By Chris M. Junior
A musician never forgets his first really good instrument. George Harrison is on record as saying that the black Gretsch Duo Jet he purchased second-hand in 1961 was “the first real decent guitar that I ever had.” This particular Gretsch wasn’t something he used sparingly or just for practice. It served as Harrison’s main guitar during the early years of The Beatles, both in concert (at hometown gigs in Liverpool, England, and during the band’s residencies in Hamburg, Germany) and in the studio (he played it on most of his band’s debut album).
This spring, the Arizona-based Gretsch company released a limited-edition replica of the Harrison Duo Jet guitar (above). And like most anything that’s related to The Beatles, the original Harrison guitar has an interesting history.
The story begins in 1957, when Ivan Hayward, a merchant seaman at the time, purchased the guitar at Manny’s Music in Manhattan. According to Joe Carducci, a product specialist for Gretsch, the asking price was $310, but Hayward purchased it for $210, which was still a big chunk of change in ’57. When Hayward brought the new instrument through customs upon his return to Liverpool, he was worried that a guitarist would be among the agents and realize how much it was worth, Carducci says. Instead, the customs document listed it as a used electric guitar worth a mere $7.
By summer 1961, Hayward was in need of money and sold his black Gretsch to a teenage Harrison. Hayward was asking 90 British pounds for it, but Harrison only had 70. So Harrison wrote and signed an IOU for the remaining 20 on the back of the instrument’s customs document, and he eventually settled the score with Hayward.
Years later, Harrison gave the guitar as a gift to his friend and fellow musician Klaus Voorman, and he returned it in the mid-1980s at the request of Harrison, who cited its nostalgic value.
The Gretsch Custom Shop’s limited-edition (60 pieces total) G6128T-GH George Harrison TRIBUTE Duo Jet guitar was made with the cooperation and blessing of the Harrison estate. Master builder Stephen Stern and his staff went to great lengths to, according to press materials, duplicate “every scratch, ding and rust spot of Harrison’s guitar.”
This process is done by hand. It typically involves placing a piece of Plexiglas on the body of the original guitar, marking the instrument’s pronounced characteristics on the glass with a felt-tip pen, then transferring the Plexiglas to the new guitar in order to re-create the markings with a variety of tools, he said. Another distinct feature of the Harrison “Tribute” Duo Jet is its Bigsby B6C tailpiece. (Shortly after Hayward bought his black Gretsch in New York, he had the Bigsby installed.) True to the form of the Harrison guitar, the tremolo arm of the tribute model’s Bigsby B6C has a black Phillips head pivot bolt, and the strap button on the lower end of the guitar is offset in order to accommodate the Bigsby.
Just like it did last year with its G6120EC Eddie Cochran TRIBUTE guitar, Gretsch put together a package of bonus items to go along with the Harrison model Duo Jet. There’s a DVD containing a documentary about the making of the guitar and a recent interview with Hayward, a book, a proclamation from the Harrison family and a reproduction of Hayward’s customs document with Harrison’s IOU on the back. Each guitar also comes with a glass-encased, Harrison-used pick. Carducci says that Harrison’s son, Dhani, personally retrieved all 60 of these worn picks from his father’s collection.
Carducci remembers Dhani Harrison was impressed with the prototype guitar.
“Dhani said that if he was told it was his father’s original guitar,” Carducci adds, “he would have believed it.”
There’s a nice ending to the Hayward story, as well. Carducci says as a thank-you for Hayward’s role in the Harrison project, Gretsch presented him with a White Falcon guitar. Hayward had his eye on one many years ago while visiting New York with his wife — a trip that was financed in part by the money he had made from selling his black Duo Jet to George Harrison.
The suggested retail price for the Harrison TRIBUTE Duo Jet guitar is $20,000.
For more information, visit www.gretschguitars.com.