Obscure Du Jour: Rickenbacker 325CS-58

Rickenbacker, obscure? John Lennon’s “Savage Young” Beatles axe, obscure? Nah…Well, maybe.

It wasn’t headline news when a young John Lennon walked into a small music shop in Hamburg and bought himself a Rickenbacker. No one, including him, could have predicted that this particular guitar would be with him on his journey from “Nowhere Man” to Everywhere Man. Nonetheless, the “Ricky” was a favorite of John’s. He said on numerous occasions how the guitar had a magnetic connection to him. The last time John Lennon played his beloved Ricky 325 was for the Yoko Ono song “Walking on Thin Ice,” on the night he died.

The Rickenbacker 325 is an oddball to begin with (sorry, I’m a Beatles and Rickenbacker fan, but that’s the truth), but John Lennon’s Rickenbacker 325 is an oddball among oddballs. Lennon’s own original Ricky 325 is a short scale guitar (a 4/5th size, not ¾). The guitar appears to be solid because there is no f-hole on top, but it is in fact hollow inside. Manufactured in 1958, Rickenbacker records show that only 3 of these guitars were made without an F-hole that year—and only 8 were produced in total. Clearly, the 325 itself is a guitar that was not intended for mass production at that time.

Most 325 Capri’s had two concentric knobs and a double-tiered pickguard. The rare model John faithfully bumped into had a one-tier guard, no f-hole, and 4 controls. Of the eight Rickenbacker 325 models from 1958, only two had 4 knobs. Evidently John had found an extremely rare Ric. The fact that it ended up in the hands of the legend makes it easy to think that this very special 325 was made for John.

The 325 Rickenbacker came outfitted with a Kauffman vibrato. The Kauffman is one of the greatest unsung, disastrous pieces of (s)crap ever made. It has been said of many an ill-designed vibrato that if you look at it the wrong way, the guitar will go out of tune. This is not true of the Kauffman—you didn’t have to even look. It was just always out of tune and had a crooked cant to it.

John replaced (or had someone) replace the Kauffman unit with a Bigsby. He also replaced the TV knobs with a set of Burns knobs, because the TV knobs awkward layout made it impossible to turn them freely, without them jamming up. The final touch John made was to have the natural finish painted black. “Black was cool, natural was not.” John said it and I still believe it. “In fact, I only wear black because I can’t find a darker color.” All the Beatles were down with this concept and painted their fawn colored AC-30 amps black because, well, black was cool, fawn was not.

Lennon eventually pined for the 325 Capri’s original color. World famous Long Island luthier and very early vintage instrument dealer Ronnie DeMarino refinished the guitar to its original color. Ronnie said, “John, you can’t refinish the guitar, it’s known the world around!” John Lennon had to persuade him by explaining it had already been refinished.

Eventually Rickenbacker created a painstakingly accurate re-issue of Lennon’s beloved 325C58. The Rickenbacker 325C58 “Hamburg” was made in Santa Ana California, like Lennon’s original cherished instrument. Its specs are as unusual as that obscure bird that Lennon held so dear, from the semi-hollow body without an f-hole, to the single-tiered pickguard, and three “toaster” pickups.

If you are after an obscure (but famous at the same time) dream from the past, made to perfection as it was before its days of glory and fame, this is the reissue for you.

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Mike Rock
A fixture in the Rock and Roll guitar community since 1978, Mike Rock is the “Go-To” source for Sam Ash's most intricate questions involving Guitars and related gear. A collector whose true passion is playing, Mike has performed over 2,500 gigs around the world. Mike began his musical journey studying the trumpet. While buying sheet music for a recital, Mike first heard an electric guitar through a fuzz box. Forty years later, he still maintains that the fuzz WAS germanium based (he is a bit crazy). This encounter drove Mike to his first guitar and a tube amp. Soon his guitar was heavily modified and the amp was on its 3rd replacement speaker. Mike was hunting for tone and blowing guitar speakers before there was a “boutique” or “vintage” market. It wasn’t long before Mike was buying, and validating vintage guitars and gear for some of the biggest companies in the world, finally finding a home assisting mentor and friend Sammy Ash, at the place where he heard that first Fuzz Guitar, so many years ago. Mike still performs regularly and recognizes the history and beauty of vintage and modern gear. Mike is aware not everyone is a collector and most players need a set up that works for the sound they chase, regardless of its pedigree, or vintage or status.