(The following article appears in the July/August 2015 issue of Collectible Guitar | Then and Now magazine.)
The story of how John Lennon’s Gibson J-160E was discovered, as told exclusively to Collectible Guitar – Then and Now by John McCaw, the man who “took care of it” for 46 years.
By Gabriel J. Hernandez
“Seems like yesterday, back in ’64,
I watched John, Paul, George, & Ringo
From that round rug on our floor.
And that blues harp, there in “Love Me Do,”
Hit me right between the ears.
And I’ve been down this “Long And Winding Road,”
For 40 something years …”
– “40 Something Years” (1st verse) by Glenn Ashworth & T.J. Klay
The words to the song above were written nearly 10 years ago by longtime musicians Glenn Ashworth and T.J. Klay, yet they couldn’t ring truer than they do today regarding the story of San Diego, California native John McCaw, and one very special vintage Gibson acoustic guitar that’s been in his possession for the last 46 years.
Suffice it to say, this remarkable tale is definitely one for the ages, especially when it comes to the guitar; which unless you’ve been living under a rock, you already know is John Lennon’s long lost 1962 Gibson J-160E with a Sunburst finish. The guitar – missing since December 1963 – is set to be sold to the highest bidder the weekend of Nov. 6-7, 2015, at Julien’s Auctions in Beverly Hills, California. Pre-auction estimates predict the guitar will fetch somewhere in the neighborhood of $600,000 – $800,000.
This incredibly historic Gibson acoustic guitar was one of two ordered by The Beatles’ manager Brian Epstein in early 1962 through Rushworth’s music store in Liverpool, England. Both guitars – one for Lennon, the other for George Harrison – were shipped by Gibson on June 27, 1962, and arrived at Rushworth’s in either late August or early September of 1962. They were picked up by Epstein and The Beatles during that first week of September, with Lennon and Harrison returning to the music store on Sept. 10, 1962 to take a few promotional photos for the music store with the guitars.
From there the rest is, well, history. The journey of both guitars – but especially the one used extensively by Lennon – is nothing short of extraordinary. On Sept. 11, 1962, just one day after the photo-op at Rushmore’s, The Beatles returned to EMI’s Abbey Road Studio 2 in London to finish recording “Love Me Do,” which they later released on Oct. 5, 1962 as their very first British single. It’s not clear if either of the two “new” guitars were used during those sessions, but it is well documented that both guitars – especially Lennon’s – very quickly became an integral part of The Beatles’ early sound.
Andy Babiuk, owner of Andy Babiuk’s Fab Gear in Rochester, New York, and author of the critically acclaimed book Beatles Gear-All The Fab Four’s Instruments From Stage To Studio, said Lennon used his new 1962 Gibson J-160E acoustic guitar exclusively on many of the songs recorded by the band during late 1962 and throughout 1963. Lennon is also said to have used this particular guitar during many of his early writing sessions with Paul McCartney – sessions that produced some of The Beatles’ most popular and iconic early albums and hit singles, including “She Loves You,” “I Want To Hold Your Hand,” “Please, Please, Me,” “All My Loving,” “From Me To You,” and “This Boy.” The guitar was also featured prominently in the films Help and Hard Day’s Night, plus countless videos promoting the singles and other live performances.
“There is no doubt that this guitar was Lennon’s most important guitar in the early days of The Beatles,” Babiuk said. “He used it live, he used it in the studio to cut a lot of the band’s early hits, and he wrote a ton of great songs with it.”
Babiuk, who said he receives calls on a daily basis from “people who think they have a piece of gear that was once used by The Beatles,” went even further in describing the historical significance of this particular guitar.
“I’ve been doing this for a very long time,” Babiuk said in a voice trembling with obvious emotion. “All I can tell you is that this guitar is, without a doubt, the most important guitar that’s ever gone up for auction. I can’t tell you how much it’s going to sell for, and frankly I don’t think anyone can. But I can tell you that there has never been another guitar like this one offered up for auction.”
Babiuk continued, “This is not a guitar that Lennon used in passing, or one of many he owned. This was his number one instrument during what is arguably the most important time in Beatles’ history. It can be argued that this was one of the most important times in the history of music! The wear marks that Lennon himself put on this guitar are still all over it. This guitar is just so cool on so many different levels.”
