John Lennon’s long-lost acoustic Gibson J-160E, which he used while recording the Beatles’ Please Please Me and With the Beatles, sold for a record-shattering $2.41 million Saturday during a live Julien’s auction.
The guitar, which was lost for more than 40 years, sold for three times its $800,000 estimate to an unspecified buyer who asked to remain anonymous.
Lennon bought the guitar at Rushworth’s Music House in Liverpool for £161 September 10, 1962. Although it’s unclear how he was separated from the instrument, it resurfaced in a San Diego shop in 1967; however, the buyer had no idea it once belonged to Lennon. It wasn’t until 2008 that the guitar’s provenance was discovered.
“Its importance in Beatles history cannot be overstated; this guitar is intimately bound to the early career of the Beatles,” Julien’s Live said of the guitar. “This is the earliest and most significant John Lennon guitar to be auctioned.”
One of two nearly identical 1962 Gibson J-160E acoustic-electric guitars purchased by Beatles manager Brian Epstein for Lennon and George Harrison, the guitar was used by Lennon to co-compose (with Paul McCartney) such early Beatles classics as “I Saw Her Standing There,” “She Loves You,” “I Want to Hold Your Hand” and “All My Loving.”
Lennon’s earliest known use of the guitar was during the Abbey Road recording sessions of September 11, 1962, when the Beatles—with Ringo Starr having recently replaced original drummer Pete Best—recorded “Love Me Do” and “P.S. I Love You.”
How the guitar found its way to McCaw is a tale that has addressed—at least in part—one of the most enduring mysteries vexing Beatlemaniacs since 1963. Though the guitar—a Gibson Jumbo, with a Sunburst spruce finish and P-90 single-coil pickups—produced a collection of tunes that would change the course of rock history, Lennon used the guitar for a relatively brief period.
After one of the Beatles’ 1963 holiday concerts at the Finsbury Park Astoria Theater in London, the instrument was apparently left behind by the band’s longtime roadie Mal Evans, who would later recall the moment “when I lost John’s guitar” as the lowest point in his early Beatles career. Lennon would occasionally tease Evans (who died in 1976), “Mal, you can have your job back as soon as you find my guitar.”
For the sake of comparison, Lennon’s Gretsch, which was used on the Beatles’ 1966 single “Paperback Writer,” sold for $530,000 to Indianapolis Colts owner and guitar collector Jim Irsay in November 2014. Irsay also spent $965,000 for Bob Dylan’s Fender Stratocaster used at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival, the infamous “Dylan goes electric” guitar. A Fender Strat signed by Keith Richards, David Gilmour, Eric Clapton, Brian May, Jimmy Page, Pete Townshend and others sold for $2.7 million at a charity auction for tsunami victims in 2007.
Seller John McCaw will split the proceeds of the sale with Lennon’s widow, Yoko Ono. Ono said she will donate the entirety of her proceeds—approximately 50 percent of the auction price—to her Spirit Foundation.
“Yoko is donating 50 percent of the profit to the Spirit Foundation,” Julien said in the brief statement. The Spirit Foundation is Ono’s charitable arm, known primarily for building schools in Africa and Asia.
Lennon’s acoustic Gibson wasn’t the only Beatles-related item to far exceed expectations: The band’s Beatles-emblazoned Ludwig bass drumhead, used by Ringo Starr during the Beatles’ February 9, 1964 debut on The Ed Sullivan Show, sold for $2.125 million, more than doubling its $1 million estimate. The drumhead was also used at the Beatles’ first U.S. concert at Washington Coliseum February 11, 1964 as well as other stops along the Beatles’ first North American visit. A baseball signed by all four Beatles in 1966 sold for $100,000.