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…..