The Mystery of John Lennon’s Lost Banjo

In the world of rock ‘n’ roll, there is no shortage of captivating stories, enigmatic characters, and intriguing mysteries. However, few tales are as fascinating as that of the legendary John Lennon and the story of his first musical instrument: the banjo. This isn’t just any banjo; it’s the instrument that sparked Lennon’s passion for music, led to the formation of The Beatles, and then disappeared under mysterious circumstances. So, let’s take a trip back in time, and unravel the story of John Lennons banjo.


John Lennon’s First Instrument Was a Banjo

The story of John Lennon’s musical journey begins not with a guitar, but with a banjo. Born in Liverpool in 1940, Lennon was introduced to the world of music through his mother, Julia Lennon. An accomplished banjo player herself, Julia was the one who first taught young John to play an instrument, choosing her own banjo for his initial lessons.

Julia Lennon’s house was a haven for music, with popular tunes of the day often filling the air. Here, John was exposed to a diverse range of music genres, from traditional folk to early rock ‘n’ roll. John spent countless hours practicing on the banjo, learning the basics and developing his musical ear. He later said: “‘I was sitting there with endless patience until I managed to work out all the chords.”

Julia had John start with the banjo because it is easier than the guitar. Previously, John had a lot of struggles trying to learn on a guitar due to the size, string tension, and overall more complicated nature. Thus, Julia helped by introducing him to the banjo.

Julia gave John banjo lessons which were instrumental in shaping Lennon’s musical sensibilities. The banjo, with its bright, distinctive sound and unique tuning, introduced him to the concept of harmony and melody.

It’s often said that the Beatles’ unique sound, characterized by their signature harmonies, can be traced back to Lennon’s early exposure to music through the banjo. I personally would not be surprised.

What Happened to John’s Banjo

Despite its undeniable significance in John Lennon’s life and the broader history of the Beatles, the banjo that started it all has mysteriously disappeared. The last known whereabouts of this cherished instrument date back to the late 1950s, when John Lennon transitioned from the banjo to the guitar.

According to Beatles’ lore, John left the banjo at his Aunt Mimi’s house, where he lived for most of his childhood and adolescence. However, after he moved out, the banjo was nowhere to be found. The whereabouts of this important piece of Beatles’ history remain unknown to this day, despite considerable interest from fans, historians, and even professional treasure hunters.

Some believe it might be stashed away in someone’s attic, gathering dust and forgotten. Others speculate that it could be in the possession of a private collector, unaware of its historical and sentimental value. There are even rumors that the banjo may have been mistakenly sold or thrown away, lost forever to history.

We may never know exactly what happened to this banjo or if it will be one day found, but we can be certain that there are Beatles fans out there looking for it!

What Do We Know About The Instrument

The exact specifications of John Lennon’s banjo remain somewhat elusive due to its long-standing disappearance and the scarcity of detailed descriptions from the period when Lennon played it. However, we can piece together some information about its likely features based on the historical context and Lennon’s own recollections.

The banjo was of the four-string variety, known as a tenor or plectrum banjo, more traditionally used in jazz, folk, and country music than rock and roll. This type of banjo was particularly popular in the UK in the early 20th century, which aligns with the timeframe when Lennon’s mother, Julia, would have acquired it.

As for the make and model, they remain unknown, given the lack of clear references or surviving photographs from Lennon’s early life. The instrument’s aesthetic details, such as color, are also largely speculative.

drawing of john lennon playing a banjo

Why It’s the World’s Most Expensive Banjo

If ever found, John Lennon’s banjo could very well become the most expensive banjo in the world, shattering previous records held by other historically significant banjos.

Currently, one of the most expensive banjos is the Gibson RB-7. At auction, a Gibson RB-7 can fetch upwards of $100,000, especially if it is in good condition and retains its original parts. This makes it one of the most valuable banjos in the world.

However, John Lennon’s banjo, with its ties to one of the most influential musicians in history and its unique backstory, could potentially dwarf this record. Some experts have estimated that Lennon’s missing banjo could fetch millions of dollars if it were ever to be found and auctioned.

This estimation is based on the selling prices of other Beatles memorabilia. For instance, Lennon’s Gibson J-160E acoustic guitar, used in the recording of the Beatles’ early hits, was sold for a staggering $2.4 million in 2015.

You can only imagine how valuable the instrument that started John’s musical career would be. If discovered, it could command a price that surpasses all previous records, making it the most expensive banjo in the world.

Efforts to Locate the Legendary Banjo

Ever since the banjo’s disappearance, various efforts have been made to locate it. The importance of the instrument in the Beatles’ history has fueled these initiatives, turning them into a passionate quest for a piece of lost musical heritage.

One of the first major endeavors to find the banjo was led by John’s half-sister, Julia Baird. In the late 1990s, she launched a campaign known as “Banjo Quest,” aiming to rediscover the instrument that had once inspired her brother. Despite her dedicated efforts and public appeals for information, the banjo remained elusive.

The search took a dramatic turn in 2002 when the British television show “Antiques Roadshow” featured a segment on Lennon’s banjo. A woman named Lynn Garner claimed to have the banjo, given to her by her father, who said he had obtained it from Julia Lennon. Garner brought the instrument to the show, and although there was excitement initially, experts couldn’t conclusively authenticate it as Lennon’s banjo.

In recent years, various experts and Beatles enthusiasts have continued to trace potential leads and scrutinize historical records, hoping to unearth new clues about the banjo’s whereabouts. Yet, despite these persistent efforts, Lennon’s first instrument remains one of rock ‘n’ roll’s most enduring mysteries.

Lennon Banjo’s Influence on Popular Culture

Over the years, Lennon’s banjo has made a significant impact on popular culture. Its significance as the catalyst for one of the world’s most influential musicians has transcended its physical absence.

In 2012, Rob Fennah published a novel titled “Julia’s Banjo,” a fictional story about a group of Beatles fans who embark on a quest to find Lennon’s missing banjo. The novel underscores the cultural significance of the banjo and its status as a symbolic holy grail for Beatles enthusiasts.

The story of Lennon’s banjo also inspired the stage play “Lennon’s Banjo.” This theatrical production in Liverpool played a crucial role in bringing the mystery of the banjo to the public eye, illustrating its cultural and historical importance. There is a YouTube video of the whole play if you are interested. Check it out below!

Furthermore, numerous documentaries and articles have delved into the mystery of Lennon’s banjo, keeping its memory alive and stoking public interest in its whereabouts. “The Beatles’ Lost Banjo,” a BBC radio documentary, is one such exploration that extensively chronicles the story and the ongoing search.

Lennon’s banjo is also commemorated in music. The 2004 tribute album “The Missing 4th String: An Ode to Lennon’s Banjo” features various artists covering Beatles’ songs using banjos, a unique homage to the instrument’s influence on Lennon’s early music development.

In recent years, however, we have not had any new resurgence of coordinated efforts to help locate this lost musical relic.

Final Thoughts

John Lennon’s banjo is more than a lost instrument; it’s a piece of history that carries an enduring legacy. This humble banjo, which initiated Lennon’s musical journey, remains an emblem of his transformative impact on music and culture worldwide. Its disappearance adds a layer of mystery to its legend. Hopefully one day someone can find the banjo, bring light to this existence and make some money in the process! Thank you for reading.

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