In 1957, John purchased an acoustic Gallotone Champion (see photo at left) that he used in his early days with the Quarrymen. It is this guitar that is seen in the famous photo of him playing in a checkered shirt at the church fair where he met Paul McCartney.
By 1959, John was moving from the Liverpool skiffle craze to mainstream rock and roll. With the help of his Aunt Mimi, he bought a Hofner Club 40 electric guitar, which he used at Liverpool's Casbah Club and in the clubs he first played in Hamburg. He later gave the instrument to Paul, who restrung it in order to play left-handed.
The guitar most associated with John is the iconic Rickenbacker 323 Capri electric. The body was originally honey-colored, although it was painted black in 1962. The tremolo bar, bridge, and knobs were swapped. The wiring was redone in 1963, and the instrument was used in virtually every performance until 1964. It is now owned by Lennon's son Sean.
In 1962, John and George both purchased the acoustic/electric Gibson J-160E (standing to the left of the Gibson in photo at right), which can be seen in the black-and-white video of "Love Me Do" and in A Hard Day's Night. John and George used their two guitars interchangeably, and George's was stolen sometime in late 1963. John replaced the stolen guitar in 1964 and moved the pick-up from the neck to the bottom of the sound hole. He commissioned an artist to paint the body in psychedelic fashion in 1967 but later had it stripped to a natural wood finish, on which he doodled pictures of himself and Yoko.
In 1964, John bought a second Rickenbacker 323 Capri (right-hand photo on the left) that he played on The Ed Sullivan Show. Later he also purchased a Rickenbacker 325-12, a 12-string electric that was similar to the Capri except the tailpiece and headstock were naturally manufactured for twelve strings. John used this guitar primarily for studio sessions (mainly for Beatles for Sale).
John's Epiphone Casino (ES-335) has an interesting history. John got the Epiphone while recording "Revolver." (George purchased one as well, and film footage of the Beatles' Japanese concert at the Budokan shows both John and George playing this model, each with a sunburst finish.) John used the Epiphone for most concerts, occasionally swapping it for his Gibson J-160E (naturally in its electric mode). The Casino was also his guitar of choice for most Sgt. Pepper sessions. With the pick guard already removed, the guitar was sanded down to its bare wood finish in 1968 and a thin coat of lacquer was applied to the body. John can be seen playing the altered instrument in tapes of the Let It Be sessions, the "Hey Jude" and "Revolution" videos, and the rooftop concert. (Click here for the Lennon and Beatles links page for a link to footage of the rooftop concert.)
Gallotone Champion, public domain
Gallotone Headstock, public domain
Rickenbacker 323 and Gibson J-160E, licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.5