Wednesday, 24 April 2019

George Harrison's Futurama up for sale

Image: Bonhams
For the very first time, George Harrison's guitar from The Beatles’ early days in Hamburg - a Resonet Futurama - is heading for auction at Bonhams later this year. The vintage guitar will hit the auction block in London on June 12, with an estimate of £200,000 – £300,000.

Manufactured for a very short period in the late 1950s, the Resonet Grazioso guitar was made by the Drevokov company in Czechoslovakia. Strongly inspired by the Fender Stratocaster, it featured some advanced designs like its complex tremolo unit and individual pick-up selector switches.

Because the embargo in place on American made goods, the Selmer Company in London decided to import the Grazioso and renamed it the Futurama: it was certainly the best and most futuristic electric guitar available in the UK at the time. It became the first solid body guitar of many young English rock’n’rollers, among them Albert Lee, Jimmy Page and of course George Harrison.

"If I’d had my way, the Strat would have been my first guitar. I’d seen Buddy Holly’s Strat… on the Chirping Crickets album cover, and tried to find one. But in Liverpool in those days the only thing I could find resembling a Strat was a Futurama. It was very difficult to play, [the strings were] about half-an-inch off the fingerboard… but nevertheless it did look kind of futuristic." - George Harrison, quoted in Beatles Gear.

Playing the guitar.
George Harrison originally bought the guitar at Hessy’s music shop in Liverpool in November 1959, and recalled the moment in the Beatles ‘Anthology’ book:

“Paul came with me when I bought the Futurama.  It was on the wall with all the other guitars, and Paul plugged it into the amp but he couldn’t get any sound out of it, so he turned the sound right up.  The guitar had three rocker switches, and I just hit one and there was an almighty boom through the amplifier, and all the other guitars fell off the wall.”

As Harrison was still only 16 at the time, his mother had to sign the purchase agreement for him, and records show the account was later paid off by Brian Epstein when he became the band’s manager. George played the guitar at the Larry Parnes audition and during their tour of Scotland with Johnny Gentle.

In August 1960, Harrison took the Futurama with him to Hamburg, Germany, where The Beatles first played at the Indra Club, and later at the Kaiserkeller, as well as a few stints jamming with Tony Sheridan at the Top Ten Club.

However, when The Beatles came back from Hamburg, the neck of George's guitar was damaged, and therefore he struck a deal with Pete Best's brother Rory. While George's Futurama was sent away for repair, he suggested a swap. Mona Best had bought Rory an identical Futurama to George's, but his was in pristine condition, due to the fact that Rory had yet to master the instrument. So George traded his own guitar for Rory's and promised to give Rory guitar lessons, something he never came around to.

Rory Best: "George had a problem with the neck of his guitar. Futuramas were made in Yugoslavia (sic) and it had to be sent there to be repaired. He asked if he could borrow mine and I said, 'Only if you teach me guitar.' So he borrowed it for a year, I think. He never did teach me. And what was an absolute pristine guitar came back somewhat the worse for wear, shall we say." 

So the photos from the Beatles' second trip to Hamburg depict George with Rory's Resonet Futurama. George used Rory's guitar in Liverpool and Hamburg, and it's actually Rory's guitar you can hear on the Polydor recordings from June 1961, like "Cry For A Shadow". After having purchased a used 1957 Gretsch 6128 Duo Jet later in 1961, George gave the Resonet Futurama back to Rory, who in turn later gave it to his little brother, Roag. That guitar has previously been displayed at the Beatles Story museum in Liverpool. When Roag opened up his own Magical History Museum in Liverpool last year, the guitar is now on display there.

The story of this guitar swap seems to be unknown for Bonhams, and is not mentioned in their press release.


The guitar in the guitar case. Image: Beatles Gear.
Harrison's own guitar is the one which is being auctioned off in June. In 1964, George gave the guitar to Beat Instrumental Magazine to offer as a competition prize.

However, the winner of the competition, AJ Thompson of Saltdean, Sussex, chose to receive a cash prize rather than the guitar, and it remained in the collection of the magazine’s publisher Sean O’Mahoney (aka Johnny Dean), who also published the official Beatles Monthly fan magazine.

O’Mahoney: "I asked the winner if he played guitar. He didn’t. So I said, ‘Would you rather have the money?’ and he said yes, so I have him some money. He didn’t want the guitar, he wanted the money - which I was very pleased about. I still have the guitar today. There are some Hamburg stickers on the case." (From Beatles Gear)

The guitar has now been consigned by one of O’Mahoney’s relatives and is completely fresh to the market.

Image:Bonhams
Bonhams Entertainment Memorabilia specialist, Claire Tole-Moir, said, "It is both rare and exciting to see a Beatles' guitar of this nature come onto the market. George Harrison is one of the biggest names in Rock and Roll history, and we are privileged to be handling such a special guitar that dates from an early period in the Beatles' history, when the band were learning their craft and developing their sound that was soon to sweep the world. It has been treasured for so many years and comes to auction for the very first time. I anticipate huge interest from collectors."

Links:
Bonhams press release for the guitar
Magical History Museum

6 comments:

Mark McKendrick said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mark McKendrick said...

Given that it's George's original that is being auctioned, it's quite irrelevant that Bonham's don't mention Best's instrument.

James Percival said...

I think Babiuk's Beatles Gear is one of my all time favourite Beatle books. It's really well researched, doesn't have a point to prove and contains a few mysteries to intrigue the reader. One of the mysteries, the disappearance of John's (rather George's) Gibson Jumbo, has since been partially solved in that it turned up. One gets a sense of their personalities too: Ringo and Paul seem to have kept everything; George was incredibly generous to his friends and seemed to get pleasure from giving away his guitars as gifts; and John was in the middle, but certainly kept his most iconic guitars.
As a non-musician it's also intriguing to work out how I ever found out about Gretches, Gibsons or Fenders in those pre-internet days, but thanks to books like this I have a much deeper appreciation of their evolving gear.
Babiuk certainly accounted for the Beatles Monthly prize and so the provenance of this guitar has been known for a while. The story of the swop with Rory Best's guitar is intriguing, and I hope to go to Liverpool later this year to see it, but if it is true, then the auctioned guitar should have evidence of a repair to the neck. Does anyone know if this has been mentioned in the auction description?

georgefromhenley said...

Hi - I contacted Bonhams: They confirmed that the serial number on their guitar is identical with the one George bought. They had checked the neck and it is not repaired. They compared the Rory Best guitar and said:

"The Rory Best Futurama has a dark (rosewood or simulated-rosewood) fingerboard whereas all of the photographs that are known to exist of George with his own Futurama show it as having a maple/natural fingerboard, as has the guitar that is being offered in June."

James Percival said...

Thanks, George. That is really interesting and helpful. Given the choice between documentation or a personal account, I would go with the documents every time.
Of course, George might have borrowed the Best's guitar briefly, but it demonstrates the danger of reliance on memory...

Titenhurst said...

I wonder how much AJ Thompson of Saltdean, Sussex received? And if they're still around today to see how much their prize is worth?