Wednesday, October 27, 2010

A Young Man and a Guitar

October, 1960

In their few free hours, being obsessed with rock and roll music, the Beatles would visit the music stores of Hamburg, drawn to the high quality instruments to be found there, instruments that were not readily available in Liverpool.  On one of these excursions, John Lennon wandered into one of those shops (probably the Musikhaus Ratthof  in the Schanzenstrasse) and saw a Rickenbacker model 325.  He was immediately dazzled by its good looks, amazingly good action and short scale fingerboard.  The frets set close together allowed him to easily play chords that he had to stretch to play on his Hofner Club 40.  (Back in Liverpool, some would accuse him of having bought a "toy" guitar, but it was most certainly not one of those.)  John immediately bought it on a rent-to-own plan for the inflation-adjusted equivalent price of something like 1000 British pounds or $1500, a very considerable sum for him then.

Later, after it was beaten up from road use and retired from active service, John would call this guitar one of his most prized possessions.  Any guitarist can relate to how a favorite guitar can become almost a friend.  It will seem to bring music out of him  that even he doesn't know is in there, as if it is co-operating in the creative process.

Up to that point, the model 325, from Rickenbacker's perspective, had been a failed experiment.  The one that John had bought had been on tour to trade shows and was more than two years old at the time he bought it.  One imagines that the reason for the "failure" of the 325 is that it did sound so different from the usual electric guitar, such as we heard on Ventures records.  After all, the electric guitar sound was still in its infancy.

But in John's hands, the 325 would make music that would astound the world.  As with all musical innovation, it took the world a little time to develop the ears we needed to hear it.  Listen to those early Beatle records sometime and just focus on really hearing that rhythm guitar, so unlike anything that went before.  With this watershed event, a very important piece has fallen into place.

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