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Countless people started playing guitar because of the Beatles - here's what they used

By Phil O'Keefe


When the Beatles auditioned for Decca Records shortly before signing to EMI's Parlophone label in mid 1962, they were turned down and told that "guitar groups are on the way out." Little did the Decca executives realize at the time that guitar groups - and guitars in general - were about to become more popular than they had ever been, as a direct result of the band that they had just rejected. By early 1964, after signing to EMI and conquering the UK and Europe, and with a number one song on the American charts, the Beatles were ready to invade America's living rooms on a popular national TV program.

When John Lennon made his first appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show in February of 1964, he was playing a 1958 Rickenbacker 325 Capri. The 325 featured a short (20 3/4") scale length. John's 325 appears solid, but like all Rickenbacker 325's, it is actually a hollowbody guitar. As one of the earliest 325's made, Lennon's has a solid top; most later 325 models featured a soundhole. John received a second Rickenbacker 325 in mid-February of 1964; just in time to be used on their second Ed Sullivan Show appearance. It quickly became his main guitar, with the first 325 being largely retired after that.  

Ric 325C64.jpg

John also had a one of a kind Rickenbacker 325/12 that he was given by Rickenbacker in March of 1964 and that he used on the recording of the song "Every Little Thing." John also owned a Framus Hootenanny, a German-built 12 string acoustic guitar which made several appearances on the Help! and Rubber Soul album sessions, including prominent use on You've Got To Hide Your Love Away. 

George Harrison also used Rickenbacker guitars early in his career, having purchased a 425 in September of 1963 while on vacation in the USA visiting his sister Louise. While sick with the flu in a New York City hotel room in February of 1964, he was being interviewed over the phone by a local radio station, and simultaneously trying out a new Rickenbacker 360/12 12-string electric that the rest of the Beatles had been checking out at another nearby hotel and brought back for him to try. He mentioned this in the phone interview, and the station offered to buy the guitar for him, which lead to some confusion, but the guitar was actually given to him by Rickenbacker. This guitar was the second Rickenbacker 12-string ever built, and would go on to introduce the sound of the 12-string electric to popular music, and saw considerable use on various Beatles recordings, including its significant contribution to the sound of the legendary opening chord of A Hard Day's Night, as well as appearing on songs such as I Call Your Name, I Should Have Known Better, and Ticket To Ride. Rickenbacker still manufacturers the 360/12 model, and George's estate still owns the Rickenbacker 360/12 that he received in February of 1964.

Ric 360-12C63.jpg


George also used several Gretsch guitars in the early days of The Beatles, including a 1957 Duo Jet, as well as Gretsch Country Gentleman and Tennessean models. That first night on Ed Sullivan, George played a his second Gretsch Country Gentleman; a dark brown model with dual flip-up mutes. From 1962 through 1965, Gretsch Country Gentleman and Tennessean models would remain his main 6-string electric guitars, and appear on most of the recordings from that time period. John also briefly used a orange double-cutaway 1963 Gretsch 6120 for the Paperback Writer sessions.

Gretsch Country Gentleman.jpg

In 1966, George began using a 1964 Gibson SG Standard. Equipped with a Maestro vibrato, this guitar was used on the Revolver sessions, and can be seen in the promotional films for Paperback Writer and Rain. Harrison later gave this guitar to Pete Ham of Badfinger. The SG wouldn't be the last Gibson to see notable use with The Beatles. Lucy - the factory-refinished cherry-red 1957 Les Paul that once belonged to John Sebastian of the Loving Spoonful, and later to Rick Derringer (who had Gibson refinish it after the original goldtop finish became worn), was bought by Eric Clapton and given to George Harrison as a gift in August 1968. Less than a month later, Clapton played the solo for While My Guitar Gently Weeps from The White Album on this same Les Paul. Lucy was stolen from George in 1973 and wound up in Mexico, but George was eventually able to get it back. George can be seen playing it in the promotional film for Revolution, and it was also used on Abbey Road and Let It Be.

Another guitar that is closely associated with George during that same time period is the famous rosewood Fender Telecaster, which can also be seen in the Let It Be film. Paul McCartney used a sunburst Fender Esquire, a close relative of the Telecaster, for some of his recorded guitar parts, especially on the Sgt. Pepper sessions. This Esquire was a right-handed model that he re-strung and played left-handed.

