John Lennon: Guitarist

John Lennon in Paris courtesy of Getty Images

Way back in 2016, at the dawn of CultureSonar, I wrote about a favorite topic: John Lennon’s guitar playing. I recently stumbled across another cool analysis, and — now that The Beatles are back on the charts again — it seemed a good time to update the original article. Please do let us know what you think! — Al Cattabiani

As with any masterpiece, Beatles’ music opens a new door with each visit. No matter how many times you hear the songs, there’s always something fresh to appreciate. In a recent round of bingeing on their catalog, it was John Lennon’s guitar playing that re-introduced itself. Paraphrasing Mr. Lennon himself, if George was The Beatles’ forgotten singer, John was their forgotten guitar player. And while at this point virtually nothing the band did can be considered overlooked, Lennon had a point.  For example:

He was a monster rhythm guitarist. He totally drove the band, particularly in the early days.

Listen to his wildly inventive contributions on early gems like “All My Loving” and “I’m Happy Just to Dance with You.” If you yourself play guitar, just try copying what he did. It’s pretty tricky. More to the point, he came up with this stuff – crafting innovative parts that not only served the songs but propelled them.

“I Want to Hold Your Hand” is another prime example, as this cool YouTube analysis shows. There’s quite a lot to enjoy on this instrumental track. John, of course, is absolutely driving the song with his chunking rhythm. George mixes single-note fills and bits of complementary chord strumming in a master class in good taste and restraint. For his part, Paul is already asserting himself as a de-facto music director. Ringo, as usual, finds just the right thing for the song…

Later, Lennon added raw power and avant-garde touches to tracks like Revolution and the 3-guitar volley on Abbey Road’s “The End.” His sweet fills on tunes like “Get Back” gave them their personality. His delicate fingerpicking on “Julia” showcased his fine touch on acoustic guitar. It’s obviously no secret that all four guys were sharp, road-tested, ceaselessly clever musicians. It’s worth an extra “cheers” to John Lennon for his understated, yet exceptionally versatile talents on guitar.

Al Cattabiani

Photo Credit: John Lennon in Paris by Harry Benson/Express/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

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12 comments on “John Lennon: Guitarist

  1. Bob Taylor

    I’ve read that he kept his D string flat because it created at the subconscious level of the listener a somewhat dysphoric, bluesy feeling. Brilliant they were. I’d enjoy reading a little essay on the indispensability of George Harrison’s guitar instincts to their success. It’s rather fashionable for people to diss Harrison, to say that a lot of other guys could have filled the lead guitar role as well as he did, which is silly. Anyone who wishes to see the Beatles at their roaring best should go to YouTube and watch their performance at the 1964 NME awards.

    • Mark Sutton

      I recall reading he said it was so Aunt Mimi could tell him and George apart on the records…

      • Barry Baddams

        That’s John’s Scouse humour in play. I doubt that most people, let alone Mimi, would have theat discerning a musical ear.

  2. It was invisible, not forgotten, singer and guitar player.

  3. When asked if he considered himself a good guitarist, Lennon answered [paraphrasing], “I dunno, ask Eric [Clapton], he says I’m good.”

  4. I don’t think any of them were virtuosos on their instruments but IMO Ringo was the closest. They knew how to craft their songs so well as a group. While the focus is usually on the lead guitarist John know how to make the rhythm guitar stand out, particularly on songs like All My Loving and I Feel Fine. He also did some outstanding leads which have been mentioned except I haven’t seen praise for his guitar licks on The Ballad of John and Yoko.

  5. I think,it would be hard to be in a rock band!But,I do know this….I thought that(the late)John Lennon was a;”pretty,good,”guitar player!And,I also know,that;Yoko Ono,Lennon was the love 💗 of his life!Year’s ago,I read about the Beatles in;Shout!The Beatle’s in their generation by a;Phillip Norman,who must’ve wrote in the 1980”s.(about early 1981).

  6. Adam Weiss

    This article is an example of why often I adopt a contrarian opinion of the Beatles. I’ve been beaten over the head my entire life with “The Beatles are unequivocally the Gods of rock and pop” as the eleventh commandment. They haven’t gotten enough praise since they broke up FIFTY TWO years ago that the writer felt the need to manufacture a new angle on their greatness? I don’t think there’s anything at all that’s truly great about Lennon’s guitar playing. Writing? Absolutely, brilliant! But guitar playing—even rhythm guitar playing? Sorry but I don’t think it’s exceptional.

  7. The Beatles have nothing to do with these posts. They are independent people who love to communicate about them so don’t be angry at The Beatles. They themselves could not understand all the fuss. They knew they were a great band together and didn’t think it ranked in importance with world issues although they had a tremendous influence. Face it, they opened the door for all kinds of musical and cultural experiences. It was really ho-hum before them.

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