In honor of the 20th anniversary of George Harrison's passing on November 29, 2001, we wanted to present a guide to his greatest studio guitar moments with the Beatles.
However, instead of simply listing our own choices or putting it to a vote on GuitarWorld.com, we went a completely different route: We asked a slew of respected professional guitarists (and other artists) to pick their favorites and, more importantly, to back up their choices.
Fortunately, word got out about “the George project,” and that original slew grew and grew, even including musicians with very real connections to Harrison, including Robben Ford (who was in Harrison’s 1974 touring band), Steve Lukather, Bernie Marsden, Mike Campbell and Nita Strauss’s father – James Strauss, who with his band, Jiva, was signed to Harrison’s Dark Horse Records in the mid-'70s.
And, in the end, it turned out to be a fitting tribute to someone who inspired millions of people around the world to play guitar. The songs aren’t presented in any particular order, but let’s just say the entries with the most quotes beneath the song titles were the clear favorites.
Special thanks to Amit Sharma, Andy Aledort, Richard Bienstock, Joe Bosso, Jim Beaugez and Alan Paul. – Damian Fanelli
ANDY SUMMERS (POLICE): “Early on, I think youthful players were intrigued by George’s playing on Help! I remember hearing those descending phrases and thinking, ‘Hmm, that’s pretty cool. Where did he get that from?’ He did the same sort of thing in Here Comes the Sun. He had a really beautiful style, especially on those kinds of lines.”
2. Baby's In Black
PAUL GILBERT: “Baby’s in Black has plenty of loud Everly Brothers-style vocals from John and Paul, so it took me a while to notice the details of George’s guitar playing. But when I focused on the lead guitar, there were great discoveries to be made! Primarily… whammy bar, and lots of it!
“The last breakdown verse is especially cool, as George follows the chord changes with single-string rhythmic whammy bar dips. The guitar theme that begins the song and repeats throughout has a nice whammy dip ending as well.
“As is so often the case with Beatle-y things, the creativity lies not in athletic feats, but in supporting the song with memorable hooks, melodies and tones. George’s tone is punchy, clean and very country/western. It makes me wish that I had both a cowboy hat and a Fender amp. Actually, I have both of those. Maybe it’s the Gretsch I need. Or at least a Bigsby on my Ibanez!“
“Let’s get back to the playing: the main guitar solo doesn’t leave George much time for licks, as it’s only one chorus long. But he manages to hit all the chord changes (which whip by faster than most rock players can handle), with a style that swaggers and stumbles at the same time. And don’t forget the well-timed whammy bar dip that makes a smooth transition back into Phil and Don...
“I mean John and Paul. George’s country/western style remains intimidating to me, as I have no experience with it, and playing with a clean tone often feels like I’ve lost my shred superpowers.
“Still I remember playing ‘Baby’s in Black’ for fun with my cover band, the Electric Fence, in the mid-'90s. I didn’t have a whammy on my guitar, so I got the job done by bending the neck, as I had seen Pat Travers do. Now go and listen to him… George, that is!”
3. Free as a Bird
TOMMY EMMANUEL: “George learned early in his life to invent the right parts for a song and stick to it. He chiseled and honed, he selected the right guitar for the track and he put his love, knowledge and disciplined fire into every song. Funny, though, I think my favorite George parts and solos are on the two songs that were recorded with Jeff Lynne, Free As a Bird and Real Love.
“John Lennon wrote the bulk of these classic songs, and Paul, George and Ringo finished them off in typical Beatles style. So musical, so heartfelt and so strong! George’s beautiful Strat parts are tasty, powerful and exactly what the tracks cry out for.”
ERIC JOHNSON: “The slide work he did on the latter-day Beatles song Free As a Bird was beautiful… George shows us that it’s about the emotion and not the commotion of the guitar playing.”
DANIEL CAVANAGH (ANATHEMA): “There’s a part where George sings the lines and immediately goes into this incredible overdriven slide solo. I honestly don’t know how he got that good, but he also played the sitar and had this whole other world of influences.”
4. Nowhere Man
ROBBEN FORD: “The solo is just wonderful. [It’s] one of the great chord/melody solos in rock music history, for sure.”
JON HERINGTON: “It’s clearly an orchestrated solo, and you can hear two guitars with similar sounds. I love how the solo essentially borrows the rhythm of the song’s vocal melody but alters the notes. The guitars (Strats, according to the reports) are processed to create super-bright, quirky sounds, too, and the solo does just enough to provide a break from the vocal while keeping the character and the groove of the song intact.
“All the juicy notes of the chord changes are targeted, and the way the solo works its way to the very bottom note of the guitar’s range as it finishes is pure pop magic. And I loved the four-octave leap up to that harmonic on the last note of the solo so much that I stole it for the ending of my solo on Thirteen Feet of Rain. I couldn’t resist!”
