By Christopher Scapelliti
John Lennon’s Gretsch 6120 Chet Atkins hollowbody guitar went on the auction block last November...but it never sold. It turns out that the owner, Lennon’s cousin David Birch, who has owned the guitar since 1967, pulled the auction when the bidding failed to reach his $600,000 reserve.
Since then, Birch has managed to strike a deal to sell the guitar for $530,000, slightly less than his reserve.
The buyer? None other than Jim Irsay, the Indianapolis Colts owner who last month purchased Les Paul’s 1954 “Black Beauty” Gibson Les Paul for $335,000.
What makes Lennon’s guitar unique is that he rarely played it. As far as anyone knows, he used the guitar on just one recording, the Beatles’ 1966 hit “Paperback Writer.” A photo of Lennon playing the guitar, shown above, was taken on one of the song’s two session dates, either April 13 or 14, 1966.
Lennon gave the instrument to Birch in 1967, when he was planning to form a band. “I was just cheeky enough to ask John for one of his spare guitars,” says Birch, shown below with the guitar. “I had my eye on a blue Fender Stratocaster lying in the studio, but John suggested the Gretsch and gave it to me.”
Birch and TracksAuction.com, the online house that managed the auction, had expected the bidding to reach $1 million, given its provenance as a Beatle guitar.
As it turns out, Chris McKinney, Irsay’s guitar curator, had been in touch with Birch before the auction, hoping to purchase it and avoid a bidding war. When the guitar failed to sell, he managed to close the deal.
The Lennon Gretsch will join George Harrison’s 1964 Gibson SG in Irsay’s collection. Harrison owned the guitar from 1966 to 1969 and used it at the Beatles’ last official performance at the NME Poll Winners Concert, as well as on the 1968 track “Hey Bulldog,” Revolver and the White Album.
Irsay has something north of 175 guitars in his collection. Among his treasures are Jerry Garcia’s Doug Irwin Wolf guitar, for which he paid $789,500; Garcia’s Doug Irwin Tiger, which cost him $957,000; and Bob Dylan’s sunburst Fender Stratocaster from his infamous appearance at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival, at which he went electric. That one set Irsay back $965,000.