So, if you watched the “Get Back” documentary released on streaming services in late 2021, you probably noticed that John Lennon was playing pretty much only one guitar throughout the entire duration of the series. That’s the same instrument that Lennon played during The Beatles’ last iconic live public performance: the rooftop concert held on the top of their Apple Corps office building in London in 1969.
Since he bought it in 1966, the Epiphone Casino became, without a doubt, an essential part of Lennon’s signature sound during the second half of the fabulous four’s career, and the singer-songwriter legend kept this guitar as his main instrument until the end of his life.
As proof, nowadays, you can buy two different versions of the Casino, both based on Lennon’s original guitar: the Epiphone John Lennon Revolution Casino in a natural finish and the Epiphone Casino Inspired by John Lennon in vintage sunburst.
You probably already know this if you consider yourself a hardcore Beatles fan. Still, there was a moment when Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and John Lennon were all playing Epiphone Casinos as their main guitar, which happened when they already were the biggest band in the world.
So, why choose to play Epiphone when you can afford to buy pretty much every guitar on the market? And why the Casino?
Why the Epiphone Casino?
If you asked most guitar players what they think of Epiphone as a brand, they would probably say it is based on imitating Gibson guitars. They wouldn’t be entirely wrong in saying this, but did you know that in 1957 Gibson purchased Epiphone because it was one of its biggest rivals?
Back in the 30s, 40s, and early 50s, both companies were making archtop guitars for Jazz players of that era, and that’s why Gibson decided to buy Epiphone, basically to acquire control over their production.
During the late 50s and early 60s, Gibson produced different guitar models under the Epiphone name that are now considered classics. Think about the already mentioned Casino, the Riviera, and many more. So, the Epiphone guitars made during the early 60s were excellent instruments, and that’s why the Beatles gravitated towards the Casino.
It wasn’t until the 70s (more than ten years after Gibson had bought the company) that Gibson moved the production of Epiphone guitars from the United States to Japan, officially “condemning” the company to be regarded as a “cheaper Gibson alternative”.
The Epiphone Casino can produce a wide variety of sounds. Although it might look familiar to the more famous Gibson ES-335 model, it is quite substantially different. First of all, the ES 335 is a semi-hollow electric guitar.
That means that there is a block of wood (visible underneath the top) that starts from the end of the neck going underneath the pickups and the bridge, getting all the way to the bottom of the body. So it is hollow in the sides (where the “f-holes” are located) but solid in the middle. That’s why it’s called semi-hollow.
On the other hand, the Epiphone Casino is an entirely hollow guitar, which means that there is no wood block in the middle, resulting in a far “bigger” and “fatter” overall sound, more prone to feedback because of its emptiness.
One more difference between the Epiphone Casino and the semi-hollow Gibson ES-335 lies in the pickup choices. The ES-335 uses PAF-style humbuckers, while the Casino uses P-90 style pickups.
The difference in sound between these two kinds of magnets is very perceivable, and that’s because, although a P-90 pickup has got a distinct voice of its own, you could generally say that P-90s are more similar to single-coil pickups than they are to humbuckers.
The P-90 has a single coil inside it, but it’s not even comparable to your typical single-coil pickup sound, like what a Stratocaster might suggest.
An utterly hollow guitar equipped with P-90 pickups, like the Epiphone Casino, can produce a very aggressive and also quite ready-to-feedback sound. Let’s take a big jump forward in time, and let’s go from the 60s to the present.
I first noticed the sound options that a Casino can offer its player when I heard contemporary blues artist Gary Clark Jr. play one of these guitars in a super-cool dark blue finish.
When you add a fuzz style of overdrive circuit to the already unusual combination of “smoothness” coming from the hollow construction and “gritty nature” of the P-90 pickups, you get a roaring distorted lead tone, shockingly rich in the lower frequencies, while maintaining a mid-focused overall sound, not at all fastidious in the higher register of the guitar’s spectrum.
I’m sure that this is a tonal characteristic that John, Paul, and George all completely loved about their Casinos.
One more aspect of the Epiphone Casino that John Lennon and The Beatles definitely enjoyed is that this guitar shouldn’t only be considered an incredibly effective feedback machine. Still, it is also quite handy as a songwriter’s tool, and for various reasons.
Its hollow construction makes it very similar in sound to an acoustic guitar, meaning that the Casino can easily be played unplugged because it can produce a relatively loud tone compared to a regular acoustic guitar.
