It's fair to say George Harrison didn't just waltz into the Beatles' lead guitar slot. Through talent and tenacity, he earned it. Harrison was the funny-looking, skinny chap Paul McCartney used to see on the bus to school. He had a flair for colorful clothes and, above all, a love of the guitar, which he shared with the slightly older McCartney. In 1958, with nothing more impressive on his resume but one gig at the British Legion Club with his brother Peter and a couple mates, the 15 year old began sitting in with the group McCartney had just joined -- The Quarry Men -- and filled in when one or another of the guitarists didn't show. Before long his chops -- honed from arduous practice and careful devotion to R&B and Country and Western hits from America -- won him a permanent position as the band's go-to guy. During a lean period in 1959 Harrison played with the Les Stewart Quartet but by August he was back with the Beatles to open the Casbah Club, and for every gig they played thereafter.
In a solo career populated by both worldwide hits and spectacular misses, Harrison has earned the respect of fans, musicians and critics alike with his unique palette of humor, devotion, irony and craftsmanship. "I believe I love my guitar more than the others love theirs," Harrison once told Beatles Monthly. "For John and Paul, songwriting is pretty important and guitar playing is a means to an end. While they're making up new tunes I can thoroughly enjoy myself just doodling around with a guitar for a whole evening. I'm fascinated by new sounds I can get from different instruments I try out. I'm not sure that makes me particularly musical. Just call me a guitar fanatic instead, and I'll be satisfied ."
What was Harrison's first guitar? According to Paul McCartney (Bacon interview), it was strictly a do-it-yourself affair. "We got chatting on the bus and he had an interest in guitars like I did, and music. Turned out he was going to try to make one, going to make a little solid-body Hawaiian, which was like a good place to start. You didn't have to get into the hollow body or anything, which was very difficult. And he did that, and we kind of hung out and became good friends. He did that Hawaiian thing and it wasn't bad, real high action of course." There's no record of this guitar surviving.
1956: Egmond steel-strung Spanish style (sunburst, vintage unknown): In one account, Harrison bought this "Beginner's Guitar," made in Holland by Egmond and distributed by Rosetti, from a schoolmate with £3 he'd gotten from Mum. In another account, his dad got it for £2.50. The advert for this guitar called it "the cheapest Model in our range" at four pounds, seven shillings and six pence. While trying to adjust the action, the lad accidentally unscrewed the neck from the body, but after a few weeks in the cupboard, the Egmond was rescued by fellow guitar neophyte Peter Harrison, who mended his brother's instrument. Harrison made his show business debut with this guitar the following year at the Speke British Legion Club, where The Rebels, a skiffle group formed by the Harrisons and three mates, played their one and only gig. This guitar -- minus its machine heads -- was auctioned off in London during the mid '80s, and thanks to its anonymous British owner was on loan to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland from 1995 to 2002. In 2003 this little Egmond -- now worth an estimated $800,000 -- went on display at the Beatles Story Museum in Liverpool (below).
|1958: Hofner President f-hole acoustic
(vintage unknown): In a quantum leap from his first
instrument, and with a little help from Mum, Harrison
purchased this handsome Hofner, a top-of-the-line,
single-cutaway "cello style" model with a sunburst
finish and a "Compensator" tailpiece, for
£30. He played the President until swapping
it to a member of the Swinging Blue Jeans the following
year for a Hofner Club 40.
Good Vibes: Before mounting a small pickup, Harrison got extra volume by playing this guitar with its head against a wardrobe cabinet.
(c)2000, 2015 John F. Crowley