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GEORGE HARRISON - Real Guitar Hero - Guide to The World's Best Guitarists

Updated on January 26, 2012

The year was 1965. Lyndon B. Johnson was commander-in-chief, America was quickly becoming mired in the swamps of Vietnam, Martin Luther King Jr. was marching to Montgomery...and thousands of screaming teeny boppers welcomed the second British Invasion, led by that most popular of bands ever: the Beatles. And although John and Paul attracted most of the media attention, turns out it was the late George Harrison who was the meticulous musician in the band.

Influences On The Influencer

From their beginnings as a "skiffle" band in the late '50's known as "The Quarrymen", George was considered the lead guitarist, although the other band members initially considered him "too young" to join the band. One story has it that young George's mastery of Duane Eddy guitar licks made such an impression on John Lennon that he was invited to join the band the same day.

Other influences on the early George Harrison included the rockabilly hero Carl Perkins, and the British equivalent of rockabilly, "skiffle," hero Lonnie Donegan. Guitar lessons from early Beatle collabarator Tony Sheridan in 1961 probably didn't hurt, either.

Harrison's style shifted dramatically from the initial sound in the early 1960's, however.  He went from a Chet Atkins-influenced picking style to a sound that included instruments as diverse as the slide guitar and the sitar.  The well-crafted, tightly-knit 12 bar solos featured in songs like "Hard Day's Night," and "Can't Buy Me Love," changed to a much freer, open sound as heard in "Here Comes the Sun," "Something." The sitar became representative of a much larger shift in George's whole way of thinking, as he embraced Hinduism and Eastern philosophy as a way of life.

Essential Guitars

George built a reputation as a bit of a guitar collector. His eye for an unusual guitar (or instrument, as was the case with the sitar) meant that he collected quite a few of them: a Gretsch Country Gentleman, a Rickenbacker 360/12, a Fender Stratocaster which was dubbed "Rocky," a 1964 Gibson SG Standard, and a Gibson Les Paul named "Lucy," in honor of Lucille Ball. And that's just during his time with the Beatles!

The Beatles first hit single, "Love Me Do," was recorded with Harrison playing a Gibson J-160E. However, the guitar he used most during the period from 1963 to 1965 was the Country Gentleman, which was only replaced after being run over by a truck! It was during the Beatles' first visit to the U.S. that George was presented with the 12-string model Rickenbacker that would be used for their early hit "Hard Day's Night", as well as the album by the same name. This particular Rickenbacker 360/12 was unique in that the strings were done in reverse order (octave string strung second instead of first).

Most of the songs on Rubber Soul were recorded using a Sonic Blue Fender Stratocaster George bought in 1965. He can be seen playing it in the movie for Magical Mystery Tour and continued using it after that even into his solo career. The guitar had the name "Rocky" painted on the headstock, and became known as such. It was later repainted with Day-Glo paint, a relatively new invention in the '60's.

The main guitar for Revolver was a '64 SG Standard George bought in 1966, Cherry Red with two humbucker pickups and a Maestro Vibrola. "Paperback Writer" and "Lady Madonna" both feature this guitar being played by Harrison. Perhaps the most well-known Harrison guitar, though, is the 1957 Les Paul Gold Top (refinished in Cherry Red) that Eric Clapton gave to George in 1968. Used for many of the tracks on the White Album (including "While My Guitar Gently Weeps"), Let It Be, and Abbey Road, he treasured it as a gift from a friend.

1965 was also the year that Harrison became interested in the Indian instrument, the sitar. He signed up right away for instruction on the instrument from famed sitar musician Ravi Shankar, and thus began a musical journey that would first show up in the song "Norwegian Wood," and culminate in "Within You Without You," on Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band.

Official Product Endorsements

Depending on your point of view, George had the good fortune, or misfortune, of living in a time when there was no such thing as a "product endorsement."  Still, that didn't keep equipment manufacturers from throwing gear at them like there was no tomorrow.  Companies like Vox, Rickenbacker, Gretsch, and Fender rushed to get their latest models in the hands of the four most influential boys in show business, in hopes that they would be caught on stage or television playing the gear.  In the case of Rickenbacker, it paid off, as their model 360/12 ended up being featured in the movie A Hard Day's Night, played by—you guessed it—George Harrison.

And perhaps it is fitting, as a tribute to a bygone era, that there should be no "George Harrison" model Stratocaster or official "George Harrison" guitar strings. After all, the "quiet" Beatle never seemed to care much for all the fame that came along with being famous.

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