For the record, Babiuk was also the person McCaw eventually turned to when he realized the acoustic he’d owned and played for 46 years bore a striking resemblance to the one Lennon played in the early 1960s.
But how did this guitar make its way from Liverpool to San Diego? And perhaps more importantly, how did it end up in McCaw’s possession? The story of this guitar’s journey is almost as legendary as the guitar itself. But it’s also as mysterious as it is complex; as magical as it is complicated; yet also as comprehensible as it is simple.
In order to correctly address these questions, however, one has to go back to the very beginning (sort of), and examine the facts – what little does exist – regarding what actually happened to Lennon’s guitar. Because ever since Reuters first broke the story of the guitar’s return to existence during the first week of June, these details – or lack thereof, depending on your perspective – are the current hot topics of much discussion, speculation, and misinformation all over the Internet … so much so that they threaten to overshadow the reality that this wonderfully historic guitar has been found, and still – in fact – exists!
Of course, the story was picked up by nearly every major media outlet around the world, and in almost every comment section of every story written there exists much debate as to whether “…the guitar was stolen,” or whether “…it should be returned to Sean or Julian Lennon,” or the “…Lennon estate,” etc. There are also plenty of people wrongfully speculating about “police reports” and “insurance claims.” There’s been no shortage of opinions about what McCaw should or shouldn’t do with the guitar, and for this very reason he has remained silent. At least until now (we’ll get to him in a minute).
The bulk of available information on the history of Lennon’s lost Gibson J-160E acoustic guitar can be found in two books. The first is Babiuk’s Beatles Gear-All The Fab Four’s Instruments From Stage To Studio, and the second is The Beatles Anthology, written by … well, The Beatles themselves (Paul, George, and Ringo). The latter book was first published in 2000, and was a collaborative effort between Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr. Even Yoko Ono cooperated fully in the effort by adding Lennon’s own words to what many consider to be the most definitive autobiographical and historically correct Beatles book ever published.
In that book, the story of Malcolm Frederick Evans, known in The Beatles’ world as simply “Big Mal” (he was 6’, 6” tall) or “Gentle Giant”, is told with as much detail as possible. According to the book, Evans first met The Beatles while working as a telephone engineer near the legendary Cavern Club in Liverpool, where The Beatles were the resident group. Though his musical hero was Elvis Presley, Mal became a committed fan of The Beatles after hearing them during a lunch break. He later befriended George Harrison, who insisted to Cavern Club manager Ray McFall that Mal be The Beatles’ doorman when one was needed. He was eventually hired by Beatles’ manager Epstein to work with the band’s other roadie, Neil Aspinall. Mal’s primary job was to drive the van that took the band’s equipment to its gigs all over the U.K.
“Around this time The Beatles were playing small clubs and theaters all around England, going from one town to another and playing almost every single night,” Babiuk said. “It was Evans’ job at the end of every show to gather up all the gear, pack it up in the van, and get it to the next city. The band would go to the next city in different vehicles.”
According to The Beatles Anthology, Evans recalled his first few months on the job with The Beatles, getting acclimated to the job of handling all the gear, including Ringo’s drums.
“I’d never seen a drum-kit close up before. I didn’t understand any of it. Neil [Aspinall] helped me the first couple of days, but the first time I was on my own was terrible,” Evans said. “It was a huge stage and my mind went blank. I didn’t know where to put anything. I asked a drummer from another group to help me. I didn’t realize each drummer likes his cymbals at a special height. He did them his own way, but they were useless to Ringo.”
Fast forward a couple of months to the end of 1963, when Beatles’ manager Epstein had scheduled a 16-night run of two shows per night at the Astoria Theatre in Finsbury Park, North London. This incredible run of shows began on Christmas Eve, Dec. 24, 1963, and the workload for a roadie like Evans was undoubtedly grueling.
According to The Beatles Anthology, Evans very specifically recalled Lennon’s beloved “Jumbo” guitar, and its unfortunate fate.
“The worst of all was at the Finsbury Empire in London, when I lost John’s guitar,” he said. “It was one he’d had for years as well. It just disappeared. ‘Where’s my Jumbo?’ he said. I didn’t know – it’s still a mystery.”