The Beatles even had a few guitars in common that more than one member of the band is known for using. Originally, both John and George had matching Gibson J-160E acoustic-electric guitars, which were purchased in September 1962, but unfortunately, John's was stolen after a Christmas show in December of 1963, and thereafter, both used George's for various recordings, and as a backup guitar on tour. Lennon purchased another J-160E in 1964 to replace the one that was stolen. The sound of the Gibson J-160E is a big part of many early to mid-period Beatles records, and it can be heard feeding back on the introduction of I Feel Fine, and it was also used on songs such as Norwegian Wood, and You're Going To Lose That Girl. Gibson and their Epiphone division still manufacture J-160 guitars today. Another notable early-era acoustic guitar that George used was a Jose Ramirez Classical that can be heard on And I Love Her and Til There Was You, and seen in the film A Hard Day's Night. George later used a Gibson J-200 acoustic, while John stuck with the J-160E and augmented it with a Martin D-28, which he took on the Beatles' trip to India in February 1968, and which saw considerable use on the sessions for the White Album. Paul McCartney also acquired a Martin D-28 in 1968, and used it to record Blackbird. This guitar supplemented his earlier Epiphone Texan acoustic, which he had used on Yesterday.  

While working on Help!, John and George sent Beatles roadie Mal Evans out with instructions to buy them each a Stratocaster, and he returned with matching 1962 Fender Sonic Blue Strats, which were first put to use on Nowhere Man. These guitars were also used elsewhere on Rubber Soul. John used his less frequently after that, although it did see some use on the Sgt. Pepper LP, while George used his rather more extensively, including for the biting guitar parts on the song Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. It was later decorated with hand-painted psychedelic artwork by George himself. Nicknamed Rocky, this guitar can be seen with its psychedelic paint job in the Magical Mystery Tour TV special and the All You Need Is Love session.

Another model that is closely associated with The Beatles is the Epiphone ES-230 Casino. Paul McCartney was the first Beatle to purchase one, buying a 1962 right-handed Casino in late 1964. This thinline, hollow-bodied guitar was converted for left-handed use and became McCartney's primary electric, and was used by him for the solos on Ticket To Ride, Drive My Car, and Taxman, as well as on other Beatles songs. It remains his favorite electric guitar to this day. George and John soon purchased Casinos of their own. These were used heavily on Revolver. George can also be seen playing his on film clips from Magical Mystery Tour. Lennon's Casino became his main guitar, and he used it almost exclusively from 1966 through the rest of his time with The Beatles. Originally a sunburst, it was later stripped down to a natural finish. It's the guitar responsible for the wickedly distorted guitar parts on the single version of Revolution, and can also be seen on the Paperback Writer / Rain promotional films, as well as throughout the Let It Be film, including the Apple "rooftop" concert performance scenes. Epiphone still makes the Casino today, and it remains a highly popular model.

Epi Casino inspired by Lennon.jpg 

In fact, many of the guitars that were used by the band are still in production, along with many similar models inspired by them - all as a direct result of their lasting influence. 



Phil\_OKeefe HC Bio Image.jpgPhil O'Keefe is a multi-instrumentalist, recording engineer / producer and the Senior Editor of Harmony Central. He has engineered, produced and performed on countless recording sessions in a diverse range of styles, with artists such as Alien Ant Farm, Jules Day, Voodoo Glow Skulls, John McGill, Michael Knott and Alexa's Wish. He is a former featured monthly columnist for EQ magazine, and his articles and product reviews have also appeared in Keyboard, Electronic Musician and Guitar Player magazines.  

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JBbitchin  |  September 10, 2014 at 11:22 pm

Nice Job Phil.  Thanks for sharing all this information, since it really is a wealth.  I was just looking on the Wikipedia page which gives some breakdown of their guitar instruments, but I was really shocked to find all the differing keyboards the band used as well.

Just goes to show as well, as much as I always wonder about these cheaper looking covered pickups (they have always struck me this way since some cheap knockoffs always seem to have odd stuff like this), it really is no measure and whether or not I like it or have experience with it--Hey, the Beatles did so much phenomenal work, 500 years from now after we are all dead and gone and forgotten--people will still be listening to their music, and will hopefully still be going "Wow, now this is some cool stuff.  I love it."

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