Beatles Essay – The Guitar Phases of George Harrison

The early sixties were not known for an abundance of guitar driven groups. Pop music was dominated by lavish Motown and Phil Spector productions as well as by Brill Building songwriting factories which churned out formula hits for personality driven acts like Paul Anka, Neil Sedaka, and countless others. Most of the guitar groups of the day, such as The Ventures or Dick Dale and the Deltones, were instrumentalists.

Then came The Beatles.

The Beatles changed the way the rock group was viewed and charted a course for every rock group that followed them. They established the gold standard for the way that rock groups operated and then pushed the limits outward, setting them apart from all of the groups that sought to be just like them.

Musically, The Beatles as a whole were very good, but as individual instrumentalists they were never confused with the virtuosos of their respective instruments (Paul McCartney coming closest with his mastery of the bass guitar). What made The Beatles great was their ability to change their sound -to keep moving. While lesser groups worked to create a signature sound that would define them (and all too often staying with that sound so long that it became tiresome) The Beatles switched musical genres from song to song. Rockabilly to R&B to ballad to all-out rocker all on the same album.

And once those songs became hits and the albums topped the charts they changed their sound for the next one. They did this through their musical curiosity, their songwriting talents, and, in the case of George Harrison through a lasting experimentation with his own sound.

What one can discover when taking a look at The Beatles catalogue is that George went through several distinct phases in his approach to recording and playing. Adding effects here, changing guitars there he was the first of The Beatles to alter their sound simply by switching guitars or adding effects to his overall sound. The result of these experiments changed the way The Beatles sounded in significant ways and kept them fresh, while also laying the groundwork for more pronounced changes to the way they performed once they left the road and entered the studio full-time. It also influenced scores of guitar players who simply wanted to look or sound like the most famous lead guitar player on the planet from 1963-1966. We begin at the beginning with what may be the guitar most commonly associated with George Harrison.

1962-February 1964 – The Gretsch

George’s first guitar of choice was the Gretsch Chet Atkins “Country Gentleman” model (black) which he used throughout the early to mid 1960s. As a devotee of rockabilly, and Carl Perkins in particular, it was natural that George would choose a guitar that symbolized the country and western sound of the period. A prime example of the “Gentleman’s” distinctive tone can be found in the opening notes of “I Want To Hold Your Hand” and indeed in songs such as “Everybody’s Trying To Be My Baby” and “Honey Don’t”. George was introduced to America playing this guitar on The Ed Sullivan Show in 1964 and the image of him with the sleek, black widebody guitar became something of a Beatles trademark, along with Ringo’s bass drum with the dropped-T logo, Paul’s Hofner violin-bass guitar and John’s black and white Rickenbacker.

The Gretsch was also the guitar that George chose to tour with throughout the 1964, 1965 and 1966 tours. Its tone was reliable and could fit in effortlessly on songs played live which had been recorded using other guitars. Quite simply, the cacophony created by the screaming girls in the audience made changing guitars to suit the song unnecessary.

Its twangy tone was typical of the era and provided the perfect sound for the style of music The Beatles performed in the early sixties. Sadly George’s original Gretsch Country Gentleman was destroyed when it fell off the roof of The Beatles touring van and was run over by passing motorists. George replaced it with a brown Chet Atkins “Tennessean” model Gretsch which he used during the 1965 and 1966 tours. The Tennessean was the more affordable version of the Country Gentleman, but it had its advantages as it had a smaller body than the CG and featured a similar tone.

February 1964-February 1965 – The Electric 12-String and the Birth of The Byrds


Early in 1964 George the Rickenbacker guitar manufacturing company presented George with the second Rickenbacker Electric 12-String guitar ever made. It obviously made an impression on him as the instrument immediately became a staple of Beatles records throughout 1964 and early 1965. Its shimmering tone can be heard on virtually all of the A Hard Day’s Night album and parts of the Beatles for Sale and Help! albums.

The exposure given to this new instrument its use in the A Hard Day’s Night film was profound as Jim McGuinn (later Roger McGuinn) of The Byrds saw the film and immediately purchased the same model guitar. Through The Byrds this guitar became something of a staple of the folk-rock sound of the mid-sixties and has been in regular use ever since.

It can be debated which guitarist is more closely identified with the Rickenbacker Electric 12-String, McGuinn or Harrison, but its effect on music is undeniable, from the opening chord on “A Hard Day’s Night” to “Mr. Tambourine Man” to Tom Petty (among others) this guitar has left its mark on rock history. And it would not have happened without George Harrison.

1965 Help! Sessions – The Dreadful Affair of the Tone Pedal Experiment


By February, 1965 The Beatles were set to begin filming for their second feature film, Eight Arms To Hold You (which would eventually be retitled Help!). They would need material for the soundtrack and had only weeks to produce suitable material. Much like with Beatles For Sale which was recorded quickly between Beatles obligations, the early sessions (with the notable exceptions of “Ticket To Ride” and “You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away”) did not yield their best output.

From a musical standpoint The Beatles were experimenting with new sounds, some of which worked and some of which did not. The electric piano was featured prominently on several of the tracks recorded that February (“Tell Me What You See,” “Another Girl,” “The Night Before,” “You Like Me Too Much”). And, for this brief period George experimented with the tone pedal.

The tone pedal is a device that, when pressure is applied to the pedal, the volume is increased or reduced in a relative amount. The device would later find more widespread use as a “wah-wah” pedal which altered the amount of treble output instead of the volume. George must have been fascinated by the device because he used it in the recording of “I Need You,” “Yes It Is,” as well as in “Wait” and “It’s Only Love” a few months later.

