Fender Bassman and Hammond organ
Among the keyboard instruments at Abbey Road studios was a Hammond RT-3 organ (below), used with a Leslie rotating-speaker cabinet. The Beatles used the RT-3 and Leslie on a number of recordings.
During the Rubber Soul sessions the Vox AC-100s were used for amplification, although some photographs reveal a pair of Vox AC-30s also set up for recording. The same photos show that a new amplifier had made its way into the group's line-up: a Fender Bassman. It was set up behind a studio "baffle" and was used to record McCartney's bass.
Fender's piggyback-style Bassman - that is, with separate amplifier head and speaker cabinet -was covered in the company's cream-coloured Tolex material, with wheat-coloured grille cloth and cream knobs. The amp head produced 50 watts of power and sat on a matching cabinet containing two 12-inch speakers. This Bassman was most likely a so-called "transitional" model made in late 1963 or early 1964. It's not known which amps the group used for particular songs, but it seems that they had by now figured out that using smaller amps in the studio should provide better and more controllable sound.
Keyboards too filled the studio during the recording of Rubber Soul, including two acoustic pianos - a Steinway grand and a Challen upright. Steinway is one of the best-known and most respected piano makers, founded in New York by German immigrants Henry Steinway and his brothers in 1853. Henry and Theodor Steinway together devised the design of the modern grand piano in 1860. Since then many top concert halls and studios have chosen Steinway instruments -including Abbey Road. Challen was a British maker founded in 1830 by William Challen in London; a century later they began supplying the BBC with pianos, and Abbey Road would probably have been influenced by tins prestigious connection.
There was also a Hammond RT-3 organ with Leslie rotating speaker-cabinet at Abbey Road, and a harmonium, all widely used during these sessions. The Hammond RT-3 organ was a top-of-the-line console, similar to the manufacturer's classic B-3. The main difference was that the RT-3 had a 32-note concave pedalboard and a different, larger cabinet. The model was approved by the stringent American Guild of Organists, which set standards for length, height and tension of the pedals and keys of organs. The Hammond RT-3 met all of the AGO's requirements for professional organists, and this is the most likely reason why an RT-3 rather than a B-3 was installed at Abbey Road. An RT-3 was an expensive investment: retail price was around $3,400 (£1225 then) which would translate to a whopping $19,000 or £13,500 in today's money.
Laurens Hammond invented his revolutionary organ in the early 1930s in Chicago. The basis of the instrument's sound was a series of small metallic discs, or "tone wheels". A magnetic pickup was situated near each disc, and the individual cuts or indentations in each disc determined the pitch and type of sound produced. Hammond and his partner John Hanert designed the wheels to produce fundamental pitches and developed a system of controls, or "drawbars'', to blend in various harmonics. The result was the wonderfully rich and full Hammond organ sound that became popular not only with churches and classical organists, but. more importantly with jazz greats like Jimmy Smith as well as pop and R&B crossover artists such as Georgie Fame.
The amplified speaker cabinet used with Abbey Road's Hammond RT-3 was a Leslie 145 loaded with a model 147 power amp. Donald Leslie invented his speaker cabinet in the early 1940s in California. Inside was a rotating horn, drum or baffle, depending on the model, through which the amplified sound was directed. The speed of the rotation could be controlled by the player: fast for a swirling tremolo-type effect or slow for a churning chorale sound. Abbey Road's Leslie 145 had a pair of rotating horns as well as a rotary drum which directed the sound from a downward-facing 15-inch speaker. This particular combination of RT-3 organ and 145 cabinet was used on most of the occasions when a Hammond organ was called for during Beatle sessions. It's thus likely that this set-up was used back in August 1964 for the group's first Hammond-assisted recording, 'Mr Moonlight', a song soaked in McCartney's atmospheric keyboarding.
A fourth keyboard, a harmonium, was introduced as a new sound to The Beatles and heavily used on the Rubber Soul-period recordings - for example on 'We Can Work It Out'. A harmonium is a type of reed organ, using air compressed by bellows and then driven out through the reeds. Along with these four studio-owned keyboards, the group also had their own Vox Continental organ and Hohner Pianet electric piano to hand.
The Tone Bender fuzz-box as it appeared when Vox marketed the effects unit starting in 1966. The Beatles had earlier used a prototype version given to them by Vox chief designer Dick Denney.
Slap on a capo
By the time Harrison had come to record Rubber Soul he'd moved the pickup on his J-160E guitar again. Now it was mounted at the side of the soundhole away from the neck - the opposite side to its original position. Lennon followed suit, moving the pickup on his '64 J-160E to the other side of the soundhole. They must have both liked the more trebly sound that this alteration made because this is how both guitars remained for the next few years.
The October 1965 sessions also produced the group's next single, a double-a-sided disc, 'Day Tripper' and 'We Can Work It Out'. They were recorded with standard Beatle instrumentation, although a highlight on the latter song was the harmonium, played by Lennon. The sessions were yielding some of the group's greatest work, as they started to move away from their familiar tools and experiment with fresh tone colours and new instrumental voices.
