The more I listened to it, the more I decided I didn't like the guitar sound I had. It was crap




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Beatles gear

CHAPTER 8




The more I listened to it, the more I decided I didn't like the guitar sound I had. It was crap. ”
GEORGE HARRISON, ON STARTING TO CONSIDER SOME CHANGES IN 1965

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BRIAN EPSTEIN'S MANAGEMENT HAD BEEN OVERWHELMINGLY SUCCESSFUL FOR THE BEATLES IN 1964, AND NATURALLY HE HOPED FOR MORE OF THE SAME THIS YEAR. ANOTHER RIGOROUS SCHEDULE WAS PLANNED: RECORDING SESSIONS, A NEW FILM, MORE RECORDING, AND EXTENSIVE INTERNATIONAL TOURING, INCLUDING ANOTHER SUMMER TOUR OF THE US AND A BRIEF TOUR OF THE UK.

One difference for 1965 was that with the group's increased popularity came the opportunity to be more selective about appearances. They tried to schedule more time off, playing fewer radio and television shows. The year started with the completion of the Christmas performances at the Hammersmith Odeon, with the final night on January 16th. Keeping in step with their schedule of two LPs and four singles a year, the group started a week-long series of recording sessions at Abbey Road studio 2 on February 15th. A multitude of new tracks were recorded for use in their forthcoming film, as well as for the next album release, both of which would eventually be named Help!. One side of the LP would feature songs from the film, the other the non-soundtrack cuts.

Some of the week's sessions were documented by reporters from Sean O'Mahony's Beat Publications for a feature in an upcoming issue of The Beatles Monthly Book. Photos taken show The Beatles with their familiar instruments: McCartney and his '63 Hofner bass; Harrison and his Gretsch Tennessean, with his Rickenbacker 12-string also to hand. Lennon's repaired '64 Rickenbacker 325 made its way back into the guitar line-up, while Starr used the same 22-inch-bass Ludwig kit seen during the '64 US tour. More importantly, the photos show the studio littered with new Beatle instruments.

Sonic blue Fender Strats for John and George


Lennon was playing a Fender Stratocaster during these sessions. The Fender company had been established by Leo Fender in California back in the late 1940s, at first making amps and electric lap-steel guitars. In 1950 Fender introduced the first commercially-available solidbody electric guitar, soon known as the Telecaster, and after adding the Precision Bass (1951) and the Stratocaster (1954) to the line, as well as great amps like the Deluxe and the Twin Reverb, the company was well on the way to world-beating success.

The Stratocaster - widely abbreviated, simply, to "Strat" - had fired Western swing and Buddy Holly, Dick Dale's surf tones and The Shadows' twangy pop, but now it was set for a new journey. Lennon was used to a three-pickup guitar, but this was something else altogether.

His Strat was in Fender's pale blue custom-color finish, officially known as sonic blue. Harrison later recalled that both he and Lennon acquired Strats at the time. "It was funny," he said, "because all these American bands kept coming over to England, saying, 'How did you get that guitar sound?' And the more I listened to it, the more I decided I didn't like the guitar sound I had. It was crap. A Gretsch guitar and a Vox amp, and I didn't like it. But those were early days, and we were lucky to have anything when we started out. But anyway, I decided I'd get a Strat, and John decided he'd get one too. So we sent out our roadie, Mal Evans, said go and get us two Strats. And he came back with two of them, pale blue ones. Straight away we used them on the album we were making at the time, which was Rubber Soul - I played it a lot on that album, [most noticeably] the solo on 'Nowhere Man' which John and I both played in unison." 1

Although Harrison's recollection places the acquisition of the Fenders later, the photographs featured in The Beatles Monthly Book show Lennon at the February 1965 sessions with his new Fender Stratocaster. It's not certain if either Strat ended up on any of these Help! recordings, but when one listens to some of the results - such as the single A notes hit on the beat in the verses of 'Ticket To Ride' - the tone of a Fender Stratocaster seems evident.

