept out of the Beatles' scene that developed over the years and I really only knew them for a very short period between 1960 and 1963. In 1963 they became established and disappeared to London. I had built up a friendship with George but sadly never kept in contact. I do have many memories of the 1960-62 period and feel that I was lucky to have been around but of course at the time nobody could have predicted their incredible progress. I remember George who had a second hand Ford Anglia car saying if things went OK he would buy another car and give his old one to his Dad. Dear me the way things turned out he could have bought him a fleet of Rolls Royces!"

Submitted on November 17, 1999 - Revised April 19, 2003

© 1999-2003 Peter McCormack. All rights reserved.

Part 2: Why Was The 325 Refinished?Part 4: When Was The 325 Refinished?

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