The result of this experimentation was a handful of tracks that seemed to lose a little for the pedal’s inclusion. Though the effort to push the boundaries of their sound was something that propelled their music to greater heights later in the year with the recording of Rubber Soul this particular effect did not add to the sound and only served to take away from the beautiful melody of a song such as “Yes It Is” (for evidence I refer you to the gorgeous remastered version/demo included as a track on the Anthology 2 cd). Thankfully this experiment would not last long.

1965 Rubber Soul Sessions – Call In the Strats


While recording the Rubber Soul album in 1965 The Beatles experimented with their sound still further. Armed with much stronger material than ever before they were in the midst of producing their most cohesive album to date -and the album that is most often used to separate the “Early Beatles” sound from the “Later Beatles” sound.

During the recording of “Nowhere Man” John and George were trying to find a way to increase the treble on the guitars. They finally asked longtime assistant Mal Evans to go out of the studio and purchase two Fender Stratocasters for John and George to play (Fender Stratocasters being known for a trademark treble tone). Mal returned with two 1961 Strats (powder blue). The difference in tone is unmistakable as can be heard in the solo on “Nowhere Man”, and on “Run for Your Life” and “The Word”. This guitar sound, in my opinion, defined the album and gives it its signature sound.

During this transitional period George’s playing was somewhat rough. Raised on 50’s rock and roll and mastering The Beatles early sound, Rubber Soul was new territory for rock music and George was doing his best to go from playing “Roll Over Beethoven” to playing “Michelle”. The Beatles’ longtime engineer Geoff Emerick wrote about the difficulty George had in composing solos in this period in his book Here there and Everywhere. And as we will soon discover, his response to this would be to play fewer of them.

1966 Revolver Sessions – Fattening Up the Tone with the Gibson SG


1966’s sole album offering Revolver was intended to be a studio creation. By that I mean that its songs were not intended to be played live, even though The Beatles had a world tour planned after the recording of the album. In what may have been an attempt to create a new sound after the Strat-heavy sound of Rubber Soul (or perhaps just the result of George’s changing tastes) George used a Gibson SG for most of Revolver and the difference can be heard in the heavier sounding “And Your Bird Can Sing”, “Rain”, “Paperback Writer” and “She Said, She Said”. Crunching guitar riffs replaced the more twangy Rubber Soul sound.

The Beatles had always been a riff heavy band. From “Ticket to Ride” to “Day Tripper” some of the most recognizable guitar riffs of the period belonged to The Beatles. But these new riffs were different -louder, more brash, distorted. Thanks to the Gibson SG guitar Revolver was a heavy album for its day and left no doubt that The Beatles were entering a new, heavier phase in their career.

1967 – “Rocky” Gets a Paint Job


In late 1966 The Beatles took a much-needed break. George studied the sitar in India, Paul recorded a film soundtrack for the film The Family Way, John went to Spain to film How I Won The War, and Ringo…waited for the others to return. By the time they came back to the studio to record “When I’m 64”, “Strawberry Fields Forever” and “Penny Lane” they had changed as a group. With touring behind them permanently their goal was to explore the boundaries of “the studio” and to create songs as artistic works.

Their new outlook on songwriting and recording rendered the two and a half-minute pop song and requisite guitar solo as a mere cliché of the four piece combo. Beginning in 1966 and especially throughout 1967 we can see this in practice:

Number of guitar solos on Beatles albums:

Revolver: 4 (2 Harrison, 1 McCartney, 1 Harrison + McCartney)
Sgt. Pepper: 2 (1 Harrison, 1 McCartney)
Magical Mystery Tour: 1 (if you count 8 seconds of “All You Need is Love” as a solo)

The Beatles were indeed changing the definition of the pop song. Sitars, tape effects and orchestras now occupied the space once reserved for guitars, and on many songs the guitar is absent altogether.

Rocky

During this period George mainly used the Fender Stratocaster that he played on Rubber Soul which he dubbed “Rocky”. In true 1967 fashion George gave Rocky a fresh psychedelic paint job using day-glo paints and nail polish (close inspection reveals the original powder blue of the guitar). He can be seen playing “Rocky” in the Magical Mystery Tour film (in color). He also played it on his lone solo on Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (“Fixing a Hole”).

1969 Get Back Sessions – The Wah Pedal That Wahsn’t


In January of 1969 The Beatles set up shop in Twickenham Studios to film their latest idea for a film. Originally intended to be a television special The Beatles, not unanimously as it would be discovered, decided to be filmed rehearsing material for a future live performance. Eschewing the technical effects of Sgt. Pepper and The Beatles (the “White Album”) for a more stripped-down sound, The Beatles christened the project “Get Back” to symbolize the group “getting back” to their roots.

The footage selected for the eventual film “Let It Be” shows that the sessions themselves were clearly uninspired and monotonous –mostly consisting of jams, 50’s rock covers and bored versions of some of The Beatles weaker original material. The cold, cavernous confines of a warehouse-like Twickenham soundstage could not have helped either as tensions ran high and the spirits remained low.

In these sessions, however George can be heard using a wah pedal in nearly every track, creating a very odd wandering rhythm guitar that unsurprisingly made it into exactly zero of the finished tracks on either Let It Be or Abbey Road, which also culled some of the material first rehearsed in the sessions (the closest example being the more underscored wah-wah rhythm guitar used in the song “Something”). Take, for example the following video:

This phase of George’s playing was short-lived and could have been the result of the simple boredom that surrounded the sessions. The Beatles as a group had been stretched to the breaking point during the “White Album” sessions and seemed to be recording out of habit and obligation. That lack of inventiveness on the guitar was the manifestation of The Beatles general directionless course is unsurprising.

