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(Credit: Bent Rej)

Music

Every guitar George Harrison used in The Beatles

@TylerGolsen

The number of guitars that floated through The Beatles during their decade-long career is nothing short of astounding. Starting off with cheap instruments bought in local Liverpool shops, the group had three guitar players to satiate, and as their success grew to a seismic level, the three began to search for the best instruments around.

Almost all of these guitars became iconic thanks to their association with the band. John Lennon’s Rickenbacker 325 remains one of the definitive guitars of the mop-top era, while Paul McCartney’s adoption of the Fender Esquire can be heard on the searing lead guitar lines for ‘Good Morning Good Morning’. But as the band’s lead guitarist, George Harrison had a monopoly on guitar geek obsession and fandom.

From the days playing Hamburg clubs all the way through the band’s final recording sessions, Harrison played more than 20 guitars live and on record with The Beatles. Some of these axes are from the biggest and most legendary brands out there: Gibson, Fender, and Rickenbacker. Others are strange hidden gems from companies like Hofner and Gretsch, while still others are from more obscure brands like Maton and Futurama/Kent. Whatever he was using, Harrison was consistently producing some of the most exciting six-string work of all time.

Today, we’re diving into axe history to chronicle every single guitar that Harrison used in The Beatles, from when he first joined as a teenager in the late 1950s to the band’s last session in 1970. These are all the six strings that Harrison wielded during his time with The Beatles.

Every guitar George Harrison played in The Beatles:

Hofner President

Although not the first guitar Harrison ever owned (that distinction belongs to an Egmond Spanish-style acoustic), the Hofner President was the first guitar that Harrison could actually use in a professional setting. Harrison bought the guitar for £30 and later equipped a pickup to the guitar’s body in order to amplify the instrument.

However, it was still mostly an acoustic guitar, meaning that it didn’t fit with the embrace of rock and roll that Harrison and his bandmates were leaning into. The President didn’t stick around for long, but it was the first guitar Harrison ever used in The Beatles.

Hofner Club 40

From one Hofner to another, Harrison picked up this seemingly solid body electric guitar in a swap with Ray Ennis from the band the Swinging Blue Jeans where Harrison handed over his President. Although it looked solid, the Club 40 was actually a hollow body, making it light, cheap, and tinny sounding.

In a return to the Star Club in Hamburg in 1965, Harrison donated the guitar to the owners for their upcoming Best Band contest. The guitar was allegedly signed by all four Beatles, but more likely it was forged by band accomplice Neil Aspinall. A German band called The Faces were the winners (not the Rod Stewart-led group of the ’70s), and singer Frank Dostal kept the guitar before auctioning it off in 2018.

Resonet Futurama

In England, the Kent instrument company rebranded as Futurama and sold knockoff guitars that were rare in the UK. At a time when Fender Stratocasters were almost impossible to find, Harrison bought a similarly-structured Futurama as a step up from his Hofner Club 40.

Harrison used the guitar throughout The Beatles’ Hamburg club dates and even during some of the group’s pre-Please Please Me recording sessions. Harrison gifted the guitar to Beat Instrumental magazine for a planned rally, but when the winner decided to accept a cash prize instead, publisher Sean Mahoney kept the guitar for himself.

1957 Gretsch 6128 Duo Jet

Representing a major step up from the knockoff guitars and cheap imitators that he had owned up to that point, the Gretsch Duo Jet was Harrison’s main axe when The Beatles played The Cavern Club. When the band entered EMI Studios for their mammoth recording session to produce their debut, Please Please Me, the Duo Jet was the guitar that Harrison played.

Harrison gave the guitar to German pal Klaus Voorman when he upgraded, but Voorman returned the six-string to Harrison roughly 20 years later. After sending it to a professional to get the guitar working again, Harrison posed with the iconic axe on the front cover of his 1987 comeback album Cloud Nine.

1962 Gibson J-160E

As The Beatles began to diversify the songs they recorded and played in concert, it became apparent that Harrison once again required an acoustic. He and Lennon went to Rushworth and Dreaper’s Music in Liverpool to pick up two Gibson Jumbo guitars, but since they were identical, Lennon played the one originally bought by Harrison and vice versa.

Lennon lost the guitar originally bought by Harrison in 1963, but Harrison hung on to the one originally bought by Lennon and continued to use it occasionally throughout The Beatles’ recording career. Harrison claims to have given the guitar away, but Harrison’s estate still reports the guitar as being in their possession.

Gretsch 6131 Jet Fire Bird

Little is known about this guitar. Only a few photos exist of Harrison using this particular axe, dating from around 1963. Similar enough to his Duo Jet, it’s most likely that Harrison borrowed the guitar when his Duo Jet required maintenance.