Lennon himself, in an interview printed in The Beatles Monthly in January of 1966, acknowledged that the guitar went missing sometime during that 16-day run of shows in Finsbury, but he didn’t know about it until after they’d completed the string of shows.
“George and I often took a jumbo with us, so nobody noticed until the end of the season that one was missing,” Lennon said. “A week or two afterwards I asked Mal where he’d put my jumbo. It was only then that we realized the guitar had been pinched, at Finsbury Park. No, I never got it back.”
So for the record, Evans pretty much admitted to losing the guitar and Lennon thought it was “pinched,” but didn’t ask Evans about it until a few weeks after the shows were over.
“Mal left it somewhere and didn’t have the guts to tell Lennon about it,” Babiuk said. “Then Lennon asks him about it and that’s when Mal told him he left it somewhere.”
But was it stolen? Remember, Lennon himself said it had been “pinched,” which is a nice English way to say something was “stolen.” But some experts don’t buy it.
“I honestly don’t think so,” Babiuk continued. “Personally I think the next band that came in and did a show there – and it could have been any one of the other big bands that were playing that same circuit at that time – they probably found the guitar, said, ‘Hey, this is a cool guitar,’ and took it home with them. They obviously had no idea what they had or who’s it was. But maybe they did, and knowing the karma that exists between musicians maybe they traded it for something else because they didn’t want to run into Lennon and have him say that they took his guitar. The fact is that no one really knows for sure.”
But whether or not Babiuk or anyone else believes the guitar was stolen, the bottom line is that no one from The Beatles – not Lennon, not their manager, and not Evans – ever contacted the police to report the guitar stolen. Additionally, no claim was ever made to any insurance company for reimbursement of a lost or stolen guitar belonging to Lennon or The Beatles. The guitar was simply deemed lost by all involved, and a short time later Lennon – again through Epstein – ordered two more Gibson J-160E acoustic guitars. He would eventually give one of them to a friend, and the other Jumbo is the one he famously sanded down to its natural state, and used extensively throughout his career until his death in 1980. This is the same J-160E he used during the infamous bed-in for peace gatherings in 1969 in Amsterdam and Montreal. Today, that guitar is still owned by the Lennon estate, and is currently on display at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Ohio.
Some will argue guitars can “talk.” But if they actually could, then we’d have a definite answer as to how Lennon’s lost J-160E ended up in southern California. Unfortunately they don’t, and the mystery remains. And this is where Mr. John McCaw enters the guitar’s story.
“They say that dreams get started when a place inside your heart
Gets touched by something magical, then grows to be apart
Of what you set your sights on, and everything you do
Then one day you open up your eyes, and find it coming true …”
– “40 Something Years” (2nd verse) by Glenn Ashworth & T.J. Klay
One of McCaw’s best friends growing up was a fellow San Diego resident by the name of Tommy Pressley. McCaw and Pressley grew up in the same section of San Diego known as Linda Vista during the 1950s and 1960s, and it was Pressley – a guitar player himself – who initially got McCaw interested in learning to play the instrument.
McCaw, however, would answer his country’s calling in 1966, serving in the United States Army, First Infantry Division, for two years – one of which he spent in Vietnam, from Oct. 19, 1966 to Oct. 19, 1967. He was honorably discharged on April 25, 1968, and returned to San Diego afterwards.
“I went back to San Diego where my folks had a ranch, and my dad was a horse trainer and breeder,” McCaw said. “It was part of my ‘chill out’ period after Vietnam, and I was helping out with the horses and around the ranch, plus we also did some horse boarding. But I also went back to junior college and got my A.A. degree.”
During McCaw’s time in Vietnam his friend Pressley remained in San Diego, and sometime during the summer of 1967 found himself helping a friend who owned a music store called The Blue Guitar move from one location to another.
“He helped them move to a new location, and one day he happened to walk into their repair shop and saw that guitar [Lennon’s J-160E] hanging on the wall,” McCaw said. “He asked about it and was told someone had come in and traded it for another guitar. The shop was going to do a quick setup on it and put it out on the floor for sale. Tommy went and talked to the store’s owner about it, and ended up buying it sometime during the summer of 1967.”
