Much has been said and speculated about the 1958 Rickenbacker 325 used by
John Lennon during the initial rise to fame of the Beatles. Perhaps what
makes the famous 'Hamburg' 325 so interesting is the amount of speculation
regarding such issues as it's original configuration, it's modification, the
refinish, alleged theft, and current whereabouts.
The first thing that most people notice is that the guitar has no sound hole
or elevated pickguard unlike almost every vintage or modern hollow-bodied
Ric you'll ever see. If you examine examples of Rickenbacker's very first
capris from 1958 you'll notice that they have only a single lucite control
plate. It was towards the end of '58 that elevated pickguards were
introduced. The run of 325's were produced very early in '58. The lack of soundhole on
Lennon's 325 is harder to explain, but the feeling is that soundholes were
not on the first few 325's but were quickly introduced as a visual indicator
that the 325's were hollow. Without
actually picking one up and feeling the exceptionally light weight, due to
the alder body and extensive internal routing, they give every appearance of
being a solidbody, and hence lower quality instrument.
Next, if you compare Lennon's 325 to almost every other known example of '58
325 you'll notice that it is unusual in having 4 controls. Most original
325's have only 2 rotary controls and 1 pickup selector. The reason for this
can be found in the 'Rickenbacker' book by Richard R. Smith. On page 162 and
163 it is noted that "the first 325 guitars had a single pickup selector
switch, a volume control, and a tone control. However, later in 1958, the
factory refitted the 325's still in Rickenbacker's inventory with two tone
controls and two volume controls." Due to the low position of the existing
two controls it can be assumed that the two additional potentiometers were
added above the existing two using the same 'single' lucite plate. This
would also explain the 'skewed' placement of the controls on Lennon's. The
new Rickenbacker standard Rogan (stove) type knobs were likely installed in
the process. Here we have another answer, John's 325 was one of the
retrofitted two control 1958 325's.
Mr. F. C. Hall, of Rickenbacker, recalled four 325's going to Hamburg. One
was sold to West German dealer Walter Hofner at a Chicago trade show in
1959, and in October 1958, Rickenbacker shipped three maple finish 325's to
Framus Werke in West Germany. John's guitar was one of these three. Shipping
documents still in existance, confirm it.
Aside from the famous ownership it is, in itself, an extremely rare guitar.
It was one of only eight natural finish 325's made in 1958. It also is a
solid top (no 'f' soundhole) which was not standard for the new 325 Capris.
The other examples of '58 325's that are known to exist today all have a 2
O'clock 'f' hole, except for one natural finish model which appears to have
been made alongside Lennon's. John's (and the other natural finish model)
has an elongated jack plate of the type normally found on Combo type
instruments. The reason being that the small jackplates we see in use on
Rickenbacker's were introduced in 1958. For the first few guitars made, they
appear to have been unavailable and so production 'made do' by using the
existing longer plates but without the strap screw normally found on combos.
Less than 10 instruments have this oddity. By about 'V90' the new square
plates are in use. The serial number
of Lennon's 325 - 'V81' is an interesting recent addition to our knowledge.
It makes Lennon's the 2nd production Capri made. 'V80' being the start of
production for '58.
The fact that Lennon's was still sitting in inventory late in '58 while many
of the other 2 control models had apparently been sold makes one wonder
whether Rickenbacker was unsure of what to do with these unusual early
versions (prototypes?) with no soundhole. The 2nd unit produced and yet
still in stock months later. Facilitating it's use in at least one trade
show that year. Suddenly an order for 4 325's just like the one seen at the
show....off they go to Germany...problem solved. Guitar history takes a
turn. All of these features make it an extremely unusual instrument indeed,
some say the most valuable guitar on the planet.....