1969-2001   The Classic Harrison Slide Sound


Following the tumultuous “Get Back” sessions the Beatles embarked on a series of solo projects and production duties for the newly signed stable of Apple artists. George, for his part was compiling a roster of songs that he knew would not be chosen for inclusion on a future Beatles record (with his standard 1-2 song allotment on each album still in place). And who knew if another Beatles project would even materialize? By the spring of 1969 business matters and lawsuits dominated The Beatles professional lives, straining the tensions between the group further still.

Amidst the chaos of a disorganized Apple Corps, marriages and lawsuits The Beatles regrouped to record one final album intended to serve as a more appropriate farewell than anything the unreleased “Get Back” sessions would ever hope to be. That album would become Abbey Road.

In that period George’s playing improved dramatically and he recorded some of his best solos of his Beatles career. “Old Brown Shoe,” “Octopus’s Garden,” “Polythene Pam” and George’s contribution to the three-part guitar solo in “The End” featured George at his most lyrical as a soloist. It is, however, his work on his own composition “Something” that would be his best and a harbinger of his style as a solo artist.

George’s post-Beatles guitar sound would remain a slide guitar heavy one until his death in 2001. It is first unveiled on the song “Come Together” with the slide guitar contributing to the sleazy, strutting sound of the song. “Something,” while not actually played using a bottleneck slide contains all of the elements of George’s slide guitar sound played with deep bends and long slurs instead. The solo amounts to one of the most beautiful George ever recorded.

Following The Beatles breakup, his successes on Abbey Road having given him the opportunity to reach escape velocity from the Beatles orbit George would find a home for his backlog of songs written over the previous three years on his masterpiece All Things Must Pass. His guitar sound would change little over the following 30 years as his dedication to the slide guitar would see him through the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s. But it would not have been possible for him to achieve his signature sound without the experimental phases that shaped him as a player during the 1960s and gave the world such wonderful music.

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26 Responses to Beatles Essay – The Guitar Phases of George Harrison

  1. vxbush says:

    My goodness; I had no idea you were such the musicologist. My sister is the total Beatles nut; I’m just a tag-along. I know most of their work but had not considered the progression of their music. Good post!

  2. 71LesPaul says:

    Wow, what a great post! I never knew George Harrison was such a pioneer as a rock guitarist. As much as I love listening to the Beatle’s music, I’ve never really read much in depth about them, and George in particular, as musicians. Nice work.

    In my very first garage band back way back in high school, my buddy who was the lead guitarist played his dad’s 1960-ish Chet Atkins Country Gentleman Gretsch. Played through a distortion pedal into a Fender Twin Reverb tube amp, that warm Gretsch tone and feedback compliments of the hollow body, it was the sweetest sounding rock guitar ever.

  3. Drae says:

    Great post, Grip! I didn’t know George’s original guitar had been smashed. How sad!

  4. Gripweed says:

    Thanks all for the kind words!

    These were just some thoughts rattling around in my head. Rock history has always been an interest of mine -The Beatles in particular (obviously). Hopefully I can come up with some topics that interest you!

  5. William says:

    Great article.

    I think that if you listen to a lot of John Lennon songs, it becomes apparent that Harrison’s uncompensated credit in terms of songwriting credit/revenues is more than apparent. What is Come Together without the Harrison created guitar parts? Probably nothing more than the Chuck Berry riff than he ended up losing on in court on. How good is And Your Bird Can Sing without Harrison’s addition, or She Said, She Said? What about All Things Must Pass, a sublime guitar album that outsold any albums by either Sir Paul or Citizen John?

    Of course, Lennon scarcely even bothered to appear on Harrison tracks after 1966, and also had the audacity to tell Rolling Stone that George was lucky to have been able to hang around him and Paul but I digress.

    • Gripweed says:

      Thanks for the comment! And you are right about John not playing on a lot of George’s later songs. I believe that even more than the fight with Paul (that we all saw in Let It Be, George was frustrated by John’s complaints about his songwriting, leading him to walk out/quit for a short time. John played a slide guitar on “For You Blue”, but didn’t play on “I Me Mine”. I believe a fair amount of Abbey Road was recorded while John was recuperating from an automobile accident, so I would be surprised if John played on “HCTS” or “Something”.

      That’s one of the reasons I enjoy the song “Old Brown Shoe” as much as I do. Apart from the killer bass line and the wonderful, if short, guitar solo, it is one of the last times The Beatles can be heard enjoying themselves playing together (with John’s whoops in the background).

  6. Ad says:

    Thanks for the article, but looking for the amps, plus the guitar and amp settings he frequented. His sound is so distinct from 1969-2001, yet I can’t seem to find out how he did it. Does anyone out there know? Thanks again.

  7. MrAngemystere says:

    Buckley, you’re not a musician, guitarist, or music scholar, as your largely uninformed essay demonstrates. First, you claim that “as individual instrumentalists they were never confused with the virtuosos of their respective instruments (Paul McCartney coming closest with his mastery of the bass guitar.” There is nothing, absolutely not one bass line that McCartney played in his entire Beatles career that matched the the harmonic sophistication or dexterity of Harrison’s guitar solos on T’il There Was You, Old Brown Shoe, or Something. Moreover, Harrison and McCartney’s guitar work on And Your Bird Can Sing, Taxman, She Said, She Said, Blackbird, Here Comes the Sun, set standards of individual performance and style in rock guitar that only the likes of Jeff Beck or Jimi Hendrix really matched and/or surpassed in the era.