You can imagine that this is the kind of benefit that a songwriter is looking to take advantage of from his primary writing tool, especially when you consider the versatile nature of the variety of sounds that the Casino can produce when plugged into a guitar amplifier.
Starting from the roaring lead sound that I’ve already briefly talked about, this Epiphone guitar can generate a very clear and rounded clean sound as well. This is perfect for arpeggiating and strumming chords, almost exactly like you would on an acoustic guitar.
The peculiarities of the Casino must have been very impressive for The Beatles, both as songwriters and as lovers of sound experimentation in the studio. Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and John Lennon were all proud owners of Epiphone Casinos at some point during their careers.
The Beatles and their Casinos
In 1964, Paul McCartney wanted to get a guitar that could easily give him feedback. Being a close friend of British blues legend John Mayall, McCartney listened to many different blues records that Mayall would play for him at his house.
Mayall said that during one of these listening sessions, he showed McCartney his hollow-body guitar purchased while in the army in Japan in 1955 and told him that it is much easier to get feedback when playing hollow guitars.
That same day the Beatle bought his Epiphone Casino. Paul McCartney was the first member of the band to purchase an Epiphone Casino, which he later had to restring “backward”, so he could be able to play it as a left-handed guitar. He also upgraded the guitar with an additional strap button for the same reason.
In 1966, while the band was recording “Revolver”, both John Lennon and George Harrison decided to buy Casinos because they were impressed with how well Paul’s guitar sounded. The first live appearance of the Beatles playing these guitars was on BBC’s “Top of the Pops”.
Although the two guitars were both made in 1965, we can see a few differences between them, mainly that Harrison’s Casino had a Bigsby tremolo system, while Lennon’s guitar was equipped with the standard Epiphone trapeze tailpiece. Interestingly, John Lennon’s Casino had a black ring around the pickup selector, which is a very unusual feature to find on this model. Both guitars were fitted with gold hardware.
The performance on “Top of the Pops” was playback, so it wouldn’t be fair to say that they were actually playing that guitar live during that appearance. Anyway, Lennon and Harrison chose their respective Casino as their main guitar when The Beatles embarked on their 1966 tour of Germany, Japan, and the United States.
After returning home from the tour, the band started to record their iconic 1967 concept album “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart Club Band”. This masterpiece was recorded using all the three Epiphone Casino guitars owned by The Beatles.
While the band was studying transcendental meditation in India in 1968, Lennon and Harrison were convinced that they would obtain a better sound by sanding the finish off their guitars by their friend Donovan Leitch. So, when they came back to London, they sanded their Casinos.
This happened during the recording of their self-titled “white album”. Harrison said that the sanding process made the guitar sound like it was “breathing” more, without the heavy paint and finish.
One of the Beatles’ last performances playing their Casinos can be found on the song “The End”, from the album “Abbey Road”, recorded at the homonymous Abbey Road Studios in London. In this song, we can find a three-way guitar “duel” where Paul, George, and John play a solo for two bars each, one after the other. Harrison used his Gibson Les Paul during this performance while Lennon and McCartney played their Casinos.
John, Paul, and George all kept their Epiphone Casinos even after going their separate ways. McCartney still keeps referring to the Casino as his favorite electric guitar overall.
John Lennon’s Epiphone Casino
The original 1965 Casino that John Lennon bought was a “Gibson-made” guitar, just like most Epiphone instruments produced around that time. Meaning that, in the early 60s, Gibson was building and subsequently selling guitars under the Epiphone brand name. The factories were the same, and so were the people assembling the instruments, but the models differed from the classic Gibson guitars we know.
The construction inspiration and the overall concept behind the Casino are to be looked for in the Gibson ES-330. The Gibson guitar is virtually identical to its Epiphone counterpart. Still, when both launched on the market, the Casino attracted more interest from the players, including Paul McCartney, then Harrison, and, obviously, John Lennon.
Lennon used his Casino extensively throughout the second half of the band’s career and during the early 70s for his solo releases.
As I said before, Lennon got the guitar in 1966, during the recording process of The Beatles’ “Revolver” album. He played this guitar extensively on this record, and we can hear it being used mainly on rhythm parts. .
On the title track for their next album, “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart Club Band”, you can hear Lennon play the main rhythm part throughout the entire song. That’s a perfect example of the typical sound of the Epiphone Casino.
