You might think, after spending years researching Beatles Gear, owning his own vintage guitar shop (Andy Babiuk’s Fab Gear in New York), and performing in the retro-classic bands Chesterfield Kings and Empty Hearts, that nothing would surprise Andy Babiuk when he turned his attention to writing Beatles Gear: The Ultimate Edition.
And yet, fate had other plans.
Here, Babiuk details a few revelations uncovered during the preparation of the new edition.
The Family Connection
“After Beatles Gear came out in 2001, I’d get calls every week, with someone saying, ‘I have John’s this, or Paul’s that.’ Some calls were crazy, but I was always polite and would ask them to send me a photo. You never know. So a guy e-mails me pictures of a Gretsch 6120, telling me it’s the guitar John used on ‘Paperback Writer.’ I pull up my photo database, and go, ‘Whoa. This is the guitar!’ It turns out the guy was John’s cousin, and he also had John’s little Fender amp, which we thought was a tweed Deluxe, but was actually a tweed Vibrolux. John let him pick out a couple of things from his music room in 1967. Wacky stuff.”
The Case of the Missing J-160E
“The infamous story is about the guy who had John’s Gibson J-160E that went missing in 1963. Last summer, this guy contacts me and says, ‘My friend thinks he has John Lennon’s J-160E.’ I saw the photos and said, ‘Holy crap—this could be the guitar!’ The guy lives in San Diego and bought it secondhand. Who knows how that guitar went from London to San Diego, but it’s the real thing. I’ve got to tell you, I played it for a couple of hours—bone chilling. You play the beginning of ‘This Boy’ on it, and it’s the sound. It was haunting.”
“Ringo even came up with something new. I was talking to him, and he said, ‘You know, John gave me a guitar after I quit the band for a while during the White Album sessions. I wrote some songs while I was away, and John goes, ‘Here, Ritchie, I want you to have this guitar. It’s the perfect size for you. Go home and write even more songs.’
“It turns out it’s the Fireglo Rickenbacker Model 1996 John used for the Christmas shows in December 1964, as a replacement for his black Rickenbacker 325 after the headstock on that guitar broke.”
Paul Is No Expert
“When I was writing Beatles Gear, my friend, Rolling Stone’s David Fricke, told me that a December ’68 issue of the magazine had a story on the White Album sessions, and he came across a photo of Paul playing a left-handed Fender Jazz Bass. Now, I had a great connection to McCartney through his guitar tech/liaison John Hammel. When something like this would come up, I’d call John, and he’d say, ‘Hang on,’ and I’d usually hear him talking to Paul in the background.
“So I asked about the Jazz Bass, John went off to talk to Paul, and he came back and said, ‘No, no, no. Paul says it’s Wings only. He never used a Jazz Bass with the Beatles.’ So I go with what Paul said, you know? I didn’t put that in the book.
“Of course, after the book comes out, Fricke sends me these photo copies of Linda McCartney’s shots for the Rolling Stone piece, and, sure enough, Paul is using a Jazz Bass on the White Album.
“There was something else cool in those shots, too—Ringo playing a double kick-drum set. I asked him about that, and he said, ‘I thought I’d try what Ginger Baker and Keith Moon were doing [with double bass-drum kits], but we got to a drum break where I was supposed to do something fancy, and I just froze. I didn’t know what to do, so I never did it again.’”
The Mystery of the Black Strat Headstock
“A photograph of a private rehearsal in 1965 showed John playing a black Stratocaster with a matching black headstock. I’m like, ‘What the freak is that? How many black Strats with black headstocks do you remember seeing in 1965?’ Fender will tell you they never made them in 1964 or ’65.
“I talked to [author and Beatles Gear editor] Tony Bacon, and we think that Ivor Arbiter—who had the Fender franchise in the U.K.—might have done it, as he was known for repainting Fender guitars in England. This is how you got all those weird Shell Pink and Fiesta Red guitars that are quite a bit different from the American colors.
“Now, Arbiter knew that Lennon liked black guitars, so I wouldn’t be surprised if he thought, ‘I’ll paint this guitar and give it to John, and if he plays it, maybe I’ll get more Fender sales.’ We don’t know. Nobody knows. And nobody knows where the guitar is, either—which is crazier.”