In 1965, Beatle John Lennon acquired an Epiphone Casino. It became his main axe from them on and one of the most collectible of vintage guitars. Now Epiphone has recreated this legendary instrument in authentic detail.
by Mike Finster
The truth is, in 1965 John Lennon could have had any guitar in the world. The Beatles were at their peak popularity. John was a millionaire several times over. Every guitar maker in the world would have died to get one of their instruments into Beatle hands. John had only to ask and it would be given. But John chose the Epiphone Casino over all others, and it remained his primary instrument for the rest of his life. The question is: Why this particular guitar? The limited edition John Lennon Casino gives us a chance to duplicate John’s experiences for ourselves.
It is, of course, a precise replica of the ’65 Kalamazoo-made Casino, but Epiphone didn’t simply dig into their archives for the 1965 production specs to create it. They went further. They got permission from Yoko Ono to study John’s actual guitar, and did so, at length, to refine the specs and details to precisely match those used in creating Lennon’s guitar.
This scrutiny may be especially important. Epiphone didn’t just grab two guitars off the rack when Paul and John purchased Casinos in 1965. Guitar companies were surely eager to get their guitars into Beatle hands and Epiphone would have delivered the best they had. The ’60s Epiphones are generally recognized by guitar players as well-made instruments, but this replica, because it is based on John’s actual guitar, without doubt represents that era’s Epiphones at their highest level of quality.
Epiphone has actually created two versions of the same guitar. The Epiphone provided me for this hands-on review was the original “1965” sunburst model. It’s the guitar as John received it, completely stock. The second version is the “Revolution” Casino. It replicates Lennon’s guitar as it exists today. Just prior to recording “Revolution,” John, inspired to be more natural, had it sanded down to bare wood and coated with a single coat of clear lacquer. He played it with the pick-guard removed from then on. The original also had nickel Gotoh machine heads, which Lennon switched to gold Grovers. These replicas follow suit. So depending on whether you favor the early Beatles or later Beatles, favor pure vintage or Lennon’s personal alterations, you have your choice. Apart from these cosmetic differences, they’re the same axe, and faithful to the original in every detail down to the black washer used under the toggle switch nut.
Seeing, handling, and playing it for the first time, I was impressed in a number of ways, probably in the same ways that it impressed John Lennon 35 years earlier. First thing you notice: this Epiphone is unusually light and comfortable, with a thin body, nice size, and the Gibson 335 body shape. It straps on well, as they say. Plugging in and playing a little, I found it to have a funky, full tone, most notably on the bottom end. In general, hollowbodies offer less low-end sustain than solidbodies, but this allows their rhythm licks to be more rhythmic, chunkier. John Lennon was an ace rhythm guitarist – just listen to a few Beatles cuts if you need reminding of this – and I think it’s safe to say he chose this guitar mostly for the sound it gave his rhythm parts.
This guitar is equipped with the original dog-eared P-90s. They even have the precise pole spacing used in ’65. They have output and can get good and punchy. On this guitar they can also sound very sweet and lyrical, the kind of clean tone that has made the Casino a favorite with quite a few jazz players.
It has the kind of sound that records well, probably another reason Lennon liked the Casino. A hollowbody guitar can generate feedback when cranked up in a live performance but will excel in the studio. Of course, the Beatles could never be heard live. They were drowned out by the crowd noise, so feedback on stage was never really a problem for John. What surely was important. was the sound it gave him on their records. It was strong, solid, gave the music substance, and drove hard when needed. Listen to “Get Back” and you’ll see what I mean.
This is a fine and fun guitar, both in playability and sound, and for its historic connection with one of rock’s great figures. Such details as having them stamped with the original serial number of Lennon’s guitar enhance their attractiveness as collector pieces. Each also comes with a hand-numbered internal label designating its place in the limited series. Another nice touch is that a portion of the proceeds from every purchase goes to the John Lennon Scholarship Fund, supporting music education and contributing to his legacy in a meaningful way.
There are a lot of reasons for us to like the Casino; but lastly, I think it must have especially appealed to Lennon simply because it was, to some degree, an acoustic guitar. You don’t have to plug it in to get response and tone from it. Guitar-playing songwriters spend a lot of time sitting around playing quietly in a creative head-space, and such a guitar lends itself nicely to middle-of-the-night noodling. It’s easy to imagine Lennon, after the excitement and noise of a tour performance, enjoying the solitude and quiet of his hotel room, propped on his bed with Casino in hand, strumming chords and toying with some words that the world would soon be repeating: “... number nine, number nine, number nine.”
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