McCaw continued, “About a year and a half later, Tommy came to my house one day and told me he was moving to northern California and needed money for the move. He asked me if I wanted to buy his guitar, so I bought it for $175. And this was sometime in December of 1969.”
After buying the guitar, McCaw simply appreciated the fact that he’d just acquired a very nice Gibson acoustic. He did admit he was aware The Beatles had used similar guitars, and probably the same model as the one he’d just purchased, but he never once gave any thought as to whether the guitar might have ever belonged to Lennon or Harrison. In fact, at that time he didn’t even know Lennon’s original J-160E had gone missing.
“Ever since that day, that guitar has hung on every wall of every house I’ve ever lived in,” McCaw said.
After buying the guitar from Pressley, a few more years went by and McCaw had finally begun to settle back into a normal routine after Vietnam. He met and married his wife Cathy, and started doing sub-contracting and contracting work around the San Diego area. This eventually led him to his job today as a senior estimator and project manager for a general contracting company based in San Diego.
Over the years as he found success in his work, McCaw began to acquire other guitars, and the J-160E got less and less playing time. He still took meticulous care of the instrument – as he’d always done with all of his guitars – but he found himself not playing it as much as he used to. As the years went by, though, he also realized the guitar was becoming more of a “vintage” guitar, and that it may be worth some money. The only thing that bugged him was that he didn’t know exactly how old the guitar was. So he began to try and find out.
“In March of 2008 I started a quest to find out how old the guitar was,” McCaw said. “I started by posting a thread on an online Gibson forum with the serial number, the model, and some other information about the guitar, and I asked if anyone could tell me what year it was. Unfortunately, I never got one response back from that post. Not one.
“About that same time I also emailed Gibson’s customer service department and sent them the serial number and the same information I’d posted on the forum,” McCaw said. “They eventually did get back to me and told me their serial numbers back then were somewhat out of whack, but they told me it was probably manufactured sometime between 1962 and 1964. They explained the differences in the rosettes from year to year, but they still couldn’t pinpoint it by serial number alone. At that point, just based on how old it was, I knew it might be worth some money, and that it was definitely a nice vintage guitar.”
A few more years went by, however, before McCaw – now 69 – began to notice a few unusual “coincidences” regarding the guitar. By 2009, McCaw had also joined a small circle of friends that gathered weekly at the home of his good friend Marc Intravaia, who also happened to own a new studio in Sorrento Valley called Sanctuary Art and Music Studio. According to McCaw, everyone would bring their instruments and simply play to their heart’s content. In fact, the group still gets together today. It was at the end of one of these gatherings, in May of 2014, that McCaw noticed the first unusual “coincidence.”
“We had gathered at Marc’s studio one week and had just finished playing and were putting our guitars away, and that’s when I saw the May 2012 issue of Guitar Aficionado magazine sitting on Marc’s book shelf,” McCaw said. “That particular issue had Dhani Harrison [George Harrison’s son] on the cover, and inside there were lots of pictures of his dad’s guitar collection. So I was looking through it and turned the page and immediately noticed a picture of George’s Jumbo that looked just like mine.”
The first thing McCaw noticed was a small box next to that picture that gave a brief description of the guitar and its serial number, which is “73161.”
“[The serial number] obviously got my interest because the serial number on my guitar was only four digits away,” McCaw said. “So at that moment I had at least figured out that my guitar was from 1962. But I still didn’t know that Lennon’s guitar had gone missing.”
So as McCaw continued flipping through the magazine he ran across another picture of the Harrison’s Jumbo guitar, and noted something else he also thought a bit unusual.
“I noticed that Harrison’s guitar had wear marks that were nearly identical to the wear marks on my guitar,” McCaw said. “So I got out my magnifying glass and took a closer look and noticed just how similar they really were. I thought that was very unusual, so I continued reading the article and I read about how Harrison and Lennon had actually switched guitars at some point, and it also mentioned the story of how one of the guitars had gone missing sometime in late December of 1963.”
So those three coincidences – the matching wear marks, the closeness of the serial numbers, and the fact that one of them had gone missing – were coincidences McCaw couldn’t stop thinking about. He thought about it a lot for a couple of weeks and then called his friend Intravaia, who at first didn’t really think too much about it.
