Wednesday, September 15, 2010

John Lennon's Rickenbacker 325 Capri

Rickenbacker Guitars were founded in 1931 by Adolph Rickenbacher and George Beauchamp (pronounced Beechum). 

The company started out with the Frying Pan This was a steel guitar designed and made by Beauchamp. It featured a horseshoe magnetic pickup that surrounded the strings. The body was round and the neck looked like a long handle. 

Through the years Rickenbacker (which altered its spelling) has produced many of the world's finest and most recognized guitars.

One of the key designers that came to work for Rickenbacker was Roger Rossmeisl. He learned his craft from working with his father, Wenzel Rossmeisl.  Wenzel had founded Roger Guitars in Germany and manufactured fine quality archtop hollow body guitars. In fact Wenzel Rossmeisl e may have been the first electric guitar manufacturer in post-war Germany.

Roger moved to the United States in 1952 and immediately went to work for several notable guitar manufacturers. 

While in Germany, Roger had communicated with Ted McCarty and was offered a job with Gibson.  After conflicts with the company, Rossmeisl left and was offered a job by Paul Barth, who was managing Rickenbacker guitars for Francis C. Hall. 

Rossmeisl stayed with Rickenbacker for eight years before being hired by Fender.  Rossmeisl also had some history with Semie Mosley and Mosrite guitars.  Rossmeisl has become well known in the industry for the German Carve. This is a beveled carve around the guitars perimeter which causes the guitars top to stand out.

It was Rossmeisl who was responsible for many of Rickenbacker's most famous designs and he is responsible for the Rickenbacker 325 Capri, which was the guitar we most associate with young John Lennon.  It is the guitar he was playing when many of us first saw The Beatles on the Ed Sullivan show.

The Rickenbacker 325 was the first of the Capri series of hollow body guitars released in 1958 by Rickenbacker. 

Rickenbacker uses numbers ending in zero for all full scale instruments. Numbers ending in 5 are indicative of a short scale neck. 

The neck on Lennon's 1958 Capri guitar was extremely short at a mere 20 3/4" from nut to saddle.  The cutaways were representative of a crescent moon design.  Though the body looks solid, it was actually hollow and sculpted from Alder.

Many Rickenbackers are sculpted from a solid piece of wood and the capped with and arched or flat top. This guitar had a flat Alder top with no soundholes. Lennon's guitar was one of the first batch made.  Subsequent models after 1958 boasted a soundhole.

The unfinished rosewood neck came with dot fret markers.  The body was small and was only 12 3/4" wide.  Lennon purchased the guitar at a music shop in Hamburg where the Beatles were playing in the local bars and clubs. George Harrison once quipped the he and his mates purchase guitars at a Hamburg shop and didn't know if they ever finished paying for them.

The body was 2" thick and the pickguard was painted gold.  The headstock featured the unique Rickenbacker slant. There was no volute on this guitars neck.  The nut was thicker than most guitar nuts.

The jack plate was elongated.  This feature was not unusual as most Rickenbacker's came with double inputs.  One was for monaural sound and the other was a stereo feature called Ric-O-Sound.

After owning the guitar for a short time, Lennon, while still in Hamburg set his mind to modifying the guitar.  The guitar came with gold and brown knobs to control volume and tone. .  Lennon replaced them with Hofner style knobs.

For reasons unknown, Lennon disconnected the middle pickup. The Rickenbacker 3 way selector only allowed for one pickup at a time. Perhaps he was trying to get the neck/bridge pickup combination.

After returning to Liverpool, Lennon continued modifying the instrument.  The original Capri came with a standard Kaufman Vibrato.  This was a device with twin springs that pulled the strings down on the first strings tightening the tension and loosening the lower strings.  Instead of going down or down and up, the Kaufman was designed to push side-ways. The unit was similar to the Gibson Vibrola.

Harrison's Gretsch Rocket came with a Bigsby Vibrato, so Lennon removed the existing vibrato and put on a Bigsby unit. A Bigsby bow tie bridge was also installed.

In 1962, just before The Beatles became an international phenomena Lennon took his guitar to Jim Burns (of Burns guitars) to have it repaired.  Burns made a few changes to the instrument.  He painted the body and neck glossy black. 

The Hofner knobs were replaced with Burns knobs.

