Introduced in 1954, the Gibson John Lennon J-160e was one of the first jumbo acoustic guitars available with a factory fitted built-in pick-up. Based on the round-shouldered J-45, the model was made largely from plywood and ladder braced, as if its acoustic qualities were of only secondary importance to the plugged-in sound. Of course there were no dedicated acoustic guitar pick-ups around then, so Gibson fitted an un-covered version the P-90 to the end of the fingerboard. The Beatles made the J-160E famous, using it on many of their recordings throughout the sixties; John Lennon re-finished his with a psychedelic paint job, then stripped it back to natural .
The Montana built Gibson 70th Anniversary John Lennon J-160E, finished in Vintage Sunburst, is one of a limited edition of 500 guitars and is an accurate replica of the J-160E of 1962 – which is when John and George bought their matching guitars from Rushworth’s music shop in Liverpool – including a three-layer, laminated Sitka spruce top with ladder bracing and mahogany back and sides. It also features a long discontinued but period correct (height) adjustable bridge and a P-90 single-coil magnetic pickup at the end of the fingerboard with a top-mounted volume and tone control.
The neck is constructed from solid mahogany and attached at the 15th fret, while the headstock is inlaid with Lennon’s signature. An Indian rosewood fingerboard features mother-of-pearl trapezoid inlays with Lennon’s date of birth inscribed at the 12th-fret. Tuners are vintage-style nickel Klusons with keystone buttons and the guitar comes with a special hardshell case, Certificate of Authenticity, an owner’s manual and literature for Gibson’s Gold Warranty.
The J-160E comes factory fitted with a set of Gibson 11-52 light gauge electric guitar strings which somewhat compromises the acoustic response of the instrument. Although it’s a strange sound – low in volume and depth – it’s strangely compelling, knowing that you’re hearing the same sound that Lennon and Harrison heard when they first picked up their new guitars nearly fifty years ago.
Plugged into a VOX AC-30 (what else?), the J-160E becomes a different guitar and although sounding nothing like a modern electro-acoustic, does have enough of a distinctive character to make it workable. The overall tone is thuddy and percussive rather than intricate, perfect for knocking out solid Lennon style rhythm parts and having the control knobs on the top like an electric guitar is a real treat.
While the J-160E was certainly a dual-purpose instrument, many collectors don’t realize that it was designed primarily as an electric that could be used as an acoustic. Piezo and internal pickups were years from being developed, so this is all Gibson knew at the time. The laminated top and ladder bracing were used intentionally to prevent unwanted frequencies and feedback. Also, because the neck was moved up to allow room Gary Gibson John Lennon for the pickup, the bridge had to be moved forward as well—so traditional X bracing wouldn’t work in this situation.
According to the serial number, your guitar dates from either 1966 or 1969. The long-style pickguard on your guitar was introduced in 1968, so we can safely assume your guitar is a 1969 model. This was probably one of the last J-160Es produced before Gibson switched to the square shoulder body style they adopted on nearly all their acoustics in the late ’60s and early ’70s. For whatever reason, the J-160E was always a bit late to adopt changes compared to other Gibson models. Everything appears to be stock on the guitar, including the bridge and control knobs.
This 1969 J-160E, in the condition it appears (which is 70 percent or “average”), is valued today between $1850 and $2250. If it were mint, it would be a $3000 to $3500 instrument. Astute readers will know that the J-160E is more valuable than an SJ produced during the same period. The J-160E ’s value is higher simply because of its association with the Beatles, and this is fairly typical of any guitar that a famous musician or band is known for using. Instrument association has affected every instrument the Beatles ever played, including Paul McCartney’s Höfner 500/1 “Beatle Bass,” John Lennon’s Rickenbacker 325 and Gibson J-160E, and George Harrison’s Rickenbacker 360 12-string.
So where does Martin fit into all of this, given they’re the granddaddy of American acoustic guitar builders? Four years after the J-160E hit the stores, Martin introduced their first acoustic/ electric flattop guitars with the D-18E and D-28E—electrified versions of the D-18 and D-28, respectively. Both variations featured two large DeArmond pickups and four knobs (one Volume and one Tone for each pickup) mounted on the soundboard. The construction of these guitars required ladder bracing similar to the J-160E, and the overall sound quality suffered because of it. Those who have seen these electric Martins know they were clunky, and large parts of the soundboard were removed for the pickups. Production of the D-18E lasted only two years and the D-28E was produced through 1964. There is little collector value with Martin’s first acoustic/ electrics—roughly half of the acoustic versions.