“He didn’t say much about it the first time I brought it up,” McCaw said. “But another week or so went by and I kept thinking about it so much that I called Marc again and scheduled a private guitar lesson, though I never had any intention of coming in for a lesson at all. I just wanted to pick his brain about the guitar and show him all of my suspicions about the guitar.”
McCaw showed up for his “lesson,” and as soon as Intravaia had heard all of McCaw’s suspicions he immediately turned to his computer for answers. The first search he did brought up a video on YouTube of The Beatles playing “I Wanna Hold Your Hand,” which was first released in late November 1963, less than a month before their run of Christmas shows at Finbury Park in London. In the video, McCaw and Intravaia could see several excellent views of both Harrison’s and Lennon’s Jumbo acoustics.
“You could see fairly clearly when John moved his guitar, that the marks and dents on his guitar in the video were the same marks and dents that were on my guitar,” McCaw said. “That’s when Marc and I started to get pretty excited about it.”
Intravaia offered a somewhat different take on that very special moment.
“We watched that video and realized almost immediately what he had,” Intravaia said. “I ran out of that room and started yelling out to my wife that we thought we had John Lennon’s guitar. And then I realized that John had 10 minutes left in his lesson, so we finished the lesson and he actually paid me for that hour lesson.”
Intravaia added, “I think he’s going to get a nice return on that $80 lesson!”
At that point another mutual friend was called upon for assistance, and that was Tom Gulotta of Reelin’ in the Years Productions, LLC, a San Diego-based company that happens to own the world’s largest library of music video footage – over 20,000 hours of material from the 1920s to today.
“Basically, after seeing a few pictures of my guitar and comparing it to the video clips we found on YouTube, Tom then went and took some high definition photos of my guitar, including some very nice close-ups of the pickguard,” McCaw said. “He then compared those photos to some high definition stills he was able to pull from some video footage showing The Beatles with those guitars from late 1963. When he matched one shot over the other you could see clearly that the two pickguards were identical. We could very easily tell by looking at the white marks and the pattern of the tortoiseshell that it was most definitely the same guitar.
“It was at this point that we absolutely knew what we had,” McCaw said.
“This world is full of dreamers, you know I’m not the only one
I pray one day that you will find out all you can become
Just a little faith and hope is all you really need
And somewhere down this Long And Winding Road, you’ll be living out your dream…”
– “40 Something Years” (3rd verse) by Glenn Ashworth & T.J. Klay
From there, McCaw became a bit cautious and wanted to remain anonymous, so he asked his friend Intravaia to take the lead and enlist his long list of resources to try and properly authenticate the guitar. After making a few phone calls and talking to some close friends, Intravaia was guided to Babiuk in Rochester, New York. They spoke on the phone, and Intravaia told him the story of the guitar and the evidence they had accumulated. The ever-pessimist Babiuk asked for the high definition pictures of the guitar in order to compare the wood grains on both guitars, and one week later, on Sept. 5, 2014, a now excited Babiuk called Intravaia back. It was then that Babiuk verbally confirmed to Intravaia that the guitar was, in fact, Lennon’s long lost J-160E. Intravaia then introduced Babiuk to McCaw via email, and that’s when the two started communicating to confirm the authenticity of the guitar and its history.
“Quite honestly it was a very quick evolution from excitement to thinking about safety,” McCaw said. “I immediately decided that I needed to get it out of my house, so I rented a locker vault in San Diego, and that’s where I put it to keep it safe. I knew we were on a journey, and we wanted to make sure the guitar was going to be there at the end of it.”
And what a journey it’s been. Over the next eight months, before the world found out about the guitar this past June, many thoughts went through McCaw’s head. And while the guitar remained locked up most of the time in that high security vault in San Diego, it’s also seen the light of the day quite a few times. McCaw and his wife allowed some musicians and artists from the San Diego area to use the guitar in several recordings, and have also allowed the guitar to be photographed both professionally, and by Julien’s Auctions in Beverly Hills, California – the auction house they chose to sell the guitar for them in November.
“I was introduced to Darren Julien [owner of Julien’s] very early on, and I started talking to him about selling it,” McCaw said. “He’s been very helpful since day one in guiding us down this path.”