    You state that Harrison’s work in the mid-era Beatles (Rubber Soul) was “rough,” but again you speak from the viewpoint of a non-guitarist with little knowledge of the instrument or equipment of the day.

    In fact, George’s work on Nowhere Man, Run for Your Life, I’m Looking Through You, as well as his funk riffing on Drive My Car, are better than anything the Beatles’ competition, namely the Stones, produced that same year. His acoustic and lead work on Rubber Soul are still superior to what the vast majority of alternative/emo bands can manage today. Clearly, you’ve mistaken the lack of guitar distortion/effects for short-comings in technique, a common error made by the uninformed non-musician since at least 1968.

    As for your commentary about Harrison’s “wah wah” tracks on Let It Be, which you describe as “odd wandering rhythm tracks,” let me, a professional guitarist, point out that Harrison played wah wah on the guitar solos –– not simply the “rhythm” tracks –– on songs such as the early versions of I Got A Feeling and Across the Universe. In fact, many of Harrison’s wah wah “rhythm” tracks made it on to the album Let It Be, as evidenced by Across the Universe. One should point out that on the bootlegs, Harrison plays a wailing improvised wah wah solo on a jam of Get Back that dispenses with his usual superlative melodic style for a visceral, Cream/Hendrix-like nod that is both surprising and bracing in the ease in which he pulls it off. Additionally, Harrison’s wah wah inflected runs on the practice sessions of songs that would eventually make up Abbey Road show what the conservatism of Martin and McCartney’s editing decisions cost the Beatles.

    As it was, the album Let It Be showed off classic late Beatles-era guitar work, with a number of Harrison’s best solos, including his work on Let It Be (all three versions of his guitar solo), his blistering and bluesy solos on I Me Mine, One After 909, I’ve Got A Feeling, and I Dig A Pony.

    It is to your credit that you list Old Brown Shoe, Something, and Polythene Pam as among Harrison’s best solos, in as much as they seem so contemporary in sound. But you seem clearly unawares of just what makes the guitar solo on Old Brown Shoe, for example, truly great: it augments the overused pentatonic and blues scales with the Mixolydian, departing from Anglo-blues of the day to anticipate the more demanding fusion genre. (for guitarists, I suggest you listen to Jeff Beck’s “Come Dancing,” from Wired, a classic fusion album from 1977, to appreciate the similarity of approach between Beck’s angular funk and Harrison’s “out-of-the-box” attack on Old Brown Shoe).

    While Harrison’s slide playing was both standard-setting and defining, you seem to forget that a number of Harrison’s most notable post-Beatles guitar solos were not in fact played on the bottleneck, e.g., It Don’t Come Easy, Learning How to Love You ( a sophisticated bit of Jazz/”Quiet Storm”), Apple Jams (in which Harrison riffed with Clapton and Dave Mason), not to mention Harrison’s work with Splinter (“Somebody’s City”).

    Great artists require thoughtful, informed appraisal and, when necessary, critique. Your essay fails the standard.

    • Pete says:

      Where to begin?

      First of all, thank you for your opinions. We all have them. Even the “uninformed” such as I. I will ignore the presumptions about my playing ability and your assertions that only a rock-god such as yourself can deign to comment on a well known guitarist’s technique. The Internet will be lonelier place when only professional musicians can comment on guitarists, politicians are allowed to criticize politicians and athletes are permitted to opine on athletes. But you seem to have your goal and who am I to stop you?

      Second, there is a very large difference between holding up a guitar solo from a masterpiece and holding up the solo AS the masterpiece. Some of the solos that you listed are fine pieces of work to be sure. But for every “Old Brown Shoe” there is an “I’ll Follow The Sun” or an “All You Need Is Love.” This is not to criticize George. The point of this post was not to say he was a bad guitarist. Far from it. George was a natural when it came to emulating his early rock and roll and rockabilly heroes. His earliest solos from 1962-1964 prove this definitively. And some of his solos from 1968-1969 show a guitarist who had grown considerably from just a few years before. But to say that his acoustic and lead tracks on Rubber Soul are superior to the vast majority of the alternative movement is a puzzling statement. George turns in good performances on that album, but again, I believe you are confusing classic tracks with classic guitar work.

      Lastly I would like to thank you again for taking the time to comment. George Harrison continues to be an inspiration to me, as I learned to play listening to his work. I stand behind the point of my post which is that George was not the most technically proficient guitarist of his era. He had to work very hard to create his solos (read Geoff Emerick’s book if you are skeptical). Some worked brilliantly, some did not. It is okay if our heroes have flaws. But his true gift to the guitar was his innovation. Until Clapton, Beck and Hendrix took the electric guitar to new places George Harrison was a standard bearer and helped to define the way a guitar could sound in rock music.

  8. MrAngemystere says:

    “Where to begin?”

    Well, Pete, how about utilizing an introductory clause qualifying your OPINION as largely uninformed, since you neither play nor read music. This would alert your reader, especially those who depend upon your authorial privilege, to consider your essay largely subjective, thus behooving them either to discount it as an informed piece of music analysis or to seek an essayist who truly knows something about what her or she writes, namely George Harrison’s guitar playing.

    “First of all, thank you for your opinions.”

    You write like all too many conservatives, i.e., substituting their magical “thinking” for fact-based knowledge. I read music and play guitar professionally. You don’t. I analyzed the musical theory behind one of Harrison’s most interesting guitar solos, explicating why it is a superior solo. You couldn’t and didn’t. My discussion of Harrison is not mere “opinion,” but rather FACT-BASED rebuttal to YOUR musically illiterate “opinion.”

