Wednesday, October 13, 2010

The Gibson J-160E - The Beatles Guitar

The Gibson J-160E is one of the first ever acoustic-electric guitar models. The first Gibson electric acoustic is attributed to Lloyd Loar although Gibson thought it was a bad idea at the time.

Loar had experimented with acoustic electric guitars back in the 1920’s when he worked at Gibson and later with his own company, Vivi-tone.

Most of us have probably played acoustic guitar into a microphone. This works great in a studio setting as it picks up the guitars natural sounds. However in live performance, it can be a problem.

The microphone may pick up other instrument sounds leaking into the mic. Your guitar may bump the mic stand resulting in a non-pleasing sound and the soundman being knocked off his stool.

Plus your movement is restricted. You have to stand directly in front of the microphone.

In 1951 Gibson was aware of these issues and to solve the problem created a guitar called the CF-100E. This guitar was a small bodied instrument with an ingenious single pickup at the base of the fretboard.

This instrument bore a resemblence to the J-160e, except for it’s smaller size and Florentine cutaway. The neck joined the body at the 14th fret on the bass side. It was also offered without a pickup as the CF-100.

In 1954 Gibson came up with a second acoustic-electric model which was deemed the J-160E. This was a slope-shouldered Jumbo bodied instrument.
The constuction of this guitar was a departure from Gibsons typical process. First of all, plywood was used for most of the guitars body. Instead of using X-bracing which allows the sound board (guitars top) to vibrate more freely, Gibson utilized ladder-bracing.

Ladder bracing was used on some classical guitars and on budget guitars, such as Stella.

Perhaps this may have been to emphasise the pickup or to deaden the acoustic sound to prevent body vibration being picked up. Who knows? Even with the poor quality tone the vintage j-160e's are still quite collectible.

The guitar had an adjustable bridge allowing the saddle to be raised or lowered by screws on opposing sides of the rosewood bridge. The pickup was a single coil P-90 without a cover. The volume and tone controls were placed on the lower bout of the guitars top. Despite the cool looking outer appearance, there were many better sounding Gibson acoustics available.

It  chosen by mid 1960's artists for it ability to be amplified. Not only was this the guitar of choice for The Beatles, but also for Peter and Gordon and Chad and Jeremy.

The 1954 model had a 16-inch wide body. The rosewood fretboard came with trapezoid inlays. Only the top was solid and made of spruce. The back and sides were made of laminated mahogany.

The neck had 19 frets and joined the body at the 15th fret. This is interesting since most often dreadnaught style guitars join the body at the 14th fret. My thought is this was due to the pickup placement.

On the headstock overlay, there was a crown inlay. The guitars pickguard was fashioned in Gibson’s teardrop pre war style. Gibson only offered this model with a sunburst finish.

1955 J-160e
The following year another fret was added, but the guitars top was now made of laminated spruce.

In 1969, Gibson revamped the model to a square-shouldered dreadnaught style and the bridge saddle was fixed. Another change occurred in 1972 when the pickguard was altered to three-point style. The trapezoidal inlays were changed to small block inlays that same year.

In 1979, the J-160E was discontinued.

Sometime in 1962, George Harrison and John Lennon each purchased a J-160E’s at the same time at Rushworth’s Music Store in Whitechapel, Liverpool. Since John did not have enough money to afford his guitar, he asked Brian Epstein,the Beatles manager, to co-sign for the purchase.

In the end Epstein paid for both John and George's guitars. These guitars were often used early in The Beatles career both on stage, in the studio and in the Beatles movies.

In 1967, Lennon decided to have an artist paint his J-160E with a psychedelic scene. Then in 1969 for whatever reason, he decided to strip the paint on the guitar and give it a natural finish.

Prior to being in the Beatles, Lennon attended art school in Liverpool. If you did not know it, he was a compulsive doodler. (Pick up a copy of his books, In His Own Right and Spaniard in the Works to see some of his doodles.)

Lennon decided he would doodle caricatures of him and Yoko on the guitar during the time he and his wife were protesting the Viet Nam War by holding a Bed-In. So Lennon was recognized for the sunburst J-160E and the natural finished model.

