In 2015, John Lennon‘s long-lost acousting Gibson J-160E electric guitar, which he used to record the Beatles’ Please Please Me and With the Beatles albums sold for a record-shattering $2.41 million during a live auction.
The guitar, which had been missing for over 40 years, sold three times its estimate of $800,000 to an anonymous buyer.
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Lennon’s guitar was one of two nearly identical 1962 Gibson J-160Es purchased by the Beatles manager Brian Epstein for Lennon and George Harrison at Rushworth’s Music House in Liverpool. The guitar was used by the musician to co-compose with Paul McCartney their classics like “I Saw Her Standing There,” “She Loves You,” and “I Want to Hold Your Hand.”
Back then, Epstein paid about $450 for each of the guitars, equivalent to $4,600 today, taking inflation into account.
The guitar’s disappearance has been one of the most enduring mysteries since 1963 and the guitar, a Gibson Jumbo with a Sunburst spruce finish and P-90 single-coil pickups, was valuable in the collection of music it produced—music that changed the course of rock history, despite the fact that Lennon actually used it for only a brief period.
What the media does know about the guitar’s disappearance is that it was left behind by the band’s longtime roadie, Mal Evans, after one of the band’s legendary 1963 holiday concerts at the Finsbury Park Astoria Theater in London.
Speaking about the guitar’s disappearance later on, Evans shared that losing the prized instrument was the lowest point in his early career with the Beatles. Lennon also teases him occasionally for it, saying, “Mal, you can have your job back as soon as you find my guitar.”
Nobody knew what happened to the guitar in the four years that followed, but by 1967, it resurfaced at a San Diego guitar shop called the Blue Guitar, a popular hub for the city’s folk, rock, and bluegrass scene. The guitar was likely taken as a trade-in, as nobody remembered who took the guitar in or which store it was associated from, nor did any written records remain. Clearly, back then, nobody knew of the guitar’s significance. The Gibson was purchased for $175 by Tommy Pressley, who was then a 21-year-old carpenter’s apprentice and bluegrass player who frequented the shop.
Two years later, struggling and in need of money, Pressley sold the guitar for the same price he bought it to his friend John McCaw.
McCaw, by 2015, worked as a contractor in the San Diego area, and he played the instrument off and on over the past four decades, admitting that it often stayed on his wall or in a closet.
He shared about the instrument, “What you see today is exactly the way it looked the day I bought it 46 years ago. All the little dents and nicks and dings that you see were all there.”
In April 2014, McCaw resumed his life in music and had just completed a group guitar lesson at San Diego’s Sanctuary Art and Music Studio, when he noticed a 2012 copy of Guitar Aficionado magazine with George Harrison’s son, Dhani, on the cover. Inside the magazine was a photo of George’s own 1962 guitar, which is still owned by his estate.
McCaw noticed the closeness of the serial numbers of both guitars, and he and his friend Marc Intravaia, a studio owner, contacted Beatles Gear author Andy Babiuk, who then examined and authenticated the instrument as the same one that Lennon lost decades ago. In fact, the guitar is included on the cover of Babiuk’s revised Beatles Gear: The Ultimate Edition.
Speaking with Guitar World, McCaw said, “It was at that point that I realized I can’t keep the guitar. It’s too big for me. It’s not going to fit in my house anymore.”
The guitar is among the most significant instruments in rock history: it’s one of two nearly identical guitars purchased by Brian Epstein for two of the biggest rock bands in history. It was used to co-compose many of the band’s early classics.
Lennon’s earliest known use of the guitar was during the Abbey Road recording sessions in 1962, when the Beatles, with Ringo Starr, have only recently replaced original drummer, Pete Best. They recorded “Love Me Do” and “PS I Love You” and the guitar, since then, has been part of the iconic history of the similarly iconic band.
And last year, it sold three times its worth—but probably not too much for a real Beatles fan.