George Harrison’s Höfner Club 40 guitar controversy

George Harrison’s Höfner Club 40. Photo: Juliens Auctions

Julien’s Auctions are auctioning off George Harrison’s first electric guitar – a Höfner Club 40 which has been privately held for over 50 years – on May 19.

Harrison played the small blonde with black body binding single–cutaway hollow body instrument in the early days of The Beatles when they performed around Liverpool, England as The Quarrymen. The group had been transitioning from skiffle – played primarily with acoustic instruments – to rock and roll – played primarily with electric instruments – during that time.

John Lennon and George Harrison were the first to acquire electric guitars, which were nearly identical Höfner Club 40 models. Harrison traded his big Höfner President model acoustic archtop jazz guitar for the Höfner Club 40. He played the guitar with John Lennon, Paul McCartney and Ken Brown, who were band members at the time, on and off at The Casbah Coffee Club, Mona Best’s social club in the basement of the Best family home in Hayman’s Green, West Derby. The band also participated in Carroll Levis’ TV Star Search in October 1959 under the name Johnny and the Moondogs, without Ken Brown and without a drummer.

You can read about the history of this guitar over at Liverpudlian Mark Ashworth’s excellent blog “There Are Places I Remember: The Beatles’ Liverpool Locations“. Part two of the story can be found here.

A photo of a framed photo stirred up controversy.

After a photo of a photo of George playing the guitar appeared, controversy arose when sceptics started to question the authenticity of the photo and suggested that the photograph in question had been tampered with by Photoshop.

It was later discovered that the actual original photo was auctioned off by Christie’s in their “Printed books, Autograph Letters, Documents, Pop and Sport Memorabilia” auction in Melbourne in March 1996. It also appeared in the auction catalogue, as scanned here by renowned German Beatles author and collector Thorsten Knublauch.

Scanned from the 1996 auction catalogue.

In Christie’s catalogue, the photo is described as “Part of a family snapshot, George Harrison is aged 16 and played with Eddie Sedgewick on bass, and a drummer, at the coming of age party of David Minchella, at the Co-Operative Hall, Rice Lane, Liverpool on Saturday 7th November 1959”.

A week later, George, John and Paul performed in Manchester at a final round of the Star Search competition, but lost out – mainly because they didn’t have a drummer.

The guitar is expected to fetch $200,000-$300,000 when it sells on 19 May as part of Julien’s Auctions’ Music Icons lot.

UPDATE: The guitar eventually sold for $430,000, and Mark Ashworth has published a third chapter in the story here.

8 Responses

  1. Mark McKendrick says:

    I'm not sure I understand this.
    Where is the controversy over the guitar?
    Are you saying the guitar in the auction is not the one in the picture?

  2. Andrew Stanhope says:

    This article confused me too…

  3. wogew says:

    The sceptics think that George has been manipulated into the photo (like in Photoshop) and that the image of him is from another photo, or made up from several other photos of him. The sad thing ist that even after the discovery of the sale of the photo in 1996 and after the scan from the auction catalogue has appeared, the sceptics are sticking to their story. And the photo itself has not appeared to in any way to confirm the authenticity of the guitar, because the instrument has a known history and provenance without needing to be attached to the photo. By maintaining that the photo is a falsification (for fear of losing face?), the sceptics are digging themselves deeper into the mud, instead of admitting that they were wrong. And these are otherwise respected "Beatle people". So I'm sad on their behalf, which is partly why I didn't go into details in the blog post..

  4. Mark McKendrick says:

    OK thanks for that, Roger. I can't think why anybody would want to manipulate George into such a photo – it doesn't prove anything about any part of it's subject matter, least of all wither or nay the guitar's authenticity. For me, it's just a bad photo of George and the fam.

  5. Infidelity says:

    Worth mentioning that John liked referring to this guitar as the “club footy”.

  6. Mark McKendrick says:

    Tsk, tsk… that Lennon. What was he like…?

  7. wogew says:

    Ashwom has added a third blog post to wrap up the story.

  8. Peter Hodgson says:

    Hey Roger.

    How about you researching something for yourself instead of leeching from other people's blogs and the like.

    I was well within my rights to ask questions.

    '' By maintaining that the photo is a falsification (for fear of losing face?), the sceptics are digging themselves deeper into the mud, instead of admitting that they were wrong. And these are otherwise respected "Beatle people". So I'm sad on their behalf''

    So you were sad on my behalf?

    ''Fear of losing face''?
    Not me.

    The worst that you can accuse me of is of me being a crap photoshop expert, nothing more.

    What have you ever done or discovered?

    Don't be sad on my behalf…I've earned a good few stripes in my time.

    You have a short memory Roger.

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