In addition to the recordings and photos, McCaw was also asked by Intravaia if he could bring the guitar to Intravaia’s wife Paula’s 4th-grade class at Carmel Del Mar Elementary School in San Diego. The class had just completed an assignment that involved the music of John Lennon, and specifically the song “Imagine.” Intravaia wanted to introduce the class to the guitar and play the song on it, along with maybe a few others. McCaw didn’t even hesitate with his answer.
“Marc’s got a heart the size of a basketball,” McCaw said. “When he told me how important it would be to him and his wife to have these kids see and hear this guitar, it was a no-brainer. So we took the guitar to the class, and another friend of ours, T.J. Klay, went with us as well. We showed the kids a video of The Beatles playing that guitar, and then Marc and T.J. played a couple of songs with it, including John’s ‘Imagine.’ The entire class sang along with us, and at the end we had all of the kids come up one at a time and take a picture with the guitar.
“The downside to this whole thing was we had to put it away in a vault for safekeeping,” McCaw added. “But being able to get it out and have people record with it, and especially showing it to those kids, those were very special moments.”
One of the more incredible aspects of this story is the fact that for eight months the family, friends, and neighbors of John McCaw were able to keep the existence of this very special acoustic guitar a secret from the rest of humanity. In today’s world of Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter, that’s quite an accomplishment, while also a true testament to the tight-knit community of family, friends, and neighbors who respected the guitar, and the wishes of the man who basically cared for it for the better part of 46 years.
Even when the news hit the world’s media during the first week of June, and not all reaction to the news was positive, McCaw’s long-time circle of friends and family all rallied around him and the guitar, never doubting for one second that the guitar had made the journey it was supposed to make. It didn’t matter to anyone the circumstances surrounding the guitar’s mysterious disappearance, or how it ended up in a southern California music store. On the contrary, the majority of the people in this close-knit community applauded the fact that it had ended up exactly where it was supposed to be – in the hands of an honorable and caring man who took exceptional care of it for 46 years and guarded it with his life.
“You’re not going to get around the negativity surrounding something like this, because people are going to say whatever they’re going to say about it,” said Darren Julien, owner of Julien’s Auctions in Beverly Hill, California. “Personally, I believe people should focus on what this incredible guitar sounds like, what it truly means, and the fact that it was found. Because if John Lennon was alive today I think he’d be very happy that it was found, and that it was so well taken care of for all these years.”
Julien also touched on the workings behind the scenes to get the guitar ready for public consumption. He (correctly) anticipated there would be a huge demand for information regarding the guitar’s provenance, and he prepared very well for the task at hand.
“We’ve been working on this for almost one year now,” Julien said. “We really did our homework. We researched every angle we could, and had as many top people as we could possibly get to examine it. We took really close-up photos and matched every single little detail we could, including scratch marks. We found the actual receipts from when The Beatles bought these guitars, and basically everything was a perfect match.
“The other thing is John McCaw, himself,” Julien added. “This is a true blue collar working-class guy. He’s not a professional guitar player, but he loves the guitar. He’s just not the kind of guy that would make up a story like this. John is as honest as the day is long. It’s really one of those things that’s too good to be true. But in this case it is true. As much as I’d like to think I’ll top this someday, I honestly don’t think I’ll ever have another discovery like this in my lifetime.”
The other obvious criticism – or question and/or point for comment – regards whether McCaw is the rightful owner of the guitar, and if the Lennon estate has any rightful claim to the guitar. As we noted earlier, no one from The Beatles, or anyone else associated with the band, has ever made any type of claim for the instrument. Additionally, a quick check of the statute of limitations for this type of situation in the United Kingdom reveals that the maximum length of time that can pass for anyone to make such a claim is 12 years in some cases, and six years in most. Therefore, even if someone were to come forward and attempt to claim the guitar today, the U.K.’s statute of limitations laws would likely prove quite prohibitive in this case.
Neither Julien, McCaw, nor Babiuk would comment on whether or not they’ve been contacted by the Lennon estate regarding this guitar, and/or its sale. However, when asked if they could foresee anything standing in the way of the guitar’s sale this coming November, their response was quick and to the point.
