Paul McCartney's Guitars

The Guitarist

Although primarily known for his bass playing, Sir Paul McCartney started his rock and roll career on a six-string guitar.  When he met John Lennon at the St. Peter's Parish Fete on 6 July 1957, he impressed the leader of The Quarry Men by knocking out a dead-on version of "Twenty Flight Rock."  McCartney was soon offered a job with the band and after a few practices debuted at the New Clubmoor Hall, Norris Green, Liverpool on 18 October 1957.  "I kind of went in first of all as lead guitarist really," McCartney says in the Tony Bacon interview from The Bass Book,  "because I wasn't bad on guitar. And when I wasn't on stage I was even better.  But when I got up on stage at the very first gig I totally blew it -- I had never experienced these things called nerves before."  After cocking up his solo on "Guitar Boogie Shuffle," he decided to "lean back" and play rhythm.  (Significantly, in an effort to impress Lennon after this disastrous outing, McCartney showed him a song he'd written, "I Lost My Little Girl," which prompted Lennon to show McCartney a few songs he'd written -- launching a formidable songwriting partnership.)  Before long McCartney nominated his mate George Harrison for lead duties, and continued playing rhythm through the second Hamburg trip in early 1961, when he was called upon to replace struggling bassist Stuart Sutcliffe. From that point he would provide virtuoso bass accompaniment for The Beatles throughout their career.

From his first solo album McCartney has stepped out from behind the bass and displayed his considerable talent playing six-string guitar, but few fans realized during the Beatles' recording years that McCartney was providing some of the tastiest guitar playing to be heard on those records, rivaling Lennon in spirit and Harrison in technique.  His solos can be heard on, among other songs, "Taxman," "Drive My Car," "The End," "Good Morning, Good Morning" and "Helter Skelter."  Now this musician, who brought a new spirit and prestige to bass guitar, is being appreciated belatedly for his six-string work.


The Guitars
1956: Zenith Model 17 acoustic, vintage unknown: In June 1956, McCartney's father gave him a trumpet for his fourteenth birthday.  "I used to play it a little bit," he recalls in Many Years From Now, the Barry Miles biography, "because that was the hero instrument then, The Man with the Golden Arm and everything, but it became clear to me fairly quickly that you couldn't sing with a trumpet stuck in your mouth."At the same time, skiffle-band fever was sweeping England, and after getting his dad's permission, young McCartney brought the trumpet back to Rushworth and Dreaper's Music, where he traded it in for this model made in Germany by Framus. When he got home with the £15 guitar, he "couldn't figure out at all how to play it. I didn't realize it was because I was left-handed, and it wasn't until I saw a picture of Slim Whitman, who was also left-handed, and I saw that I had the guitar the wrong-way round." Once he re-strung the guitar "upside-down," McCartney discovered that the first string rattled around in the wider notches designed for the sixth string, so he carefully shaved down a safety match and made a little block to keep the string from moving about.  Later he mounted a little pickup near the bridge, and eventually removed the pickguard, and used this guitar until the Beatles' first trip to Hamburg.  The Zenith, on which McCartney composed his earliest songs, including "When I'm 64," still hangs in his studio; he pulled it down for the "Anthology" video to play a bit of "Twenty Flight Rock."

Framus 5/1 Parlor Guitar: This modest Spanish guitar is seen in early photos and apparently belonged to McCartney's father.   It was employed as late as 1962 (right) in a songwriting session at Forthlin Road. guitars

Onward to Part 2

(c)2000 - 2015 John F. Crowley