Harrison definitely used the guitar during a show or two while the band were still playing at The Cavern Club, but once the Duo Jet came back into the picture, the Fire Bird disappears and is never seen again. Its current whereabouts are unknown.

1962 Gretsch 6122 Country Gentleman

Harrison’s first foray into the world of the Country Gentleman came with this model, a walnut-finished guitar that was so bulky that it almost dwarfed Harrison behind it. It’s alleged that Harrison first used the Gretsch on ‘She Loves You’ and soon replaced the Duo Jet as his number one guitar.

Harrison acquired a second Country Gentleman soon after getting the first, and this guitar was relegated to a secondary role. While on the road to a gig in Glasgow in 1965, the guitar came unmoored from its ties and wound up in the middle of the road. By the time the crew doubled back, they found the guitar in bits and splinters. On a time crunch and already equipped with a Country Gentleman, the remains were left on the road.

Maton Mastersound MS-500

During a 1963 gig in Manchester, Harrison’s original country Gentleman required repairs, so the store loaned him a Maton Mastersound guitar for him to use in the interim. After a few gigs, Harrison reclaimed his Gretsch and returned the Maton.

Around the same time, a musician named Roy Barber picked up a Maton Mastersound at the same shop. Allegedly, this was the same guitar that Harrison had borrowed briefly in 1963, and after the former store manager authenticated it, the guitar was sold and eventually went up for auction. An unknown buyer got the guitar for a cool half a million dollars. Not bad for a brief backup guitar.

1963 Gretsch 6122 Country Gentleman

Just before The Beatles were set to go to America for their performance on The Ed Sullivan Show, Harrison obtained a second Country Gentleman as a backup for his original. It turned out that Harrison preferred the second guitar to his original, and the new Country Gentleman became the new number one in his arsenal.

This Gretsch is what most Americans first saw Harrison play during the band’s appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show. Harrison continued to use this axe throughout 1964 and 1965, later gifting it to Ringo Starr after he began moving on to other guitars. Presumably, Ringo still owns the guitar.

Gretsch 6119 Tennessean

Even though he will forever be associated with the Country Gentleman during the mop-top era, Harrison didn’t actually use the Country Gentleman during the majority of tours and recording sessions from 1963 to 1965. That honour goes to the Gretsch 6119 Tennessean, a similar model that became Harrison’s number one shortly after The Ed Sullivan Show.

Using the guitar during The Beatles’ legendary Shea Stadium concert, Harrison even broke out the classic axe during the sessions for Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. The current location of the guitar is unknown: it was not among the stable of Gretschs that Harrison would show off in later years. Whether it was stolen or misplaced, it’s one of Harrison’s most famous M.I.A guitars.

Jose Ramirez Guitarra de Estudio

A Spanish style acoustic guitar, this nylon-string instrument was utilised in the studio on tracks like ‘And I Love Her’. The guitar was used throughout early band recording sessions, but only on the rare occasion when the steel-stringed Gibson Jumbo guitar was deemed unsuitable.

The guitar can be seen being wielded by a few different Beatles in promotional photos during the band’s early years, but the exact location of the guitar is also currently unknown. It has not been reported stolen, so there’s a chance that it currently resides among the guitars held on to by the Harrison estate.

1962 Rickenbacker 425 

Although he would later be associated with a different model of Rickenbacker, Harrison’s first experience with the brand came with a 425 in fire-glo red. Lennon had already owned his 325 for a number of years, and now Harrison had his very own Rickenbacker.

Once he got his more famous Rickenbacker a short time later, Harrison stopped using the 425, but held on to the guitar for sentimental value. Harrison gifted the guitar to George Peckham, an old Liverpool friend, who kept the guitar for a number of years before sending it back out into the world via an auction house. Today, the guitar has found its way to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, where it remains on display.

1963 Rickenbacker 360-12

Harrison’s most famous Rickenbacker was gifted to him in absentia. While the band were doing press for their Ed Sullivan appearance, Rickenbacker president F.C. Hall showed off a number of instruments. Originally trying to load off the twelve-string onto Lennon, Hall eventually brought the guitar to Harrison, who was laid up in bed with a cold.

For the opening chime of songs like ‘A Hard Days Night’ and ‘You Can’t Do That’, the Rickenbacker 360-12 is the guitar responsible for The Beatles’ signature sound. Harrison would later acquire a second twelve-string, so the original was retired and placed within Harrison’s ever-growing collection, where it remains today.

1965 Rickenbacker 360-12

During the presentation of the original Rickenbacker, Harrison was on the phone with radio station WDGY. The station offered to buy Harrison the guitar, but Hall insisted it was a free gift. Not wanting to be upstaged, the station later bought a new model of the 360-12 and gifted it to Harrison upon the band’s arrival in Minnesota in 1965.

