Paul McCartney is, first and foremost, a guitar player. You’d be forgiven for thinking otherwise, considering that his primary role within both The Beatles and Wings was as a bass player, but his adoption of the bass guitar was due to circumstance, not by choice.
“None of us wanted to be the bass player. In our minds, he was the fat guy who always played at the back,” McCartney once famously quipped. He managed to carve out an influential career on the four-stringed instrument, but even during the early days of The Beatles, he longed to return to the guitar.
It wasn’t until the recording of Help! that McCartney got to pick up the six-string once again. By this point, the band were allowed slightly more time in the hectic schedules to focus on recording, meaning they no longer had to whistle through three or four songs a day (or all songs in a day, as was the case on Please Please Me). Still, the commitments for promotional appearances, film shoots, and concerts were always looming, so quickness was still needed. McCartney was slowly beginning to assert his presence for forcefully as the band’s main arranger, and so when he had a guitar part in mind, George Harrison and John Lennon began to simply let him try it himself.
That’s how McCartney landed prime lead guitar lines of ‘Another Girl’, ‘Drive My Car’, ‘Taxman’, and ‘Good Morning Good Morning’. Once they became a studio-only band, McCartney could now freely indulge himself with solos and additional guitar work. Especially on the songs he composed himself, McCartney’s guitar playing began to become as prominent as anyone else’s in the band.
But what equipment did McCartney favour for those stinging leads, delicate acoustic runs, and fuzz-filled rhythm parts? Initially, it was an Epiphone Casino. “I have an Epiphone Casino, which is one of my favourites,” McCartney told GQ in 2020. “It’s not the best guitar, but I bought it in the 1960s. I went into a shop on Charing Cross Road and asked the guys if they had a guitar that would feed back, because I was very much into Jimi Hendrix and that kind of thing.”
He continued: “I loved that kind of stuff and so I wanted a guitar that was going to give me feedback, as none of the others could. So they showed me the Casino. Because it’s got a hollow body, it feeds back easier. I had a lot of fun with that. That’s the guitar I played the ‘Taxman’ solo on and it’s also the guitar I played the riff on ‘Paperback Writer’ with. It’s still probably my favourite guitar.”
McCartney wasn’t the only Beatle who gravitated towards the Casino. After spending much of the band’s early career favouring his Rickenbacker 325, Lennon acquired a Casino himself around 1966 and continued to use the guitar throughout most of The Beatles later recordings. It was also the guitar Lennon used for the band’s final performance on the rooftop of their Saville Row headquarters in 1969.
McCartney also picked up a Fender Esquire around the same time he acquired the Casino, which can be heard giving plenty of feedback during ‘Good Morning Good Morning’ and ‘Helter Skelter’. When it came to acoustic guitars, McCartney initially used an Epiphone Texan to record ‘Yesterday’, but later adopted a Martin D-28 during most of the band’s studio-only years.
After The Beatles, McCartney began to adopt a number of electric guitars, and frequently uses a Gibson Les Paul during his modern-day live performances. A versatile musician needs a versatile array of instruments, and McCartney always had a keen interest in collecting the best guitars he could find.