A “Fab” NFT Drop to Watch

This week, Reese Witherspoon bought her first NFTs. Her Twitter announcement prompted Snoop Dogg, who’s got his own multi-million-dollar portfolio, to immediately volunteer to be her investment advisor.

That’s where we’re at, folks. When America’s sweetheart and the Doggfather have embraced Web 3.0, it’s officially entered the mainstream.

Legacy entertainment, media, and sports companies have been carving out their place in this space for a while now, deriving NFT offshoots of established properties to create a fresh revenue stream. But a unique project dropping later this month demonstrates that there’s plenty of room for pop culture superfans to be creators, too.

Fab Four Gear, a new entry in the Ethereum NFT marketplace that’s minting in late October, is a collection of rare vintage instruments identical to the ones played by John, Paul, George and Ringo during every phase of their Beatles career — from the 1950s through the band’s breakup in 1970. The physical collection, which was amassed as a labor of love over four decades, contains just over 100 guitars, bass guitars, amps, and drum kits that have been turned into NFTs through photogrammetry, a scanning technique that captures three-dimensional objects in painstaking detail.

And the project has some fans in high places: Rare Scrilla, the OG NFT artist who created Rare Pepe trading cards, has designed a series of Fab Four Gear-themed Pepe T-shirts, essentially stamping the project with a gold seal of approval. His design could possibly be used for a future NFT. [Full disclosure: The Beatles are not affiliated in any way with the Pepes or Fab Four Gear.)

Fab Four Gear is the brainchild of Paul Aujla, a former financial planner from Toronto by way of India and the U.K. who became a Beatles superfan following the death of John Lennon in 1980. That year, when he was 15, he and a few friends started a band styled after the Fab Four. As their local following grew, someone suggested they trade their ramshackle guitars for the same ones the Beatles used. But Aujla, who’d been tasked with procuring them, discovered that it wasn’t so easy.

“These instruments were super duper rare because the Beatles actually generated the guitar and drum boom when they came on The Ed Sullivan Show in America” in 1964, he said. “Prior to that, whatever they had acquired was very limited — one or two that were handmade pieces.”

Aujla’s search took him across the border to Poughkeepsie, New York, where he walked into a music store and spoke to the most accommodating shop owner ever, who simply picked up the phone and called the storied guitar maker Rickenbacker in California. He handed Aujla the phone, and the teen found himself talking to the company’s president. Aujla requested the same guitar he saw Lennon playing on Ed Sullivan: a 1958 Rickenbacker 325 Solid Top. (Aujla describes it as “literally the most priceless instrument on the planet.”) Five days later, a starstruck Aujla had in his trembling hands a modern reproduction of Lennon’s guitar, which had been hand-crafted for the superstar.

But he soon realized that it wasn’t an exact replica — “It’s totally different wood, it’s totally different paint, it’s totally different metal.” From that moment on, Aujla made it his mission to nail down specs for every instrument ever played by the band. Over the years he networked with collectors all over the globe via snail mail, and sometimes even telegram (no, not that Telegram).

Today his collection, which cost several million to compile, is complete. “It’s the guitars that were essentially made at the same time that the Beatles guitars were made, and from the exact same materials,” Aujla says. Others were prototypes for guitars that were handcrafted specifically for the band. Thanks to a panel of experts and historians, the instruments come with copious receipts, including provenance, which Beatle played the same one, when they played it, how they acquired it, and who made it. His original goal was to show the collection in a physical museum in Los Angeles, where he is based. “And then the pandemic hit,” he said. “So now everyone’s a little skittish about what’s going to happen. And a brick-and-mortar museum investment is not top of the priority list.” But the collection suddenly generated a robust following on Facebook, and Aujla began to consider other avenues for the project. A major production company (he won’t say which one) is developing a docuseries.

But it’s the NFT space that offers the most fulfilling rewards — and not just financial. It’s the community, he says, that’s sprung up around Web 3.0 that’s the most compelling part of the crypto economy. A desire to give back to the community guides every aspect of the project, which will eventually include a learning museum.

“My idea has always been to educate the public. I still think of myself as that 15-year-old kid,” Aujla said with a chuckle. He plans to use a portion of the proceeds from staggered NFT drops to fund humanitarian projects. The intractable poverty that keeps two billion people from participating in the global economy “is unacceptable for anybody in 2021,” Aujla said. “That is something that is not going to happen while we’re around.”

The project’s leader, Troy Caylak, a screenwriter and SAG Award-nominated actor who guided the project from conception to reality, dispels the notion that it’s just another cash grab. “We want people keying into the fact that this is a real collector, this is a real company, and we’re doing bigger things than just cashing in on the NFT space,” he said.

While a brick-and-mortar museum is still in the cards, Aujla, Caylak, and the project’s creative director, Bridget Howard, a graphic designer and mixed media artist also based in Los Angeles, envision the Fab Four Gear collection to be the flagship project in a virtual museum that will bring together artists, photographers, filmmakers, and musicians. “We’re working on collaborating with artists at every level, from the very beginning of their career to artists that are huge in the NFT space,” says Howard, who also helped design the future brick-and-mortar museum. “We want to make sure that we share the success with everybody in the community.”

Minting for the primary issues (pre-sale and initial public offering, date TBD) will take place only through Fab Four Gear’s website. In the meantime you can join their Discord and follow them on Twitter and Instagram.

Journalist. Current: The Trace. Past: The New York Times. Author: “Never Tell Our Business to Strangers,” Villard/Random House 2010