It's ironic that only a few months earlier Fender would, as we've seen, have paid The Beatles to use a Fender Stratocaster - and here only four months later Harrison and Lennon decide to send out Evans to buy a pair of Strats. Like their two matching Gibson J-160Es, the sonic blue Fender Stratocasters were virtually identical. They had rosewood fingerboards, white pickguards and standard Strat hardware. A recent examination of Harrison's Strat reveals that the guitar had at some point in its life been sold by a music dealer in Kent. A worn label on the back of the headstock reads: "Grimwoods; The music people; Maidstone and Whitstable."

The serial number on Harrison's Strat is 83840 and the neck is dated December 1961. A new custom-color Strat in 1965 would have cost £180/12/- (£180.60, about $500 then; around £2,080 or $2,900 in today's money).

First task on the group's recording agenda was to cut a new single, 'Ticket To Ride'. McCartney overdubbed the memorable lead-guitar break on the recording using his new Epiphone Casino, now strung left-handed. This was the first time that lead guitar had been played on a Beatles session by anyone other than Harrison or Lennon. This change to the group dynamic did not, of course, go unnoticed. In a music-paper report on the February 15th session Lennon, pointing to a running tape machine nearby, commented, "Hey, listen. Hear that play by Paul? He's been doing quite a bit of lead guitar work this week. Gear. I reckon he's moving in." 2


This early-1960s sonic blue Fender Stratocaster is similar to the pair that John and George acquired in 1965.






The original label for the American-release of the 'Ticket To Ride' single boasted, rather prematurely, that the track was from the forthcoming film Eight Arms To Hold You - which was the working title of what later became Help!
Harrison said later be thought that. 'Ticket To Ride' was the hist Beatles song on which he used his '63 Rickenbacker 12-string. "There's a strange thing about that guitar," he said. "I don't think the electronics in it are very good. I don't know if they improved it - they probably have by now - [but] it had a whole bunch of controls on it ... four knobs and a little tiny knob. [That tiny knob] never seemed to do anything. All it ever seemed was that there was one sound I could gel where it was bright, which was the sound I used, and another tone where it all went muffled, which I never used. [The bright sound was] the sound you hear on 'Ticket To Ride'." 3

Harrison also remembered that his 12-string was quite easy to play, as long as it was in tune -although 12-string guitars are notoriously difficult to get (and keep) in tune. "Having not played it for years, I just played it again recently and was surprised that the neck is so narrow," he said later. "You have to be very careful when you're clamping the strings down there because the first and sixth strings can slip off the side of the neck if you're pressing at an angle. But it's pretty good from what I remember. I used to play it in concerts for years and it never gave me any trouble. I'm pleased to say I've still got that guitar- and it's a great classic guitar now, I think. I've got it hanging on the wall at home ... That sound you just associate with those early 1960s Beatle records. The Rickenbacker 12-string sound is a sound on its own." 4

While 'Ticket To Ride' was indeed the last Beatle recording on which Harrison used his '63 Rickenbacker 360-12, it wasn't the last time he would use a Rick 12-string on record. Only months later he would receive a new-style Rickenbacker 360-12 which he went on to use for further sessions and concerts.




John at Abbey Road studios in February 1965 with his new sonic blue Fender Stratocaster. Together with George's matching instrument, these were the first Fender guitars owned by the group.





IT NEVER GAVE ME ANY TROUBLE ... AND IT'S A GREAT CLASSIC GUITAR NOW ... THAT SOUND YOU JUST ASSOCIATE WITH THOSE EARLY 1960s BEATLE RECORDS.
George Harrison, still proud owner of his '63 Rickenbacker 12-string, last used on 'Ticket To Ride'
'Another Girl' and Harrison's 'I Need You' were also recorded on February 15th, for use in the group's upcoming film. Harrison again experimented with guitar volume swells on 'I Need You', this time using a traditional volume pedal for the effect rather than relying on Lennon to manipulate his volume control. The sessions spilled into the next day as McCartney overdubbed a lead-guitar part on 'Another Girl', again playing his Epiphone Casino. A new song, 'Yes It Is', was also cut, as the flip-side for their new single. Harrison again used the volume pedal to create the song's distinctive volume-swell guitar sound.

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