George Harrison had wanted a Fender Stratocaster for years. Having seen Buddy Holly play one on television and being captivated in his early years, Harrison eventually found the one shop in England that was selling the American brand of six strings. Unfortunately, he was beaten to the punch by a rival.
“The fella who was the guitar player in the band Ringo was in, called Rory Storm and the Hurricanes, he found out about it too. He got up earlier and went and got it. By the time I got there, it was gone,” Harrison wistfully remembers. “I was so disappointed. It scarred me for the rest of my life.”
By the time the Beatles had reached 1965, Harrison could get any guitar he wanted. His Gretsch Country Gentlemans and Tennesseans had been phased out, and he was looking to move beyond the signature twang created with the Rickenbacker 360-12. So he and John Lennon dispatched roadie Mal Evans to obtain two Fender Strats to fulfil a lifelong passion. What he returned with wound up being crucial to the band’s psychedelic phase.
Evans bought two matching sonic blue ’61 Strats for the guitarists, and Harrison immediately fell in love. The guitars can be heard on the signature guitar parts in ‘Nowhere Man’ and ‘And Your Bird Can Sing’, and as 1967 began to take shape as the Summer of Love, Harrison decided to give his Strat a matching paint job, complete with a new name, ‘Rocky’.
“During ’67, everybody started painting everything,” Harrison explained, “And I decided to paint it. I got some Day-Glo paint, which was quite a new invention in them days, and just sat up late one night and did it.” The rainbow paint job was completed with Hindu symbols and old school rock and roll terms like “bebopalula” and “go cat go”, bridging Harrison’s past with his future. Other instruments came and went, but Harrison kept ‘Rocky’ for his entire life.
The biggest public stage that ‘Rocky’ appeared on was during the ‘I Am The Walrus’ sequence for the Magical Mystery Tour film. During his solo career, Rocky was utilised in the studio for slide guitar work, and it’s allegedly the guitar used for the harmonising slide parts in Harrison’s classic tune ‘My Sweet Lord’. The full list of songs Harrison used Rocky for isn’t known, but any guitar fanatics with sharp ears for Strat tones can be assured that the Strat in question is Rocky, at least on Beatles-era songs (Harrison later obtained a cream-coloured Strat, which he used during The Concert for Bangladesh).
Rocky remained in Harrison’s possession throughout his career, and upon his death, the Strat was bequeathed to his son, Dhani. The Fender Custom Shop made a limited run of Rocky reproductions that accurately reverse-engineer Harrison’s signature guitar down to the most minute details. If you’re interested, they’re going to cost you a pretty penny, as they retail for $25,000 dollars.
Watch Harrison talk about how he obtained ‘Rocky’ in the clip down below.