Fifty-Five years ago this week on November 1, 1962, an Epiphone ES-230TD hollowbody archtop, also known as a Casino, with the serial number of #84075, rolled off the assembly line at the Gibson & Epiphone factory in Kalamazoo, Michigan and was placed in a standard-issue black particle wood case. From there, #84075 was put on a truck for a roughly 12-hour drive along Interstate 80 East to its next destination, a shipping port in Manhattan, where it was then put on a cargo ship bound for England (perhaps even docking in Liverpool).
After a five or six day voyage, #84075 was dutifully logged in and then put on a lorry where it was driven to the Rosetti distribution warehouse just outside of London. Once at Rosetti, #84075 –perhaps for the first time since being polished and tuned up in Michigan—was opened, inspected for cracks, strummed once or twice, and then put back in its case where it was next placed in the care of another lorry driver who drove #84075 to Charing Cross Road in the heart of London to its new temporary home, Sound City Music. There, the store proprietor, probably sporting thick glasses, a white dress shirt, and a thin black tie, took #84075 out of its case, noted the store’s new addition in his own inventory log, and tagged the guitar with its sales tag: 162 guineas or £172.20 English pounds (about $2,900 today). With little additional ceremony, #84075 then most likely took its place on the wall with other quite expensive instruments recently imported from America. By that time, the Christmas buying season had all but passed and in 1962, who could afford a nearly £200 guitar? Who even wanted an electric guitar in 1962?
So, for nearly two years, #84075 went un-sold. Meanwhile outside, a revolution of sorts was brewing as a new generation of teenagers, newly freed from a childhood of food rationing, were discovering pop music (along with espresso, sweets, and amphetamines) in the form of a new rock and roll group from Liverpool, the Beatles. Take a listen to one of their surviving broadcasts from the BBC's Saturday Club radio hour. On stage, the lads were a loud, aggressive, guitar-driven band with tight harmonies and catchy songs. In interviews, they were funny, irreverent, and teased the staid BBC disc jockeys for being “posh.” In the two years #84075 had hung on the wall at Sound City, the Liverpool group had become a national sensation and in December 1964, had just returned from a world tour where they had topped the music charts in virtually every country on the planet.
So in December 1964, the band's 22 year old stage bassist, multi-instrumentalist, and newly minted millionaire Paul McCartney came to visit Sound City seeking an electric guitar to use in the studio. Specifically, he wanted a guitar that would "feedback." He had recently spent time with local blues legend and record collector John Mayall whose passion for guitar had inspired McCartney to bring some new sounds to the group.
"You’d go back to his place and he’d sit you down, give you a drink, and say, ‘Just check this out.’ He’d go over to his [tape] deck, and for hours blast you with B.B. King," McCartney told Vintage Guitar. "He gave me a little evening’s education.”
Sound City's proprietor, perhaps raising an eyebrow, looked up from reading the London Times, pointed at the wall and said: "Ah! You need a hollowbody guitar. Try that Epiphone Casino there. It’ll feedback." Mr. McCartney told the man to send the bill to the band’s manager, Brian Epstein, thanked him, and took #84075 home to his new house in St. John's Wood, practically next door to Abbey Road.
"McCartney bought his Casino and Texan right in London," Beatles Gear
author Andy Babiuk told Epiphone. "John Mayall told me that the pubs in England would close at 11pm so if you wanted to continue drinking, you had to go to somebody's house. Mayall lived in Central London and had a great blues record collection and a lot of his musician friends would go to his flat to listen. He said McCartney was hanging out with him quite a bit in late 1964 and asking how he got all the sounds on these blues records--B.B. King and guys like that. And Mayall told him you gotta get a hollowbody electric guitar. Now at the time in late 1964, McCartney could have called The Beatles manager, Brian Epstein, and said: 'You know Brian, I want to get a hollowbody electric, can you get me a left handed one? Can you call Gibson or Epiphone in the United States and get me a lefty?' And I would have to say that both Epiphone or Gibson would have bended over backwards in getting him a lefty. But Paul didn't care--he just wanted to shop and went out and bought them."
Mayall recalled the evening to Vintage Guitar.
“I showed him my hollowbody guitar that I’d bought when I was in the army in Japan in 1955. When people get together and listen to records, they talk about all kinds of things related to the music, so obviously we must have touched upon the instruments and it struck home. He got a hollowbody after to get that tone.”
McCartney took his new Casino along to rehearsals for the Beatles' Christmas show at London’s Hammersmith Odeon. There exists a charming photograph of George Harrison and McCartney, who is left-handed, probably discussing how to adjust the bridge and nut and add a new strap button to make the right-hand guitar playable for a lefty. There were few instrument stores in London in 1964 and even fewer left-handed instruments.
"At that time Rosetti was the distributor for Epiphone and Selmer was the distributor for Gibson," continued Babiuk. "And then it was kind of weird because there was a trade embargo on American instruments in the UK up until late 1959 so you couldn't actually get an American made instrument. As soon as they changed that embargo, manufacturers were quickly trying to figure out who to get to distribute their products over there. So be it Gibson, Epiphone or whoever--a lot of it switched frequently. They'd give (distribution) to one guy and then they wouldn't do a good job and they'd give it to another guy."
Import taxes on American instruments (and a union ban on American touring acts from 1946-1956) had made anything associated with American rock 'n' roll a rarity. But London was one of the few British cities that had well stocked instrument shops. Even so, finding an American guitar was not easy.
"At the time McCartney got those Epiphones, they were distributed by Rosetti," continued Babiuk. "And Rosetti would turn around and sell instruments to retail stores. Now the weird thing was, Selmer was a distributor, too but they also had a retail store so you might find Selmer would have all of the Gibson line-up, of course, because they distributed Gibson. But to a shop in another town, they'd sell them Gibsons as well. A Selmer shop might have Epiphone product, too because they'd go to Rosetti and say 'we want to be an Epiphone dealer.' It was a small community. It wasn't that big--England is a small country--and all of the distribution was based out of London."
Today, McCartney is still performing on stage with Casino #84075, the same guitar that not only inspired John Lennon and George Harrison to get their own Casinos but virtually every young successful British pop guitarist of the day including Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones, Ray and Dave Davies of the Kinks, the Hollies, and many others. “Thank goodness for my Epiphone Casino," McCartney told Guitar Player
. "Where would I be…without it?” We still make them just like we did in 1962 so don't leave your Casino on the wall too long. Visit your Authorized Epiphone Dealer today and read more of our classic interview with Andy Babiuk.