In 1991, Gibson reintroduced the 160E. Major changes were made to the instruments design. It now had a solid spruce top and solid mahogany back and sides. The single coil P-100 pickup was replaced with a P-100 stacked coil humbucking pickup. The bridge saddle was fixed. Once again, Gibson only offered a sunburst finish. These instruments were produced through 1997.

Gibson reintroduced the J-160E offering it in a standard model and a John Lennon Peace model, based on the stripped finish he used during the Bed-In days of 1969. These were made in Gibson's Montana facility.

Gibson also design a non-domestically manufactured Epiphone model which is known as the EJ-160E John Lennon Signature model. This guitar is currently manufactured in Indonesia.

There are some minor changes in this model. The scale is 25.5 inches opposed to the original 24.75 inch original and the knob placement is slightly different. Prior to this Epiphone replica, the Epiphone EJ-160E was manufactured in Korea.

I don't know about the bracing on this instrument. The top, back and sides are made of laminate wood and the P-100 pickup is a single coil model.

I have already stated, Gibson currently manufactures the J-160E standard model. The standard sunburst sells for $2700. These instruments are similar to the 1990's run, being entirely made of solid wood having X-bracing and a stacked P-100 humbuckers. The Lennon Peace standard model is supposedly offered in a natural finish and sells for $3250. However I have not run across any stores stocking this model.

This year a special run of the Peace models are offered to celebrate the 70th anniversary of John’s birth date. In addition to the Sunburst model, there is an all white model, which was commissioned by Yoko Ono and The Peace model with one of John’s famous doodle on the lower bout.

These reproductions are limited to 70 guitars of each model with the exception of the sunburst model J-160E VS (vintage sunburst) of which 500 units will be produced.

The Lennon 70th birthday J-160E are based on the 1960's design and feature laminated Sitka Spruce Top, historically correct Gibson ladder bracing patterns and a Gibson Authentic single coil P-90 Pickup.

John Lennon signature is transcribed in Mother of Pearl on headstock. Lennons date of birth is engraved on the 12th fret trapezoidal inlay. The 70th guitar of the Imagine series will come with Lennon’s signature in Abalone.

The 70 Imagine guitars and the 70 Museum guitars (named because the Bed-In guitar is in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame) both come with 70th anniversary certificates personally signed by Yoko Ono.

Anyone interested in this special run of guitars might want to dig deep into their wallet. The 70th Anniversay J-160E VS retails for $4728.00 US dollars. However the Imagine will set you back $10,748 and the Museum retails for $15,048


nick said...

Hi. I wonder if you can help me solve a mystery. I own a J160e. The serial number dates it as late 1963 (possibly 1964). It has a laminated top and the extra white circle around the sound hole. But it has 19 frets not 20. According to everything I have read Gibson increased the number of frets in 1955. Any ideas? Thanks Nick

Marc said...

Nick, I thought a lot about this last night. This is indeed a puzzler. Every source I've looked at says 1955 was the year they went to 20 frets. From reading about dating guitars I know that sometimes manufacturers (Fender & Gibson) don't let anything go to waste. It may be NOS left over from '54 that was never sold.

This would be an ideal queston for George Gruhn's Vintage Guitar column.
Thanks for reading,

Tony said...

Hi, I bought a used Epiphone EJ-160E NA ,the NA standing for Natural.I can not find another one of these with the natural finish,or any info on it.It is the signature model with the Lennon label in the soundhole.Do I have a rarity?? Thanks for any info .Tony

Tony said...

Tony here...
the serial number is :
R97C 0755

Marc said...

Tony, you have a nice instrument with a solid top, but it is not a rarity. However your original 1963 instrument is an excellent guitar and somewhat rare. Take good care of both.

Best wishes and thanks for asking,

Anonymous said...

Hi i wish i could aford a real gibson j-160e but for now im getting the epiphone version is it true epiphone have not used bone material for the bridge the nut and the pins. Yet the real gibson version does yes???. If so i will change them on mine would anyone know what size i will need thank you

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