A lot has been written about the music of The Beatles. Critics and fans alike have analyzed and interpreted and picked apart every note they ever recorded until there’s nothing left to say, nothing new to learn about the music that changed the rock world beginning in the early 60s. However, in order to make that incredible music, The Beatles relied on four instruments that became the voice of the their music. Let’s take a little look into the background of the four most famous guitars in the world, shall we?
We’ll begin with thee most famous guitar—number one on the list, and it was John’s choice. We can skip his first few guitars since they were similar to what most of us guitarists began with—junk. After all, they were really all the boys could afford at the time. Let’s skip ahead to 1960 when John purchased the first of his Rickenbacker guitars from Steinway’s Music Store in Hamburg. It was a 1958 Carpi 325 in the 3/4 size and natural wood color and it sported three pickups and a Rickenbacker Vibrola. Lennon later replaced it with a Bigsby Vibrato and painted the guitar black.
This was the guitar John played on the early recordings as well as on their first Ed Sullivan appearance. This guitar became known as the “Hamburg” model. You can hear examples of this guitar on songs like “All My Loving,” “I Wanna Hold Your Hand” and “She Loves You.”
By the time they made their second Sullivan appearance from Miami, John had switched to another Rickenbacker 325. This one was a “freebie” from F.C. Hall, president of Rickenbacker and became known as the “Miami” model. Although this guitar made a lot of public appearances and was used on a lot of recordings, it is the first Rickenbacker 325 that made its way onto the list of the four guitars that this column is about.
Speaking of “freebies,” Rickenbacker actually brought three of their guitars to the hotel that day in February, 1964. They brought John’s second 325, as well as a bass for Paul (which he declined) and they brought the number two guitar on this list specifically for George. It was a full-size Rickenbacker 360 12-string model. This was only the second one they ever made (they gave their first 12-string electric to Las Vegas performer Suzi Arden) George loved this guitar and used it faithfully from 1964 through the end of 1965. The first song he recorded with it was “I Should Have Known Better” for the movie, A Hard Day’s Night. You can hear other examples of this instrument on songs like “You Can’t Do That” and “A Hard Day’s Night.”
George retired this guitar in early 1966 and used a second 360-12 through the end of 1969 when it was stolen. He brought out the first 12-string again in 1987 for his Cloud Nine album.
George’s other guitar holds the number three spot on this list. That was the one he played on the Ed Sullivan Show in 1964. It was called a Gretsch Country Gentleman but it was not Harrison’s first. In this case, this second Gretsch became more famous that his first. The first one was a 1962 model and fell off the Beatles’ limo in 1965 and was smashed on the highway. They left it there and drove on to their destination.
The second Gretsch, the 1963 Country Gentleman from the Sullivan appearance, ended up in Ringo’s possession, who probably still has it. You can hear examples of this guitar on songs like “Honey Don’t,” “I Saw Her Standing There” and “I’m A Loser.” Harrison also played a single cutaway Gretsch Tennessean on many of their tunes as well as in the movie, Help!
And now we come to the number four guitar on this list. Actually the last three guitars could be in any order after Lennon’s 325. I’m talking about Paul McCartney’s Hofner bass. Although many of The Beatles’ famous songs were performed on Paul’s Rickenbacker 4001 solid body bass, the guitar most associated with this rock icon is the violin-shaped Hofner hollow body.
Paul’s first Hofner was a 1961 model 500/1 with the two pickups mounted close together. Paul chose the Hofner primarily because it cost less than a third of what a Fender bass cost at the time, and because the body was symmetrical, something that Paul found important. This was his main guitar until he got the newer 1963 model from Hofner as a gift. As in Harrison’s case, McCartney’s second Hofner is the famous one I’m referring to here. It is the one he uses even today while on tour, minus the pickguard.
And there you have it—the four most famous guitars on the planet. All three of these guitarists have played many other makes and models and even the cheapest of them now sells for BIG bucks just because of their association with the men who played them.
******* UPDATE *******
My original statement about Paul declining the Rickenbacker bass that F.C. Hall presented him originally came from this statement that I read on the web:
“(To this meeting Hall also brought an electric 12-string, which the group schlepped over to an ailing George Harrison, and a prototype Model 4001 bass, which Paul McCartney passed on, for some reason)”
I’ve since received this email from John Hall, the head of Rickenbacker, regarding my article. It reads as follows:
I enjoyed reading your Cybermidi.com article “The Four Most Famous Guitars In The World"- nicely done! One comment, which I have chosen to give you instead of by comment on the page, in case you care to correct it: Paul didn’t “decline” the bass. Unfortunately, no one had mentioned in advance to the factory that Paul was left-handed, so the bass that was there that day was right-handed! That was the only reason he didn’t go home with the bass.
Of course, I at age fifteen presented a correct leftie bass to him a year later in Los Angeles, making up for the oversight.
John C. Hall
Chairman and Chief Executive Officer
Rickenbacker International Corp.
3895 S. Main St.
Santa Ana, CA 92707
I stand corrected.
Please be sure to check out this link for my Amazon.com site:
Comment from: Tanger [Visitor]
I have learned something about history of guitars.
Comment from: retirement communities in arizona [Visitor]
Such a wonderful instrument.
Comment from: Rachel Johnson [Visitor]
A work of art even.
Comment from: [Member]
Eric, did you actually read the article? It was not meant to discuss particular brands, but particular guitars.
Comment from: eric rivers [Visitor]
Are u kidding me…no way…not even close 1) Fender Stratocaster 2) Gibson Les Paul 3) Fender Telecaster 4) I dont even know…..the first three im absolutely sure of…..
Comment from: Bill Bernico [Visitor]
Lennon and Harrison also each bought Stratocasters and Harrison even played a Telecaster in the rooftop concert for Let It Be. Those guitars aren’t nearly as famous as the ones they debuted with in America. They are probably better guitars, sound and quality wise, but just not as famous. That was my point. You probably won’t see the Strats or Tele in any museum.
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