George Harrison played a number of guitars during his years in the Beatles, from Gretsch and Rickenbacker models in the early days to his famed 1968 rosewood Fender Telecaster in the band’s final year.
One guitar that doesn’t get talked about much is the 1961 Fender Stratocaster Harrison played starting in 1965. The guitar became one of his favorites. Indeed, in the clip shown at the bottom, probably from the early Nineties, Harrison discusses his love for the Fender Strat and says he continued to use the guitar throughout his career.
As the clip begins, Harrison recalls how, in the Beatles’ early days, he had a chance to buy a Stratocaster. At the time, American-made guitars were hard to find in England. Unfortunately, before he could buy it, the Strat was purchased by the guitarist in Rory Storm and the Hurricanes, the group in which future Beatle Ringo Starr played drums.
“By the time I got there, it was gone,” Harrison recalls. “I was so disappointed. It scarred me for the rest of my life.”
At the time, he says, “I didn’t like the guitar sound I had. And it was a Vox amp and a Gretsch guitar. [But] it was early days and we were lucky to have anything.”
Eventually, both Harrison and John Lennon became owners of matching 1961 Fender Stratocasters with Sonic Blue finishes. The guitar were purchased for them in 1965 while the Beatles were recording their album Help! In the clip, Harrison says the guitars were bought during the making of Rubber Soul, but both guitars made their earliest appearances on “Ticket to Ride,” from 1965’s Help! Harrison used his Strat extensively on Rubber Soul, also from 1965, including on the track “Nowhere Man.” He continued to use the guitar for the remainder of the group’s albums.
In 1967, as the hippie culture became dominant and the Beatles began taking LSD, Harrison painted his Strat with fluorescent Day-Glo paint and dubbed it “Rocky.”
“During ’67, everybody started painting everything,” Harrison says, “and I decided to paint it. I got some Day-Glo paint, which was quite a new invention in them days, and just sat up late one night and did it.” (Harrison points out that some of his ex-wife Patti Boyd’s nail polish was used to paint the headstock.) The guitar made appearances that year in the Beatles’ live performance of “All You Need Is Love” on Our World, the first global satellite TV program, and in the film Magical Mystery Tour, in the segment where the Beatles mime to “I Am the Walrus,” shown at bottom.
Around 1969, Harrison began using Rocky for playing slide and took advice from Ry Cooder on how to to set it up. Unfortunately, the clip ends abruptly with an edit of Harrison talking about the sale of the Beatles’ music to CBS.
You can read more about Rocky and Harrison’s other guitars on GuitarAficionado.com.