1963 Gibson J-160E, as made famous by John Lennon & George Harrison
Gibson's J-160E, famous in the hands of both John Lennon and George Harrison - and the ambidextrous Paul McCartney. The acoustic behind so many of those early Beatles hits. An absolute original, and a beauty to behold and play.
1962. The year of the first Beatles' release, Love Me Do, peaking at number 17 in the UK charts, a position that gave no indication of the world domination and legacy that were to follow. If you haven't heard of The Beatles, then you're living in the world of Danny Boyle's film "Yesterday". For everyone else, The Beatles are one of the most documented bands in history, and you don't need me to tell you a single thing about them.
Apart from . . . it was also in 1962 that John and George bought their Gibson J-160Es from Rushworths Music House in Liverpool. £161 each. A lot of money in those days - £3000 in today's money. It took a year to pay it off. They could probably just about manage it, having knocked out From Me To You, She Loves You, and I Want To Hold Your Hand and the albums Please Please Me and With The Beatles in the intervening months. Ironically, just after the final payment, John's was stolen at in December 1963 during one of the string of Beatles Christmas Shows at the Finsbury Park Astoria in London. Only to resurface over 50 years later, and sell at auction in 2015 for some $2.4m . . . A true detective story and one told brilliantly by Guitarist Magazine.
So, for the record, this is not John Lennon's original J-160E (nor George's, nor the replacement John bought in 1964). Nor, for that matter, Beatles' fan Johnny Marr's - though he's also a fan of the J-160E, and wrote William It Was Really Nothing and Please Please Please Let Me Get What I Want on his one. Something about that repeated "Please" again. But this one lays its claim as an exact spec and era match for those original Beatles J-160s. It's in beautiful all-original condition for its age. All we've done is given it a fret dressing (courtesy of master luthier John Procter), set it up, played it, and fallen in love with it. Hire it, and It Won't Be Long (yes, another Beatles song) til you fall in love with it too.
See & Hear It In Action
John Lennon's J-160E Auction: The breaking news story ahead of the 2015 auction for John's original J-160E. Bought by John Lennon on hire purchase for £161 in 1962. Picked up for $175 by long-term owner John McCaw in 1969. Expected auction price: $600 - 800K. Actual auction price $2.4m. Phew!
1963 Gibson J-160E Demo, Courtesy of Bluegguitar: Captures the top-end of this guitar perfectly - although there's a lot more response at the lower end in real life. Needs to be played to be believed!
Number of Frets
Spruce & Mahogany
Kluson Deluxe Wafflebacks
Compact Gibson P-90 Single Coil
Gibson Upper Belly Bridge, Rosewood
Apparently, the J-160E was only Gibson's second attempt at an acoustic electric guitar. The lesser known CF-100E came out in 1951, followed in 1954 by the now famous J-160E, albeit with 19 frets rather than the 20 frets that came in one year later.
It's a compact single-coil P90 at the bridge. No real hum of any note, and great balance across the six strings. Great in its own right. Though apparently, arch experimenters as they were, The Beatles also recorded the J-160E with a mic, ignoring the P90, on those little known songs like Norwegian Wood and A Day In The Life.
What's specially nice about the J-160E is the 15th fret neck join. All this talk about a 12th fret or a 14th fret join, and Gibson lead the way with a 15th fret join. With the super slim neck, this is a beauty to play, with lots of easy access to the 12th fret and beyond.
And in terms of features, you've got to love the original tortoiseshell scratchplate. After so many years, it's become one with the underlying spruce of the body top, visible through the shell. Beautiful.
When this one arrived, it came strung with extra light 10s. And we've kept it that way. Lovely straight neck and low action, and with those 10s, plenty of room for easy bends and lead-work. It really is a beauty, and a perfect hire for some Beatles magic, or, if you still don't know who The Beatles are, simply some lovely vintage acoustic tone and feel.
Sources & Links
1962 Gibson Guitar Catalogue: Once again, thanks to the researcher's treasure trove that is Vintage Guitar and Bass, here's the original 1962 catalogue appearance for the J-160E: "An exceptional amplified instrument, popular with Country and Western artists." Roll forward one year, and there's surely a new marketing opportunity . . .
Guitarist Magazine Tell The Story Behind The Discovery of John Lennon's Original J-160E: Lovely piece of detective work by then-owner John McCaw, a very lucky man indeed!
All The Major Beatles Guitars: And if you really want to lose yourself, here's a run-down and the stories behind each iconic guitar The Beatles are known to have played, courtesy again of The Beatles Through The Years.