    “The Internet will be lonelier place when only professional musicians can comment on guitarists, politicians are allowed to criticize politicians and athletes are permitted to opine on athletes.”

    Pete, you rely on the red herring logical fallacy of the supposed “lonely internet.” What you ought to have concerned yourself with is whether the Internet would be a largely UNINFORMED, DUMBED-DOWN, IGNORANT “place,” where writers on any given subject assume for themselves intellectual “authority” to which they have no valid claim, and then commence to opine to the detriment of those seeking facts, or at least FACT-BASED opinion.

    ” But for every “Old Brown Shoe” there is an ‘I’ll Follow The Sun’ or an ‘All You Need Is Love.’

    This is complete twaddle, Pete. And if you hold to this idiotic claim, then I will list on this thread every single one of the guitar solos of Harrison to demonstrate that your claim, literally and figuratively, is a falsehood disguised, yet again, as “fact.”

    ” But to say that his acoustic and lead tracks on Rubber Soul are superior to the vast majority of the alternative movement is a puzzling statement.”

    What is a “puzzling statement,” Pete, is that you, an admitted NON-MUSICIAN, would claim to know what the ” vast majority of the alternative movement” actually play. The fact is, Pete, Harrison’s guitar playing on Rubber Soul –– Michelle, If I Needed Someone, Nowhere Man, I’ve Just Seen A Face, etc., are harmonically superior to the poorly played, primitively conceived “guitar playing” that constitutes the “vast majority” of the alternative movement.

    Again, as an educated musician, I can––as ANY educated, competent musician can––the relative skills or inabilities of other musicians. You, one who cannot read or play music, cannot. I reiterate that you, like so many non-musicians/amateur musicians have since at least 1968, confuse advanced recording sound effects –– distortion, delay, etc.–– with musical technique.

    ” George turns in good performances on that album, but again, I believe you are confusing classic tracks with classic guitar work.”

    Pete, you “believe” as opposed to “know,” given that you are not a serious guitarist. You confuse your uninformed opinion for musical expertise, defined as a level of performance drawn from rigorous training and experience. Let me point, forcefully, that in original post, you could not and did not support your declarations with any music theory or accurate technical/historical contexts. I did. And that’s because I’m a musician, one dedicated not make the Internet a good deal less “lonely” for intelligent, fact-based discourse and critique.

    ” I stand behind the point of my post which is that George was not the most technically proficient guitarist of his era. He had to work very hard to create his solos (read Geoff Emerick’s book if you are skeptical).”

    Pete, I have read Geoff Emerick’s book and found that he made a number of howling errors. He also doesn’t play a note on any instrument, and he remained on Paul McCartney’s payroll practically to the present day. McCartney has spent every waking breath since the Beatles ended claiming that he, not George or John or anyone else, was the great guitarist, lyricist, visionary –– not to mention accountant, attorney, philosopher, roadie, body guard, photographer, art director, chef, architect, etc. –– of the band.

    You see, Pete, as you might have learned at university, there is such a thing as “critical analysis,” and it begins with comparing and contrasting what any given author, for example, states in contrast to countervailing sources. In Emerick’s case, we must consider his technical errors in describing instrumentation, recording equipment, and even session accounts (and he was the recording engineer); we must consider his musical ignorance, which is immediately apparent in his summations of the individual Beatles’ musical contributions; and we must consider his, shall we say, professional affiliations, all of which would behoove any sentient reader, let alone a competent musician, to take Emerick’s “book” with a grain of salt…pepper, a clove of garlic, a cutting of Basil, etc.

    ” Until Clapton, Beck and Hendrix took the electric guitar to new places George Harrison was a standard bearer and helped to define the way a guitar could sound in rock music.”

    Here you prove your musical ignorance. Every rock guitarist owes Hendrix a debt, as of course he brought a muscular dexterity and a penchant for effects to rock playing that no rock guitarist previously employed. But Hendrix’s playing actually stays within the minor/major pentatonic scale. That’s it. Clapton is even more limited, in that he eschewed (or couldn’t envision) Hendrix’s willingness to embrace emerging guitar effects/recording technologies, and Clapton is even more of a prisoner to the pentatonic scale than Hendrix. At least Hendrix could envision the fusing of R&B, blues, and Soul to almost single-handedly create fusion-funk (exchanging Brown’s emphasis on the human vocal above a funkified instrumental backing to a setting in which the vocal backs a funk instrumental). But Harrison had a broader musical vocabulary – diminished, mixolydian, chord progressions, etc.–– than Clapton, for example, ever did.

    You clearly have no clue whatsoever to this fact. Let me put to you in simple terms: T’il There Was You, And Your Bird Can Sing, Fixing A Hole are more harmonically sophisticated than Clapton’s take on Crossroads, however powerful the latter sounds.

    Finally, Pete, that you call in the likes of a mere Hendrix or Clapton to make your point shows just how musically ignorant you are. Harrison’s strengths –– a sophisticated musical vocabulary –- offsets Clapton and Hendrix’s muscularity (and displays of meretricious masculinist postures). You see, Pete, Clapton has played the same solo and chord progressions since he first met Harrison.

    By contrast, a guitarist who played the solos on All My Loving to Something, The End to Give Me Love (Give Me Peace on Earth), from Back Off Bugaloo to Learning How to Love You, from Apple Jam to Dark Sweet Lady, not only shows “growth,” but also RANGE.

