The Beatles: Guitar Heroes 24 – John Lennon’s Gallotone Champion Acoustic Guitar

Share My Guitar is proud to release a special series of guest posts by John F. Crowley about guitars owned by members of the Beatles. Each week we will unleash another article covering the history and impact of these fab guitars.

John Lennon picking a few choice banjo chords on his Gallotone acoustic!

Lennon bought this 3/4-size guitar by mail for about £10 after seeing an advertisement in Reveille magazine. Made by the Gallo company of South Africa, it was “Guaranteed Not to Split.” Banjo player and sympathetic spirit Julia Lennon allowed her son’s new guitar to be delivered to her house, rather than that of disapproving Aunt Mimi. The lad started a band, the Black Jacks, with his mate Pete Shotton. His mother had shown him a few five-string banjo chords, so Lennon played the guitar with the sixth string left slack. With the addition of a few more members he rechristened the group the Quarry Men, and it was that outfit that played the St. Peter’s Parish Fete in Woolton, Liverpool on 6 July 1957 when McCartney entered the picture. Lennon wailed on this beginner model until it broke the following year. Whether the instrument — made of laminated woods — actually “split” is undetermined.

Long thought missing, this guitar recently turned up and was auctioned through Sotheby’s. The auction house called on original Quarrymen member Rod Davis to help authenticate the guitar, and in a Liverpool Echo story he remembers that when the band played that famous fete “John took the skin off the edge of his index finger while playing,” and when Davis changed one of the strings on Lennon’s guitar, he noticed a spot of blood inside. So Davis recounted that story to Sotheby’s and advised them to look inside for the spot, and “although faint, it was still there.”

So where has it been all these years? In its auction coverage, the Times of London reported that “when the Beatles became successful, Lennon left the guitar in the care of his guardian, Aunt Mimi. After his murder, she gave it to a family friend who had a disabled son. When the boy died, it was passed to another disabled friend, who is now in her twenties. Her stepfather sold it to safeguard her future.”

The Sotheby’s catalogue adds that “a percentage of the proceeds from the sale of this lot will be donated to the Olive Mount Learning Disabilities Directorate, Liverpool.” Interestingly, it also includes excerpts of an undated document accompanying Mimi Smith’s donation. Her typewritten and signed letter, sent from her home in Sandbanks, Poole, states:

With regards to the request for items in support of your Liverpool handicapped musicians appeal, most requests I have to refuse, however, in this case I feel able to make an exception . . . The poor old guitar was in such a state when I found it I had it professionally repaired . . . I hope that through you John’s possessions can bring pleasure . . .”

The guitar, which was auctioned together with the trunk it sat in for years, now sports a brass plaque Mimi had mounted on the headstock memorializing her advice to the young, guitar-happy Lennon: “Remember, you’ll never earn your living by it.”

So whence this mythic instrument? An anonymous bidder later identified as a “private collector” named Adam Sender got it for £155,000 (about $250,000). In the fall of 2000 this guitar went on display at Boston’s Museum of Fine Art.

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