McCartney used his new left-handed Rickenbacker 4001S bass almost exclusively on the Rubber Soul sessions. He has described the Rickenbacker as being "a slightly different style" to his familiar Hofner bass. "It stayed in tune better, that was the great thing, because that had been a major problem with the Hofner. I liked everything about that, but it was embarrassing if you weren't quite in tune for something ... Normally you were sort of buried in the mixes; it wasn't until [this period] that the bass and drums came up in the mix."19
The Rickenbacker's unusual maple body seemed to aid its punchier, clearer tone, with more 'presence' to each note when compared to the sound of the Hofner.
As we've already seen, Fender Slratocasters were prominent on the solo of 'Nowhere Man', where Lennon and Harrison each played their new blue Strats, in unison. Harrison unleashed his new Rickenbacker 360-12 too, for his composition 'If I Needed Someone'. He chose to record the song using a capo, a small moveable device which can be fitted over the fingerboard behind any fret, shortening die string length duel thus raising the strings' pitches.
I'D TRY ANYTHING ONCE ... I WOULD JUST MESS AROUND WITH ANY EXPERIMENTAL EFFECT.
For 'Someone' Harrison fixed a capo at the seventh fret of the 12-string, lifting his guitar part into a suitable key. Until this point the group had rarely used capos, but for these sessions they used them for many songs, including 'Norwegian Wood' which was played with one at the second fret. Photographs taken while they worked on 'Michelle' show capos on McCartney's Epiphone Texan, on Harrison's J-160E and on Lennon's Spanish classical guitar.
McCartney is even pictured during these sessions using a capo on his new Rickenbacker bass. Capos are rarely used by bass players. Recently asked to explain what he was doing, McCartney himself seems baffled. "I'd try anything once," he laughs. "So ... I'll try a capo.
"I often do that when I'm writing a song - stick a capo on just so it's a different instrument than the one I normally play. Everything goes up a little bit and goes more tingly, and you get a song that reflects that. So it may well have been that we'd written a song on guitars in a certain key, so I only knew it in that key. Or maybe it was to get a higher sound? I often used to tune the strings down a tone, too, so the E would become a D. You'd have to be careful how hard you hit them, but it was kind of interesting. I would just mess around with any experimental effect." 20
The Vox Tone Bender
'Think For Yourself' was another Harrison original recorded for Rubber Soul, this one featuring the new sound of a fuzz bass. "Fuzz" is generally used to describe electronic distortion, normally available by using a box plugged between guitar and amp. Ken Townsend, ex-Abbey Road technician, explains chat the studio's owner, EMI, built their own distortion boxes, which at times The Beatles would use.21 However, it's possible that the fuzz-box used on the bass for this song was a prototype Vox Tone Bender unit.
Dick Denney of Vox says that he delivered the first Vox Tone Bender prototypes to the group in the early part of 1965. As we've already seen, Harrison and Lennon had fiddled around with a Maestro Fuzz Tone unit as early as 1963. Denney recalls that Vox's Tone Bender began life around 1962 when the company was sent a Maestro to try out.
Vox owner Tom Jennings declared the sample American unit useless: surely, he said, their job was to gel rid of distortion? Jennings was of the old school, and did not understand the desire among the new pop musicians to find unusual sounds, including electronically "incorrect" ones.
Denney then made up a trial Vox fuzz-box based on the Maestro, but did nothing further. "However, there was a rogue working for us," he says, "and he grabbed hold of the circuit diagram and started making up fuzz-boxes and selling them for himself. We later introduced it ourselves as the Vox Tone Bender." 22 In 1967 Vox would offer their lone Bender for 10 guineas (£10.50, about $25 then; around £115 or $160 in today's money).
Ringo's fourth oyster black pearl Ludwig kit, the second of the two with 22-inch bass drums (but minus the drop-T drum head). He used this kit during the 1965 US tour, and still owns it today.
A break in recording on November 1st and 2nd allowed the group to tape mimed performances of 'Day Tripper' and 'We Can Work It Out' for a Granada Television special, The Music Of Lennon & McCartney. For these performances McCartney used his '63 Hofner bass, Lennon his '64 Rickenbacker 325, and Harrison his Gretsch Tennessean. Starr went back to using his third Ludwig kit, the first of his two 22-inch-bass sets, which would continue as his main kit until the end of 1968.
For the Granada appearance, the Ludwig set received yet another new Beatle drop-T logo drum-head. Number six was painted on a Ludwig Weather Master head and was similar to its predecessors, but with slight differences in the lettering of "The Beatles". This drum-head stayed on Starr's kit until the middle of 1967.
As the sessions for Rubber Soul continued into November, the group received some new Vox amplifiers. "Vox have just delivered a new set of amps to The Beatles," ran a news item. "The old ones were still functioning perfectly but their cases had received so many knocks on their travels that they had begun to look shabby." 23 The new Vox amps were a further pair of Vox AC-100 guitar rigs plus another Vox AC-100 bass rig.
