George Harrison’s Stratocaster

George Harrison may have been the youngest and shyest member of the Beatles, but he was certainly blessed with an abundance of talent. He started with the group when he was just 17, and was only given rhythm parts to play at first. John Lennon and Paul McCartney thought of him as a “kid” and did not trust him to do any improvisation or songwriting. He matured as the Fab Four were rapidly gaining popularity, and was gradually given more responsibility as lead guitar player as time went along.

Harrison’s first guitar was a Futurama/Grazioso built in Czechoslovakia. On the early Beatles recordings he usually played one of several Gretsch models through a Vox amp. He owned a Gretsch Duo Jet, a Tennessean, and two Country Gentlemen. He used one of the latter guitars to record “She Loves You,” and during the group’s first appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show.

When the Beatles were in the US in 1964, Harrison was presented with a Rickenbacker 360/12. This twelve-stringed electric caught his fancy and he used it during the making of “A Hard Day’s Night.”

When he acquired his first Fender Stratocaster in 1965, however, he found the instrument he would use on many projects with the Beatles and throughout his own solo career. The Strat was purchased by group roadie Mal Evans who was told that the Beatles’ manager Brian Epstein would pay for the guitars if he could find two that were identical. He came back with two used solid-body Sonic Blue ’61 Stratocasters for Harrison and Lennon. They used the pair to record the Rubber Soul album and the two guitar guys played a notable unison duet on “Nowhere Man.” Harrison also used the Strat when recording the Sgt. Pepper album.

Before long, Harrison decided to personalize his Strat. During the so-called Summer of Love in 1967, George gathered some neon acrylics and bright nail polish and gave his guitar a psychedelic finish. It was covered with swirls, flowers, and designs and had the word Bebopalula painted above the pick guard. Harrison christened the instrument Rocky, and put the name on the headstock with his wife’s shiny green nail polish.

Rocky achieved great fame for being used in the Magical Mystery Tour TV special, most prominently in the “I Am the Walrus” scene. During his later years as a solo artist, Harrison had the guitar set up to use for his slide playing, and put it to work on “Free as a Bird.”

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