“No, I don’t see anything standing in the way of the auction taking place on Nov. 6,” Julien said. “I honestly don’t see anything hindering it. There was never any police report filed for this guitar, or anything else like that. John [McCaw] has been the rightful owner of this guitar for so many years now, and frankly I don’t see why he would have to give it back. Personally, I think it’s really great to see a good guy like John benefit from something like this. This is a great break for a really great man.”
Babiuk completely agreed with Julien’s assessment.
“All the naysayers and the negative people, they really don’t get it. There’s a much bigger picture here, and frankly [the naysayers and the negative people] are all missing it,” Babiuk said. “People don’t understand that there’s a lot at stake here. I wouldn’t have put my name on this guitar if I didn’t feel 100 percent comfortable with it, and obviously there’s a very good reason as to why I’m very comfortable with it. I’m not concerned one bit about what people think about it. Personally, I think it’s a groovy guitar, and probably the greatest rock and roll find ever.”
McCaw’s close friend Intravaia echoed the same sentiments
“That guitar could not have ended up in better hands,” Intravaia said. “John [McCaw] didn’t do anything to the guitar. No modifications, nothing. All he did was simply change the strings on it. That’s it. That guitar is basically in the same condition as it was the day he bought it, and pretty much in the same condition as it was in that last video Lennon played it in. If this guitar would have been owned by anyone else they probably would have changed the tuners, and who knows what else. This guitar ended up in the right place at the right time, and in the hands of the guy that it was supposed to end up in. Anything else and I guarantee you we wouldn’t be having this conversation.”
McCaw and his wife were adamant about sharing the guitar with as many people as possible prior to its sale. To that end they arranged for the guitar to be on display at the Lyndon Baines Johnson Presidential Library in Austin, Texas, from June 13-29, 2015. After that, the guitar makes its way to the GRAMMY Museum in Los Angeles for display from July 2 to Sept. 7, 2015, and then on to Julien’s Auctions in Beverly Hills for display from Nov. 2-6.
While no one knows for sure how much the guitar will sell for, many are thinking it might break all records for the highest price ever paid for any guitar. Whatever it sells for, though, McCaw and his wife have already arranged for a “large” part of the final sale price to go to a charity called The Spirit Foundation.
“There is definitely a magical aura that surrounds this guitar,” Julien said. “Even when you hold it, you feel a sense of its history and importance. Personally, I believe it will break records. It’s definitely a museum piece, but I also believe it should be played again because I think the guitar still has some songs left in it. It’s hard to describe, really. I honestly can’t compare it to anything else.”
Babiuk also agreed.
“I have been absolutely blown away by this guitar. It’s really freaked me out,” Babiuk said. “And I think the thing that makes it even cooler is that [McCaw] had it for all those years and didn’t know what he had. There is no agenda here. He’s not trying to make a story out of it.
“All I can tell you is that I’ve played a lot of famous guitars,” Babiuk concluded. “I’ve played guitars owned and played by Keith Richards, Bob Dylan, and many, many others. But this one … this one sent a chill up my spine the second I touched it, and that in itself is pretty amazing.”
“And it’s all been stitched together
Like a giant patchwork quilt
Piece by piece step-by-step tell the picture stands complete
And I know there’s so much more to this
Then the choices that I’ve made
And that the “Great Someone”,
He’s been guiding me every step along the way…”
– “40 Something Years” (bridge section) by Glenn Ashworth & T.J. Klay
Gabriel J. Hernandez is the owner of Blues Vintage Guitars, Inc., a shop in Nashville, Tennessee, specializing in the buying and selling of vintage and newer high-end guitars and gear. He is also an accomplished writer, having earned a B.S. in Journalism from The University of Florida in 1988. Over a 25-year career he has worked as an investigative journalist for several news organizations and publishing companies, as a staff sports writer for The Palm Beach Post, and most recently as the Web Editor for Gibson Guitars at the company’s worldwide headquarters in Nashville. Hernandez has played guitar since the age of six, and has been fascinated (some say obsessed) by the instrument – and music in general – ever since. You can reach him any time at 1-615-613-1389, or visit his company’s web site at www.bluesvintageguitars.com.