The Beatles had Rickenbacker guitars and Rickenbacker guitars had the Beatles. Would The Beatles have had their great success without the Rickenbacker guitars? Of course they would! Whether Rickenbacker guitars would have had their great success without the Beatles is an interesting question about which we can only speculate. A more valuable and interesting pursuit would be to explore the importance of Rickenbackers in the music of the Beatles. We will never get a chance to know for sure out so let´s drop the speculations here and now! Instead let us look back! In my opinion there has never been a Rickenbacker – Artist symbiosis like the one between John Lennon and his Rickenbacker 325.
Welcome to the story of The Beatles´ Rickenbackers! I hasten to remind you dear reader, that this is the story seen through my own eyes and the views expressed herein, should not be held up to the highest standard of scientific scrutiny.
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.