The band became very supportive of the “Flower Power” movement during this time, so Harrison and Lennon painted their guitars to show their support. George Harrison’s “Rocky” Stratocaster was adopted as a symbol of the movement.
At the same time, John Lennon did a more approximate job by using spray paint to change the colors of the back of his Casino to grey and white.
After the already-mentioned trip to India (which resulted in Lennon sanding his Casino back to its natural finish), The Beatles recorded their famous White Album.
John Lennon played his Epiphone guitar throughout the entire recording, in which he clearly used the Casino as a tool to express his love of the Blues.
Lennon played his Casino during a TV special with the supergroup called The Dirty Mac during the same year. This unbelievable band was formed by Eric Clapton, Keith Richards, Mitch Mitchell, and John Lennon.
This was the first public gig that Lennon ever played without The Beatles since they formed as a band, and the fact that he chose to play the Casino on this occasion further proves that Lennon saw this guitar as his main instrument.
In 1969, John Lennon provided us with the most iconic image of him playing his Epiphone Casino. The iconic Rooftop concert, held in January of 1969, is the last public performance of The Beatles.
Luckily, we still get to witness Lennon’s excellent lead performance in the song “Get Back”. He played his trusted Casino throughout the show, and we can hear how much the rhythm parts played on this instrument make up the John Lennon signature guitar sound.
The Casino was Lennon’s main guitar even during the earliest stages of his solo career and performances. During a contemporary music performance at the Cambridge University with Yoko Ono, he used this guitar to produce constant feedback as part of their avant-garde piece called “Cambridge 1969”.
When John played his first gig with the Plastic Ono Band at the Toronto Rock’N’Roll Revival music festival in Canada, he played utterly new music, songs, and compositions, with a new band. The only thing that we didn’t see changing throughout this period was his Epiphone Casino.
John Lennon used this guitar on his first solo release after the break-up of The Beatles. “Hold On”, “I Found Out”, and “Well Well Well” are clear examples of how the former Beatle continued to use the innate tonal characteristics of the Casino during his solo recording career.
The 1970 “John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band” album gives Lennon the chance to take the guitar from a quiet tremolo sound to the roaring bluesy tone that he’s known for. We can also hear the Casino on the song “How Do You Sleep?”, from the famous 1971 Imagine album, as we can see during the filmed recording process of this specific song.
Now let me answer some of the questions you might have on your mind after reading this article.
Question: Who else plays Epiphone Casinos?
Answer: I already mentioned Gary Clark Jr., a modern blues guitarist who uses this Epiphone model. But probably the most famous user of the Casino (other than The Beatles) has to be Noel Gallagher from the band Oasis.
Question: Where is John Lennon’s original Casino?
Answer: The Epiphone Casino that John Lennon played belongs to his former partner Yoko Ono, like most of the other instruments once owned by the Beatle.
Question: Did Epiphone sell more Casino models after The Beatles started using them?
Answer: Unlike what happened for Rickenbacker, the Epiphone brand didn’t get much of an increase in sales after The Beatles started to use their guitars live. By the time the band was no longer making music, in 1970, Gibson had already moved the production of Epiphone guitars to Japan, and models like the Casino and the Sheraton weren’t a part of the brand’s catalog anymore.
Question: Can you buy an Epiphone Casino today?
Answer: Yes. A vast selection of casinos is available on the market, ranging from the $3000 American-made version to the $500 Indonesian-made model. As I previously mentioned, there are two different models of Epiphone Casino inspired by John Lennon’s original 1965 guitar: the “Revolution” model (inspired by the 1968 look) and the standard sunburst version.
You don’t need me to talk about the vast impact that John Lennon and The Beatles had on the guitar world and music in general. Still, the fact that some of the most influential songs and albums ever recorded were played (and probably written) using the Casino is worth mentioning and analyzing.
I was never a big fan of hollow-body guitars, but after watching “Get Back”, I feel the need to get one of these guitars for myself. I mean, this was a relatively inexpensive model when John Lennon got it, yet he must have been able to afford pretty much every guitar he desired.
That’s why the fact that he kept using his Casino until the end of his career must mean that he genuinely felt like this guitar represented the best option for him to express his music—an excellent tool for one of the greatest songwriters and performers to have ever walked the earth.
By Ronald Saunders – Flickr: JOHN LENNON'S GUITAR.., CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=18898924
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