John Lennon Rickenbacker Valued at $800,000 Auctioned Off by Ringo Starr

A 1964 “British” Rickenbacker guitar owned and played by John Lennon will be coming to auction in December.

The guitar, shown in the video below, is part of a trove of more than 800 personal items—including gear and rare albums—owned by Beatles drummer Ringo Starr, who is putting it all up for auction at Julien’s Auction in Beverly Hills, California, December 4 and 5.

According to Andy Babiuk’s Beatles Gear book, Lennon’s guitar, a model 1996 Rickenbacker, was one of six exclusive models that British distributor Rose-Morris commissioned from Rickenbacker in autumn 1964. Some of the guitars came with f holes instead of the typical “slash” style sound holes found on Rickenbackers. All of the guitars were offered only in Fireglo finishes. The series became known as the “British” line of Rickenbackers, as well as “Beatle Backers,” thanks to Lennon’s use of the 1996 model.

Lennon received the guitar in December 1964 while the Beatles were performing their second annual series of Christmas-themed shows, from December 26 through January 16. The guitar was provided as a replacement after he damaged his black 1964 Rickenbacker 325 during one of the performances. The black 325 had been made specially for him to replace his original road-worn 1958 model 325.

“John Lennon has broken the Rickenbacker guitar that was specially made for him,” a news item of the time said, “and Rose-Morris have provided him with a production model, the 1996, from stock which is very similar to his original while the broken one is being repaired.”

The “British” Rickenbacker 1996 was identical to Lennon’s 1964 Rickenbacker 325 except for the f-hole and Fireglo finish. In addition to the holiday shows, Lennon played the guitar while recording demos in his home studio before gifting it to Starr in 1968 during the making of the Beatles “White Album.” The guitar is expected to fetch $600,000 to $800,000 on the block.

In addition, the auction will feature a Gretsch Chet Atkins Tennessean guitar gifted to Starr by Beatles guitarist George Harrison (see second video below). It’s not clear at this time if the guitar was ever played by Harrison. He acquired a Tennessean—possibly a 1962 or 1963 model—in 1963, while the Beatles were performing their first round of Christmas-themed shows. Harrison played that guitar onstage and on recordings in 1964 and 1965.

Starr is also auctioning off a Gibson Les Paul he received from guitarist Marc Bolan (see third video below). The glam-rocker played on Starr’s 1973 album, Ringo, and Starr was inspired to write his hit “Back Off Boogaloo” from Bolan’s frequent use of the word “boogaloo.”

Starr and his wife, Barbara Bach, decided to auction the items after The Grammy Museum in Los Angeles asked him to do an exhibition about his life and music in 2013.

“It started with me looking at storage units we have all around the world,” Starr says. “We found we had so much stuff.”

Starr also discovered boxes of photo negatives from the Sixties onward when he began assembling his upcoming book, Photograph. More items came to light when the couple sold their country house in England and closed down their apartment in Monte Carlo.

“We thought, What are we going to do with all this stuff?” Starr says.

Other auction highlights include Starr’s first 1963 Ludwig Oyster black pearl three-piece drum kit that he used in over 200 performances and recordings between May 1963 and February 1964. Beatles bassist Paul McCartney also used the set on his first solo album, McCartney. The set is expected to go for $300,000 to $500,000.

For more about the auction, visit Julien’s.

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Christopher Scapelliti

Christopher Scapelliti is editor-in-chief of Guitar Player magazine, the world’s longest-running guitar magazine, founded in 1967. In his extensive career, he has authored in-depth interviews with such guitarists as Pete Townshend, Slash, Billy Corgan, Jack White, Elvis Costello and Todd Rundgren, and audio professionals including Beatles engineers Geoff Emerick and Ken Scott. He is the co-author of Guitar Aficionado: The Collections: The Most Famous, Rare, and Valuable Guitars in the World, a founding editor of Guitar Aficionado magazine, and a former editor with Guitar WorldGuitar for the Practicing Musician and Maximum Guitar. Apart from guitars, he maintains a collection of more than 30 vintage analog synthesizers.