"First really decent guitar": George Harrison and the Gretsch Duo Jet guitar. A $20,000 replica arrives in stores in May.
By Brian Mansfield, Special for USA TODAY
When George Harrison played Liverpool's Cavern Club with The Beatles in the early '60s, he had a Gretsch Duo Jet in his hands.
Now, Gretsch Guitars is putting a limited-run tribute model of the instrument Harrison described as his "first really decent guitar" into the hands of fans.
Harrison played the Duo Jet, known for its trebly tone, on The Beatles' first album (called Meet the Beatles in the USA). It's also pictured on Harrison's 1987 Cloud Nine album.
"I've never seen a more precise and detailed replica of any guitar in my life," says Harrison's son, Dhani.
The tribute Duo Jets, limited to a run of 60, arrive in stores in May with a suggested retail price of $20,000.
That's considerably more than the $210 merchant sailor Ivan Hayward paid for the original at Manny's Music during a late-'50s stopover in New York.
"It didn't have a huge body, and you could get it flat into your body and move with it," says Hayward, now 74. "It was like the nearest thing to making love to a woman. That's what it meant in those days."
Hayward kept the Duo Jet three years before selling it. Harrison recalled finding it through a newspaper ad, but Hayward says the young Beatle learned of it via word of mouth.
Hayward remembers the teenage Harrison as "a bit rough" and wearing tight pants and a jacket made of black plastic. "It was hard to get leather in them days."
Hayward wanted 90 pounds (about $255 at the time) for the guitar, but Harrison had just 70, "all crumpled, smelling, what you get paid when you go on gig, a handful of beer money," Hayward says. Harrison eventually took the guitar and left the 70 pounds and an IOU (a copy of which is included with the tribute guitar). Hayward later went to see Harrison's band play a local church dance, but they never talked again. (The debt has since been settled.)
Gretsch Guitars product manager Joe Carducci says master luthier Stephen Stern re-created the guitar precisely, replicating the nicks and dings of a half-century's use, even using a CAT scan to determine the semi-hollow guitar's body-chambering style.
The CAT scan also resolved a question about a flaw on the neck that resembles a crack.
"The doctor zeroed in on it, like you would a human bone, and said if it was cracked we would see it; there was no fracture at all," Carducci says. "So that line, that finish flaw, is included in the reproduced guitar."