5 fascinating facts about John Lennon’s guitar style

John Lennon was the first to admit he wasn’t the most technical of guitarists. However, as he once told Rolling Stone Magazine, he could make the guitar “fuckin’ howl.” Many guitar techs lucky enough to have worked with Lennon, marvelled at his rhythm playing. And, in my view, his guitar contributions to Beatles recordings were integral to their sound. In this post, I highlight five facts about the John Lennon’s guitar playing help explain his playing style.

He started with a banjo

Lennon certainly wasn’t known for banjo plucking, but it was on this instrument that he learned his first chords, courtesy of his mother, Julia. Consequently, when he bought his first guitar at 14, an off-brand flat-top acoustic, he left the sixth string hanging loose and played it like a banjo.

Small hands, big…

During Lennon’s career, he played several guitars, including a Rickenbacker 325, Epiphone Casino, Fender Stratocaster and Gibson J-160E acoustic. Apparently, though, he had small hands and arms (you’d never tell from photos of him). As a result, Lennon preferred short-scale guitars, like the Rickenbacker 325 during his time with The Beatles and Gibson Les Paul Junior in later years.

Hey, if you like this post, please shareClick To Tweet

Crazy rhythm

Listen to this and tell me John Lennon wasn’t a great rhythm player! Lennon’s frenetic playing on All My Loving makes George Harrison’s lead lines look like child’s play.

Fact or fiction?

Double Fantasy producer Jack Douglas once said that Lennon sometimes tuned his D-string slightly flat so that his Aunt Mimi knew which guitar part was his on recordings. Really??

He played some cool stuff

The Beatles were well known for swapping instruments. For example, you can hear musical ‘smarty pants’ Paul McCartney playing lead guitar and drums on several recordings. Though, I don’t think Lennon dabbled with the drums that much, here are some songs that showcase his lead guitar playing:

  • Revolution
  • Get Back
  • The Ballad of John and Yoko
  • I want you (She’s so heavy)
  • The End (third lead guitar after Paul and George)

Here’s a great video analysing Lennon’s guitar playing.

There has been so much written about John Lennon and plenty more to come, I’m sure.  I hope this post provides some insight into why he became the guitarist he was.

Did you enjoy this post? If so, please share.

Other posts you might like:

Do you know these amazing Fender facts?

5 fascinating & surprising facts about the guitar

Andrew Healey


Andrew is an Auckland-based writer and musician.

1 Comment
  1. Love this and Mike’s lesson to boot. Lennon’s rhythm playing just knocks me out. The tightness provided by Ringo’s solid backbeat and Paul’s contrapuntal bass accents give him the framework to play wiggy rhythm flourishes that really glued the band’s sound together in unconventional & engaging ways. It’s like a skiffle band playing salsa. His comping on “Slow Down”, for example, is straight “clave”-everything but the “1” and lots of “and” {in between} beats. It would work as a mash up with Tito Puente.

    Makes total sense that he started on banjo and that he didn’t want to play predictable, strict tempo, even in a supertight band. They could be really rhythmically and harmonically adventurous, those Beatles, while still sounding casual, fun, bluesy and gritty all at once.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.