Lennon owned two other Rickenbacker 325 Capri's.  One was purchased while the Beatles were in Miami.  The other was purchased at Rose-Morris Music (which was Rickenbacker's main U.K. distributor) in 1996.  The middle pickup on these subsequent instruments remained working. These also had the two step Ric' pickguard.

Recently my friend Deny Brigance and I were discussing Rickenbacker guitars.  He told me that after actually playing a Ric 325, he could not understand how Lennon could play that guitar.  The neck was so short and the frets were cramped together.

After playing standard sized instruments a 20" neck would be a challenge not just to play, but to keep in tune.

As a tribute to Lennon's association with the Capri, Rickenbacker came out with the 325C58 was an exact replica of the 1958 model 325, just as John Lennon first purchased in Hamburg. This is prior to any modification. Featuring gold nameplate and pickguard, gold-on-brown knobs, an elongated jack plate, and Kauffman Vibrola. It was available in Jet-glo (Ric's term for black) or Maple.

Rickenbacker came out with another model that was more like Lennon's guitar post the modifications.

The Model 325C64 duplicated the Model 325 as produced in 1964. complete with semi-hollow Maple body, instead of Alder, re-shaped body and headstock, three vintage-style pickups, and Rickenbackers Accent Vibrato. This model is still available.

So get out your Cuban boots and collarless jackets and look Fab with your totally Gear Ricky 325.
©UniqueGuitar Publications (text only)

Here is a very interesting video of John Hall, the current owner of Rickenbacker


mike fox said...

i love every guitar pictured in this post lol. some great-looking axes, that's for sure. the acoustic surprised me.

Mr Noble said...

I've never seen this guitar (in real life) in Malaysia. I assume this guitar is easy to be spotted by at your place?

Marc said...

Mr. Noble,

Yes, Rickenbacker guitars are available, however not many stores stock them. Rickenbacker is a small company and the waiting list to order one can be anywhere from 6 months to 4 years.


Dale Houston said...

I think the '5' at the end of the Ric model number means that it has a whammy bar. For example, a 365 is a 360 with a whammy bar and a full length neck.

toby said...

yes, the 5 is for a tremolo model, nothing to do with scale length

Anonymous said...

Hi there,

I’m a visual researcher on a documentary TV series for the Discovery Channel called “INVENTIONS THAT SHOOK THE WORLD.”

One of our stories is George Beauchamp's Electric Guitar and in my search for images for this story I found some great ones on your blog. I was wondering if you have any idea re: the source of these photos? I've seen them elsewhere on the web and am trying to track their source so I can get clearance to use them in our show.

Thanking you in advance for any assistance you can provide,

Caitriona Cantillon
Visual Researcher
409 King St. W. Suite 201
Toronto, Ont. M5V 1K1
ph: 416.598.2500 x.297
fx: 416.598.2550

Anonymous said...

how hard and if possible would it be to change out the 3/4 scale neck for a full? i own a 325v63.

Terry said...

I own and regularly play my 325 for gigs. It has real guts and really rocks. Playing lots of covers in the early days it must have been perfect for what John wanted I would imagine. Strings are thick 52 on bass E string and tight frets up the neck. You get used to it but I play rhythm which helps.

William Davis said...

As a rhythm guitar player I can totally understand how the short scale neck is better....everything is there where you need it...You don't need "grand" just need to be able to hit your marks....I'd LOVE to own a 325 one day...

rich mackey said...

Check out a group called The Bop Kats on
Youtube. My friend Jerry played a 325 on
the Ted Mack show. He traded it for a Strat
and then I bought it. It wouldn't stay in tune.
That's why we got rid of it. What fools we were to let it go.

Anonymous said...

The '5' in Rickenbacker's vernacular means that any guitar with a model number ending in 5 meant it had a vibrato unit. It does not denote a difference in scale length. '0' meant that it was a hardtail/fixed tailpiece guitar. Just thought you'd like to know...

Horshot Harrison said...

These guitars are neck-through construction. Best way to swap out a 3/4 for a full size neck:

1) Put your 325 on eBay. 2) When it sells, buy a 355.

Works every time.

Anonymous said...

Great article but daft typo where you say Lennon bought one of the 325s in 1996. He died in 1980 so presume you mean 1966?

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