    If you want to make a point about guitarists who had greater “technical proficiency” than Harrison, you ought to have cited true master guitarists, such as Chet Atkins, Les Paul, Joe Pass, Barney Kessel, Herb Ellis. These musicians –– guitarists far above Harrison and ANY rock guitarist “of the era” –– played rock/pop sessions to pay the rent, and nonetheless set standards on their day jobs for the likes of Harrison and Hendrix to emulate (Clapton knew next to nothing of these players). In their true vocations (Jazz, Jazz/Pop/Country), these masters set standards for which ALL guitarist should learn of, let alone strive to achieve.

    Finally, I hope that your Of Buckley…” does not refer to that utterly fraudulent pseudo-intellectual, Bill Buckley, Jr., he who advocated the continuation of apartheid in America, the rounding up of HIV-positive Gays for concentration camp imprisonment, and the politics by which America would reintroduce the grotesque redistribution of wealth and its attendant political power to the top one percent.

    Based upon the hollow, uninformed, and callow arguments and the blithering attempt at a riposte, one can only assume the worst.

    Respectfully,

    MrAngemystere

    • Drae says:

      Based upon the hollow, uninformed, and callow arguments and the blithering attempt at a riposte, one can only assume the worst.

      Hahaha! Pot, meet Kettle. You’ve made too many assumptions about Pete, who does read music and can play multiple instruments. And you have your facts wrong about William F. Buckley (who apologized for calling for mandatory HIV testing and tattooing the results on gay men – not concentration camps). Basically, you’re everything that’s wrong with politics in America today. You think you can demonize your opponents based on assumptions you’ve made about them.

      Your “arguments” are rife with logical fallacies besides. Dude, you rail about Pete’s opinion and turn around to give us your opinion on Eric Clapton. Of course, you don’t know what our opinion is of Clapton, but let me give you some advice from a producer friend of mine: In the music business, always temper your opinion of your fellow musicians because you never know who you might offend.

      But you know, considering you have seemingly excessive time to post comments on the internet, I’m thinking you don’t have many producers knocking on your door. Good luck with the demo tape!

  9. Drae says:

    People who contribute nothing but insults and character assassinations are not welcome at this blog. We expect a certain level of discourse, that is to say a reasonable level. We welcome debate – of the articulate and thoughtful kind. There are other blogs where the “YOU’RE A POOPY HEAD!” argument will fly as great debate technique, but this site isn’t one of them.

  10. Ted Mason says:

    Interesting article but dead wrong on the musical ability of the band. This article does not take into historical content and the limited musical abilities of the Beatles’ contemporaries, (Eric Clapton did not even comprehend the complex jazz chords George Harrison knew, and Clapton based all his solos on what he only know; melodic minor, Mixolydian and blues scale never taking into account the harmony of chord progressions and that the blues scale will be off key when played against certain chords if one is unaware of complex harmony). To glorify McCartney’s superior technique above Harrison’s ability can only be presented as an argument if one is not well familiar with harmony and real musical technique. It is an argument that I have heard over and over again and is just a misinformed opinion nothing more. For all that dismiss the real technique of George Harrison, not mention is forward thinking of being the first Anglo to popularize “Putamayo” world music, are not taking into consideration that Rock is not a technique of music that creates “Virtuosos”! That is absurd. But Harrison as a guitarist went beyond Rock. The only one from the 60’s and 70’s in “Rock” that accomplished this. Harrison’s solos show an in depth understanding of harmony and master technique; Old Brown Shoe, Hey Bull Dog, etc. Even after the Beatles, Badfinger’s Day After Day, George Harrison lead guitar, Ringo’s It Don’t Come Easy and Back off Boogaloo, George; and Abbey Road and The End which if you want the greatest rock guitar solo on recording well need I say more. The limitations of all Rock guitarists of the time, their inferior recording techniques and their exposed limited musical techniques are clear when you listen and compare the recordings of same time period. Virtuoso in rock is an extremely presumptuous term. Rock is not Bebop, Flamenco or Jazz. After the 60’s Funk and R&B had much more complex musicianship then any heavy metal, Shredder or Rock band to date. Rock was once African American infusion but Heavy Metal and Led Zep changed that to all white audience. But the musical ability of the Beatles and George to almost reach out to the future in their songwriting, playing and mix of “exotic” cultures has narrowed the playing field of 60’s and 70’s rocker’s to one band and their MUSICIANSHIP that is now much more precise, innovative and absolutely inventive and Still up to date in the new world of R&B, Rap and Hip Hop. That is the Beatles.

    Ted Mason
    Former guitarist, producer, manager, co singer songwriter Modern English
    Producer/lead guitarist/bebop/flamenco/classical guitarist
    President Mi5 Recordings Inc. EMI/Virgin/Capital

    • Pete says:

      Thank you for the thoughtful comment. While I am not prepared to place George Harrison ahead of Eric Clapton in terms of sheer technical ability on the guitar, I believe we do agree on George’s ability to innovate. George’s influence and innovation was intended to be the point of the post (fully realizing that I omitted some key examples of eastern influence -not just in the full-on eastern songs, but in mainstream pop such as “Here Comes The Sun”). I will agree with you about “The End.” George steals the show in that guitar duel (his final pass before Lennon closes the section out is four seconds of perfection). And yes, “Old Brown Shoe” and “Hey Bulldog” are amazing pieces of work (as is the slide in “Wah Wah”). There is more to playing than being an acrobat or simply being flash. If there wasn’t I would not have spent the last 25 years trying to play like George Harrison (and coming up well short). But being a Beatles fan I can understand how their music can be appreciated on so many levels by people whose experience allows them to hear it in different ways. There’s certainly nothing wrong with that.