The deadline for completion of the new LP loomed and so the final recordings for Rubber Soul were concluded on November 11th with a marathon session. "Wait' was pulled from the left-over tapes from Help!, with Harrison adding guitar overdubs again featuring volume-pedal work. McCartney's 'You Won't See Me' and Lennon's 'Girl' were also recorded. Final production and mixing of the album was completed on November 15th.
A Gibson ES-345 for George
The group by now considered it laborious to have to promote their new recordings. Nonetheless, requests poured into Epstein's office for Beatle television appearances, so instead of scurrying around from studio to studio trying to fulfil the impossible demand, they decided to produce their own promotional film clips.
"The idea [was] we'd send them to America, because we thought, well, we can't go everywhere," explained Harrison later. ''We'll send these things out to do the promo ... So I suppose in a way we invented MTV." 24 By making their own clips, the group could simultaneously promote new records on television stations around the world. As Harrison says, this idea would eventually prompt a widespread reassessment of methods for music publicity and promotion.
On Tuesday November 23rd at Twickenham film studios the group filmed their promos for 'We Can Work It Out', 'Day Tripper', 'Help!', 'Ticket To Ride' and 'I Feel Fine'. Three members used their familiar instruments: McCartney the Hofner bass, Lennon his Rickenbacker 325, and Starr the 22-inch-bass Ludwig kit with new number-six logo drum-head. But a new guitar was evident. Harrison had a sunburst Gibson ES-345.
Gibson's ES-345TD double-cutaway hollowbody guitar was m effect an upscale version of Joe Brown's 335 that Harrison had tried out back in 1962. The 345 had a six-position Varitone rotary switch for choosing different tonal settings, and all the metal fittings were gold-plated. A sunburst 345 then cost £236/5/- (£236.25, about. $660 then), which would be about £2,730 ($3,820) in today's money. Harrison used his new Gibson only for the filming of these promo clips, and later again this year during the last UK Beatles tour.
Although a British tour had originally been planned by Epstein for autumn 1965 and then cancelled by the group, he had finally persuaded them to venture out on a very brief British round of gigs, visiting just nine cities and with each date consisting of two shows. The support acts for the tour where The Koobas from Liverpool and the latest addition to Epstein's stable, The Moody Blues - featuring a young Denny Laine who, as we've mentioned, would later play with McCartney in Wings.
Prior to this British tour The Beatles met at the London flat of Mal Evans and Neil Aspinall for a brief rehearsal, at which all four group members were presented with Russian-made acoustic guitars. "The Beatles agreed to be photographed with them so that the shots of themselves playing the instruments could be sent to the Russian factory where they were made," 25 said a news item. The resulting photographs of the group with these student-size flat-top acoustic guitars reveal instruments apparently of primitive quality. It's most improbable that the guitars were ever seriously used by the group, and the photo-session was almost certainly the last time they saw them.
The British tour started on December 3rd in Glasgow at the Odeon Cinema and continued through Newcastle, Liverpool and Manchester. On the 8th in Sheffield, Yorkshire, Lennon and Harrison were photographed using their two new Vox AC-100 guitar amps while McCartney used his new Vox AC-100 bass amp, playing his '63 Hofner bass and with his original '61 Hofner as a spare. Harrison played his new Gibson ES-345 as his main guitar, switching to the '65 Rickenbacker 360-12 for 'If I Needed Someone'. Lennon played his '64 Rickenbacker 325, with the '64 Gibson J-160E along as a spare.
A photograph taken of the group's guitars before the show in Sheffield reveals all these guitars as well as various guitar cases, drum cases and a Vox organ. But most interesting is an unexplained guitar among the expected Beatle instruments. The black-and-white photo shows a dark-coloured Fender Stratocaster with matching coloured headslock and rosewood fingerboard. Could this have been a spare six-string for Harrison? Such a Stratocaster has never before been itemized among The Beatles' instrumental line-up.
Starr used his familiar 22-inch-bass Ludwig kit for the tour with number-six Beatle drum-head. A report on the tour described a "new instrument" invented by Mal Evans. The group's roadie had fitted an additional "ching ring" inside a tambourine, removed its skin, and installed a rod across the diameter. Then he fitted the modified tambourine to a cymbal stand. The idea, said the news item, was "so Starr could get the right sound for 'Day Tripper' during their December tour".26
The group's repertoire for this final British tour included a live performance of 'Yesterday'. According to reports and photographic evidence from the Sheffield show, McCartney accompanied himself for this song on the Vox Continental organ. Try to imagine that combination.
The organ was played through the group's cream Fender Bassman amplifier, and Lennon too used the Continental on 'I'm Down', the group's set-closer. The December 1965 British tour ended on Sunday December 12th at the Capitol Cinema in Cardiff, marking one of the last occasions when The Beatles would perform live in the UK.
With their evident enjoyment in recording the wonderfully diverse Rubber Soul, the group were clearly becoming more absorbed with the creative potential of studio work and growing less enthusiastic for live performances.
Sheffield, England, during The Beatles' final British tour, and George plays his Gibson ES-345, a guitar which he used only for a short time at the end of 1965.
The year to come would see a dramatic decision that would put an end to this division - and produce some spectacular results.