This became the Rickenbacker favoured during the Rubber Soul sessions, including its prominent usage on ‘If I Needed Someone’. Harrison hung on to the guitar, occasionally breaking it out during studio sessions at EMI. That’s where the guitar was reportedly stolen, along with a closet full of other iconic instruments, in 1969.

1961 ‘Rocky’ Fender Stratocaster

During the Rubber Soul sessions, Lennon and Harrison had a request for roadie Mal Evans: they wanted Fender Stratocasters. The two had grown up watching figures like Buddy Holly play the guitar, and now that they were successful, they wanted two of their own. Fenders had only just recently become available in England, and Evans returned with two powder blue Strats.

Harrison proceeded to give the Strat a unique multi-coloured paint job and named it ‘Rocky’. Harrison used the guitar during the ‘I Am the Walrus’ segment of Magical Mystery Tour, and soon after it began to take on a life of its own. Harrison had the Strat set up for slide guitar during his solo career, and he can be seen playing it as late as the ’90s. ‘Rocky’ still belongs to the Harrison estate.

Gibson ES-345 TD 

Just before gravitating to a different semi-hollow body guitar, Harrison picked up this unique Gibson in 1965. Details about how Harrison acquired the ES-345, who he got it from, and how long he had it are scarce, but the guitar can be seen being played by Harrison in the promotional films for ‘Day Tripper’ and ‘We Can Work It Out’.

After that, Harrison appears to have brought the guitar with him on a 1965 British tour, but the guitar’s trail suddenly goes cold after that. Was it a temporary loan from another musician? Was it stolen, like a number of his other guitars? It remains a mystery, just like the current location of the guitar.

Epiphone E230TD Casino

Once again going in together on new guitars, Lennon and Harrison were inspired by McCartney’s recent purchase of an Epiphone Casino and acquired their own models at the start of 1966. Both Lennon and Harrison brought their Casinos on the road as their preferred guitars during The Beatles’ final touring years.

Harrison and Lennon late stripped the finish off their Casinos. While Harrison gravitated towards other instruments, Lennon continued using his Epiphone as his number one, even calling it his “favourite guitar” during The Beatles: Get Back. Even though he used it less, Harrison hung on to his Casino, and his estate hangs on to it today.

Gibson SG Standard 

Some time in 1966, Harrison got his first solid body electric Gibson. This was an SG, which Harrison used on occasion from the Revolver sessions onward. Most famously, Harrison can be seen using the guitar during the ‘Lady Madonna’ video, which was filmed during the session for ‘Hey Bulldog’. That makes it almost certain that Harrison played the stinging guitar lines for that song on the SG.

Always happy to deal out guitars, Harrison presented the SG to fellow Apple Records signees Badfinger in 1969. Singer/guitarist Pete Ham claimed the instrument and used it on some of the band’s biggest hits. Eventually, the guitar came into the possession of Ham’s brother John, who eventually sold it to Indianapolis Colts owner and noted guitar collector Jim Irsay.

Gibson J-200

A new Gibson Jumbo guitar came into Harrison’s possession in 1968, which Harrison used on the subsequent White Album sessions. It became a favoured instrument for Lennon as well, who would play the instrument on some of his acoustic songs. Harrison most famously used the guitar for ‘Here Comes the Sun’.

The guitar can be seen prominently in the docuseries The Beatles: Get Back. Both Harrison and Lennon use it, and the acoustic would be a go-to for Harrison throughout the rest of his recording career. Today, it remains in the possession of the Harrison estate.

1957 ‘Lucy’ Gibson Les Paul Standard

One of Harrison’s most famous guitars came as a gift from friend Eric Clapton. Having already passed through the hands of John Sebastian and Rick Derringer, this ’57 Goldtop was painted hot rod red and landed with Clapton after a trip to New York. Only a short time after gifting Harrison the guitar, Clapton found himself playing it during the sessions for ‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps’.

After using the guitar to record the solo for ‘Something’, Harrison kept the guitar and used it occasionally during his solo years. In 1974, the axe was stolen from Harrison’s California home and eventually made its way to Mexico. Harrison was able to track it down and eventually got the Les Paul back, with the guitar currently being owned by the Harrison estate.

1968 Rosewood Fender Telecaster

The final guitar Harrison acquired during his Beatles years was the legendary Rosewood Fender Telecaster that the company made especially for him. Fender sent the prototype to Harrison, while a Rosewood Stratocaster was dispatched to Jimi Hendrix. Harrison obtained the guitar during the Get Back sessions and used it extensively.

Most famously, the Rosewood Tele was the final guitar Harrison played live with The Beatles, having used it for the group’s rooftop performance in January of 1969. The guitar was gifted to Delaney Bramlett, who later sold it back to the Harrison estate, where it remains to this day.