      • Ted Mason says:

        Eric Clapton was great ONLY in Cream. But it was just rock. Clapton is not God. It is absurd to chime and repeat verbatim Clapton’s God like talent when in the 1960’s Wes Montgomery was playing, who was really overlooked by the Rock and white community for absolutely understanding of improvising. The sound of the Electric Guitar was in fact new, and it was tied to a generation challenging inequality. But as the importance of Rock faded we can now look at the absolute vulnerability of the playing and writing. A lot of the music and playing has not lasted the time. As a musician Clapton does not even know the basis of the tri-tones, or the diminished scale that is used just for tracks like “My Sweet Lord.” (there are only 3 diminished chords they all equal four minor 6 harmonies Cdim = Cdim, Eb dim, Gb dim and A dim. In theory (Bebop and George’s playing) we are very comfortable with the diversity of harmony on this chord but also on the 7b5, minor b5 or half diminished, augmented 5, 6, 7 , 9 chords and Clapton’s “technique” is not good enough to figure how to play a scale to these chords. The most simple scale is 1, 2, -3 and repeat every minor 3 i.e. starting on C: C, D, Eb, F, F#, G#, A, B, C (notice the tritone is F# so basically this is 2 keys, Cdim and F#dim. This is the basic scale for C diminished or B7b9 but divisions of octaves allow much more flexibility, Start a scale on C: 1, -2, -3, 3, -5, 5, 6, b7, then repeat starting on the 6th or A the same exact scale and repeat on every 6th. A, Gb, Eb, C. If you don’t think George knew those scales well listen to “Till there was you” 1964, Old Brown Shoe, all the slide solos on All things must pass, opening line to “I want You” on Abbey Road. Yep there it is. Also it is inaccurate to say George could not move on with his guitar work in later Beatles because he could not keep up. Paul McCartney would NOT let him play any solos anymore or was reluctant to allow him his input. THIS is absolute common knowledge. After the Beatles, as a guitar player myself, I do not see any signs of McCartney’s talent as a lead guitar and riffs like “Jet” (Dragnet is a goofy riff and nothing near George’s riffs for songs on the Beatles) and a silly chromatic scale for “Band on the Run” are a poor excuse for signature riff, creativity and are simply amateurish. The fact that it is very common for guitarist’s to stroke their musical masculinity and claim that Harrison was of little talent. We must listen to what guitarist did at the time and measure it against what the greatest guitarists have given to popular music: Charlie Christian, Joe Pass, all the Blues Players that invented bending of the note, Wes Montgomery. All of these artists relied on telling a story and technique was an after thought. Its not about the solo its about the story your write.

  11. Corbinamondo says:

    Im afraid to read the rest of the article ecause the beginning is wrong. Georges first recording gutar was a gretsch duo jet and his gentlemen wasnt black it was red.

    • Pete says:

      You know, you may just be right about the color of George’s guitar it was a deep red or brown, which always comes out as black in B&W photos. And it is true that George recorded with other guitars before he settled on the Gentleman. I should have said “trademark guitar” instead of “guitar of choice”.

  12. I believe that is among the most vital information for me. And i’m glad reading your article. But should statement on some general things, The website style is wonderful, the articles is truly great : D. Excellent activity, cheers

  13. Bob Seneshen says:

    I started reading this with interest, but became overwhelmed with the diatribe and posturing from some. As a longtime listener I appreciate a wide range of musical and genres. At age sixty I’m taking guitar lesson, making some progress and hope to be able to play a few songs with confidence and musicality somewhere down that long musical road.

    But holy cow can’t everyone take it down a notch.

    Regards,

    Canadian Neophyte Guitarist

  14. Dougie Styetone says:

    As a guitar player for 40 years, all I can say is this: the Beatles as a unit were the BEST! And individually, they were all supremely successful. George was a inspiration to us all and I enjoy learning his songs as I do Lennon and McCartney’s. All of this bullocks about who’s better and guitar scales is stupid. George was in the Beatles because he added the technical guitar expertise that John and Paul did not have. Fortunately for them, he had a tremendous work ethic and never stood still. Let’s just put The End (Paul,George, John in order of solos) on an endless loop and listen to guitar nirvana!

  15. Ted Masonq says:

    I wish real musicians would be critics. This line: The Beatles as a whole were very good, but as individual instrumentalists they were never confused with the virtuosos of their respective instruments: is an absurd statement to be kind. If you are comparing the Beatles to Charlie Parker? ok then you have an argument. But rock from Clapton to Van Halen is simplistic in its musical technique relying heavily on cliche, Mixolydian, minor and blues scales against major chords which is usually off key. The Beatles utilized multiple chord progressions, modulation complex melody lines, incredible guitar solos (opening of Sgt Pepper, Old Brown Shoe, the End to name a few and Within You and Without You is simply classical music!) And George Harrison’s solos are concise in understanding harmony, following harmonic chord changes and creating interesting melodies out of a guitar solo which no rock guitarist or band could match (If those that are enlightened can consider Black music rock then James Brown, Stevie Wonder, Ray Charles and Curtis Mayfield certainly were the only “Rock” artists to challenge the Beatles). The simplistic adolescent musicianship of rock musicians is a cult of simplicity. Ted Mason, President Mi5 Recordings (Universal), Lead guitarist, bebop guitarist, classical guitarist, producer and former Modern English member, producer and manager.

