Wednesday, March 21, 2012

1961 Gibson J-160E

The image of the Beatles as they conquered the world throughout 1963-1964 is not only synonymous with the hair, suits, and songs but also the instruments played by the lads. The Beatles choice of instruments (Gretsch, Rickenbacker, Hofner, Ludwig) reflected their uniqueness as much as the fact that the group was limited in what they could get in the UK in the early '60's.

As soon as the group was signed by manager Brian Epstein, John Lennon and George Harrison requested a pair of Gibson "Jumbos" which were ordered by their local music shop. John and George with matching guitars was a fantastic image on its own, but the fact that these "acoustic" guitars could plug into an amp was seldom seen, even though Gibson had introduced acoustic electric flat tops in 1951 (the CF-100 E model).

The J-160E itself was introduced in 1954, and was a variation on the popular J-45 model. However, the J-160E was different in that its neck joined the body at the 15th fret, and also for the fact that the guitar was ladder braced and made from laminate wood (aka plywood). While the ladder bracing and laminate top provide a less-than-desirable acoustic tone, the lack of resonance helps keep the guitar from feeding back at loud volume (although the J-160E feeding back is the signature sound of the intro to "I Feel Fine"). For those who mock the tone of the J-160E (and there are many), one must remember that this guitar IS the sound of the early Beatles, and their use of an "acoustic" guitar in a rock n roll band setting has been UN-measurably influential. I personally love the sound of my J-160E, and it's mellow voice is an excellent home strummer and one that I use often for writing and recording demos. I won't argue that the vibe of the guitar is an inspiration.

This particular J-160E (one of 141 built in 1961) is in the same specs as the Beatle guitars, which were early 1962 (or perhaps even late 1961) models. Also, this guitar was reported by the former owner to have belonged to Gene Clark, and I had no reason to not believe her. This keeps in line with David Crosby buying a Gretsch Tennessean and Jim McGuinn purchasing a Rickenbacker 12 string under the influence of the Beatles.

See the changes the model went through with this 1965 model.

all images c2012 by the author.

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