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(Credit: Joop van Bilsen / Anefo)

Music

The iconic John Lennon guitar that Brian Epstein had to pay for

The principal image for a long time was that each member of The Beatles were millionaires. They all eventually became fabulously wealthy, but the truth was that it actually took much longer to reach that status than most would have imagined.

For one, the original EMI recording contract had the four members split roughly one penny between them for each single and album’s sale. Their contract with Brian Epstein wasn’t all that more generous, with their constant tours and album recordings being a practical way to keep the relatively meagre income flowing.

By the mid-1960s, The Beatles were simply too big not to be millionaires, but in 1962, the band members were still travelling in bad vans and scraping by, even as they were ascending to the top of the pop world. In fact, one luxury that the band couldn’t even afford was new instruments. When John Lennon wanted to expand the band’s sound by getting a high-quality acoustic guitar, he couldn’t afford to buy it himself.

Both Lennon and George Harrison walked into Rushworth’s Music House in Liverpool in the fall of 1962 looking to buy acoustics. They found a pair of matching Gibson J-160E “Jumbo” models that would be quickly used for the ‘Love Me Do’ sessions, although there’s a possibility that the duo could have bought the guitars earlier in the years, as acoustic guitars were used on the original recording sessions for the song in the summer. Those could have been Jumbos or they may not have been – no one really seems to know for sure.

What is known is the price that was paid for the guitars: £161. It was a fee that neither George Harrison nor Lennon could afford at the time, so Epstein became a co-signer of the guitars, eventually paying them off himself shortly thereafter. It was during this time that Lennon and Harrison got their guitars mixed up, with Lennon coming to own the one registered to Harrison and vice versa. This wasn’t a problem until Lennon’s got stolen during a Christmas concert in 1963.

Lennon eventually bought another J-160E to replace his (or, rather, Harrison’s), this time with his own money. That guitar would be used on everything from ‘Yellow Submarine’ to ‘Give Peace a Chance’ and is still owned by the Lennon estate, showing just far Lennon had come in just a year’s time from needing Epstein to help him pay off a guitar to buying his own premium model himself and keeping it for his entire life.

Hear the Jumbo Gibson in action on ‘Please Please Me’ down below.