    • Pete says:

      My simple suggestion: Do not read blog posts by people you consider to be intellectually inferior for not having been professional musicians. I am not selling myself as a professional critic. I am a fan. This is a blog, not Downbeat. Your belabored point is noted.

  16. I enjoyed your synopsis, however I can say your research was a bit “colorblind”. As was mentioned above George’s Gent was not black (nor was it red) It was a walnut stain with gold hardware. Lennon’s Rick was black with a gold pick guard (this guitar was later replaced w/ the same model but B&W as you say). The Strats were a kind of “powder blue” called Sonic Blue by Fender.
    Thanks again for the gear article!

  17. joe feldman says:

    Pete – I think you gave a very good analysis of George’s evolution. I think if he were to read the follow-up posts, he would sneer down his nose at everyone. To express an opinion here, I guess I have to qualify that I am a semi-professional guitarist and have studied the Beatles my entire life and can play virtually all the guitar parts. (I can even play the flamenco intro of Bungalow Bill, which was actually just a recorded Mellotron loop).
    What’s missing from everyone’s analysis is the main point: The Beatles were composers. They were driven to create new sounds and new musical genres – they were not out to show off their chops. They created unique compositions, each with a beginning, middle and end, each unique from any other Beatle song, each unique from anyone else’s.
    When you think of it, you can’t really say that Here Comes the Sun sounds like x Beatle song, or x anyone else’s song. Or Michelle, Blackbird, Sgt. Peppers, Walrus, Strawberry, etc. etc. Each song is virtually sui generis, to use a college-boy term. And George was an important part of it.
    As a musician and guitarist, George was efficient. Not a superflous note. Every note contributed to the song – enhancing its melody, building a bridge, creating an intro or outro. (He came up with the intro to You Can’t Do That on the spot). Not to sound like an Austrian king, but he never played “too many notes.”
    Frankly, a lot of Hendrix, Clapton, Page solos are masturbatory filler. Technically, they might have played faster than George, but none of them were as consistently melodic or musically experimental.
    George’s quest for new sounds involved a lot of serendipity.
    RIckenbacker sends the Beatles his guitars out of the blue, and boom, a genre is born.
    George plugs his guitar into a Leslie amp and creates a totally new, warm, mysterious effect.
    George becomes enthralled with Indian music. So he adapts a raga sound to his guitar playing.
    An engineer threads a tape wrong and plays it backwards accidentally – and George & the boys go after that sound. George learned to play a solo BACKWARDS and then play the tape backwards, to achieve the sound in I’m Only Sleeping.
    You could argue that his guitar work on this song alone would qualify him to be the most innovative guitarist ever. I love Steve Howe and Steve Hackett, and I am positive that George opened their young ears to new guitar sounds. Certainly, that sound came about with Paul, John, Emerick, Martin’s contributions, but it was mainly George.
    He was precise. He mastered bends. He & Clapton both utilized bends to have the guitar sing a melody superbly.
    To me, his solo in Something is the greatest guitar solo in rock. It’s not shredding or tapping or any other glitzy gimmick. It is a perfectly constructed song within a song, played soulfully and deftly. And he played it LIVE with the orchestra on one track, IN ONE TAKE.
    Listen to Come Together. Have you ever heard a guitar anywhere else sound like that? The deep silky tone, the way it answers its own riffs? And he was content to do that sound ONCE. Others would have made a career out of playing guitar with that sound.
    And one more thing that kills me: I think it was Q Magazine that voted the guitar solo in All You Need is Love as the worst ever. Give me a break. He had two bars to play the first part of the song’s melody before the orchestra resolved it. I challenge any neophyte guitarist with a snarky opinion to duplicate the sound of George’s guitar on that riff. He is creating that swoopy sound by bending the string up a third and precisely nailing the descending notes, adding a psychedelic interlude that cuts through the orchestration.
    Finally, my two cents on the Beatles as instrumentalists.
    Paul, as a bass player, is in a class by himself. Every bass player will tell you, he created melodies and rhythm that could stand alone as a song – and his bass playing would actually define a song (listen to Come Together). He’s no Victor Wooten, but then again, Victor Wooten is no McCartney. Paul’s guitar playing is also under-appreciated. His stabbing, aggressive solos like on Taxman, his acoustic work on Blackbird and Mother Nature’s Son, while not difficult – it is fantastic nonetheless. (Of course his piano, drums, horns, and Mellotron playing were all simply perfect).
    John, oy, well, he was a very good rhythm player – try those triplets on All My Loving! He extended himself as a guitarist, with Donovan’s help, to create Julia and Dear Prudence. And he was able to play with emotion and whimsy when he wanted to: the slide on For You Blue, the sly riffs and solos on Get Back, the ’30s style of Honey Pie, the berserk solo ending The End…
    Ringo. John was asked if Ringo was the best drummer in rock, and John famously replied that he’s not even the best drummer in the Beatles. Again, I think his playing is efficient and idiosyncratic. Since he is a lefty playing on a right-handed kit, his fills and timing are spectacularly unique and added emotion to the song.
    Thanks again Pete for starting this forum! (you’re not Pete Best, are you?)
    Joe F.
    Los Angeles, CA

    PS. I will leave you all with a piece of trivia: George played guitar on Basketball Jones!

  18. Ted Mason says:

    This is a bullshit article and the critic does not realize that rock guitarist are not worth anything compared to even 60’s guitarist like Wes Montgomery. George Harrison was the only guitar player to not player minor scales against major chords because he knew theory. I wish non player critics would would not critic acts like the Beatles when they no NOTHING of music theory. Ted Mason Modern English, President Mi5 Recordings Universal Music Group.

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