News From The Pit

This Old Guitar
By Jimmy Brown

The recent passing of George Harrison, the Quiet Beatle, has given me, along with everyone else, a chance to reflect on the impact he and his fellow Fab Four bandmates had on us all. When I heard the news of Harrison's passing, I thought that I would do a on George's impact on the guitar world, but just thinking about, it became somewhat overwhelming. And now, over two months later, I realize that it is best to just share some of my own observations and leave it at that. Literally volumes have been written on the subject of the Beatles, and my effort to sum up so much in roughly 800 words is preposterous, to say the least. But anyway, here goes.

I remember well being nine years old, sitting in front of the black and white TV on that fateful Sunday night in February of 1964. Ed Sullivan made the simple announcement "The Beatles," and pop culture was forever changed. Paul played his Hofner 500/1 violin-shaped bass, John played his Rickenbacker 325, and George played his Gretsch Chet Atkins Country Gentleman. Millions of red-blooded American boys were transformed. Their mission: get an electric guitar and be like The Beatles.

George was the one most interested in guitars and gear. And he, like so many other guitarists, was influenced by other guitarists before him and aspired to have a guitar like his idols. Sound familiar? It is something nearly every single guitar player experiences. For George, the rockabilly sounds of Elvis, Carl Perkins, Eddie Cochran, and the guitarists' guitarist, Chet Atkins, were most important. When the Beatles started their Ed Sullivan appearance with "All My Loving," George's first solo to be heard by all of America was the Chet Atkins'-influenced fingerpicking solo that seemed to come from out of the blue, as far as the context of the song goes. But that was George for you. A pop rock song with a country-flavored breakdown in the middle.

In the beginning, The Beatles were just like most of the rest of us: struggling, scratching and clawing, and trying to get together enough to buy some decent gear. One of George's first good guitars was a secondhand Gretsch Duo Jet, which he bought in Liverpool after their stint in Hamburg. He paid seventy-five British pounds for it. Being an admirer of Chet Atkins, who endorsed Gretsch guitars, George did what so many of us will do, which is to get a guitar like one of his heroes had. Though it wasn't a Gretsch Chet Atkins model, it was still a Gretsch, and I guess that was close enough. As The Beatles became more successful in England and Europe, George was able to finally get a Gretsch Chet Atkins Country Gentleman. Upon their arrival in America, in what was to become a stroke of marketing genius, F.C. Hall, president of Rickenbacker, arranged a secret meeting with the Fab Four in New York and gave George the second Rickenbacker 12-string electric guitar ever built. George loved it, used it and the sound of Sixties music was changed some more. Man, oh man.

Can you imagine what impact the Beatles had on the Gretsch and Rickenbacker guitar companies? In a recent conversation with Rickenbacker president John Hall, he tended to downplay the impact, whereas the Gretsch family wholeheartedly acknowledges their gratitude to the Fab Four, particularly George Harrison. During the British Invasion years, I sided with the Rolling Stones in the `Who do you like, The Beatles or the Stones?' arguments, but there was no doubt in my mind who had the coolest gear, and that was The Beatles. I was craving to have a Hofner Beatle bass, but there was no way I would want that stupid-looking Framus bass Bill Wyman played.

Finally, when I was in the tenth grade, I bought a used Hofner Beatle Bass for $200. It was really neat, but once the newness of it wore off, I realized there were much better basses out there to play. Though Paul continued to perform with his Hofner, Rickenbacker gave him his 4001S bass while they were in L.A., and that is what he began to use in a lot of Beatle recordings. The Rickenbacker is, for all intents and purposes, a much better bass than the Hofner. So the Beatles, like the rest of us, were striving to get better gear, stuff like their idols play, and then, the next thing you know, they are the ones influencing a whole world full of wannabe guitar players.

As it is in the Good Book, where someone begets someone who begets someone and so on, so it is in the guitar playing world. With George Harrison, it goes something like this: Chet Atkins to George, George to both of the Byrds' Roger McGuinn (Rickenbacker 12-string) and David Crosby (Gretsch Tennessean) to Buffalo Springfield; Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young to the Eagles. We can go down the road from the Rickenbacker side of things from George to The Byrds to Steppenwolf to John Fogerty and CCR to Tom Petty to REM to ..., well, you get the picture. And did I forget to mention The Monkees! The Hollies, Gerry and the Pacemakers and all the other British Invasion bands? Seriously folks, this could go on forever.

So, enough said. To George, many thanks. You have brightened our lives.