WARREN HAYNES (GOV’T MULE): “Something as a song is a masterpiece, but the guitar solo is a masterpiece in itself. I can’t imagine the song without it. Gov’t Mule recently played it during one of our ‘special’ New Year’s Eve shows where we played the Beatles’ rooftop show along with some other Abbey Road and Let It Be songs; Connor Kennedy joined us on guitar and vocals.
“At rehearsal he asked, ‘Should I play the solo?’ to which I replied, ‘Yes’ – and he played it note for note. He understandably played his own solo during the show, which was really cool, but the entire audience (and band) heard the ‘record’ solo in our heads. The sign of a truly remarkable solo.”
MIKAEL ÅKERFELDT (OPETH): “Something is really… something. It’s a very special song, maybe one that John Lennon and Paul McCartney might’ve been jealous of. It’s such a great lead; as a guitar player, George was very overshadowed by the two bosses in the Beatles… he was there mainly to play a bit of lead here and there. He couldn’t really break free from the two leaders, but when he did, he’d outshine them like he did here.”
JOE BONAMASSA: “My favorite Beatles song of all time – and George Harrison’s greatest work. His guitar playing is perfect, his song composition a standard bearer at this point of other master works to be judged. Any part of the song could be a classic chorus in its own right. It just keeps on getting better throughout and leaves you wanting more.
“I love his use of the Leslie, especially the rhythm part. It also was Frank Sinatra’s favorite 'Lennon and McCartney song'. [Editor’s note: During live shows, Sinatra famously attributed Something to Lennon and McCartney; he corrected himself by the late-'70s.] Something proved that George Harrison was one of the Beatles’ most valuable and underused assets.”
REBECCA & MEGAN LOVELL (LARKIN POE): “George’s solo is a moment of distilled musical beauty. The gummy, chewy guitar tone is unforgettable and the wending melody he crafts perfectly twines the changes of the song. In our minds, the distilled genius of George Harrison is his ability to take complicated chord structures and make them accessible by writing beautiful, simple and memorable melodies over [them]. George is a compositional wizard… he makes magic out of half-steps.”
ZAKK WYLDE: “What an amazing song. He even got Sinatra and Elvis covering that one, which goes to show how amazing it is. Me and John DeServio, who plays bass with me, often talk about George – whenever he solos, you always know it’s him. Even when he was playing in the Traveling Wilburys, you could always tell.
“Sure, he wasn’t shredding any Al Di Meola, John McLaughlin or Paco stuff, but that’s not who he was. His solos were always so melodic and with so much of his own feel… which is crazy. No one talks about George Harrison the way they talk about Beck, Clapton or Page. But he’s the guy! He really had a voice on the instrument. And at the end of the day, that’s what it’s all about.”
VINCE GILL (THE EAGLES): “Harrison’s playing on Something is so identifiable – his phrasing and approach show such restraint. His tone was simple and without the use of excessive effects, which allowed the natural sound of his guitar to shine through. Actually, this is the first recording I ever made with my oldest and dearest friend, Benny Garcia. We did Something as best we could.”
MOLLY TUTTLE: “His iconic solo and guitar lines are an integral part of the song and compliment the vocal melody perfectly.”
SCOTT LUCAS (LOCAL H): “Harrison employs this soft, understated touch to such a wild and unpredictable choice of notes. It kills me. He was a master who refused to call attention to himself.”
ADRIAN QUESADA (THE BLACK PUMAS): “Absolute perfection. The solo itself should be a masterclass for any guitarist looking to play melodically and uplift a song in just the right way without overplaying, a perfect combination of style and substance. It also hints at his lead style to come on 1970’s All Things Must Pass, so it’s a moment that connects the dots to his future solo work.”
ELLIOT EASTON (THE CARS): “It’s clearly a composed solo – he didn’t wing that one! That’s exactly what I always tried to do with the Cars, to create a mini-composition within the song itself.”
NANCY WILSON (HEART): “George was responsible for perhaps the most romantic guitar solo of all time when he recorded Something. It’s arguably among the most gorgeous and expressive solos in any song.”
HAMISH ANDERSON: “It’s the culmination of George Harrison as both a singer/song-writer and guitarist; everything about the song is pure perfection. When you start to break down any of George’s solos (especially Something), there’s always something different and totally unique about the way he’d bend notes and his phrasing.
“I’ve found so much inspiration from how his solos always serve the song; they are so melodic and memorable that you can sing them as if they were a vocal melody line. If you’re looking for a masterclass in a perfectly crafted guitar solo that serves the song, look no further than Something.”
PAGE HAMILTON (HELMET): “There are a pair of descending chromatic lines over the G chord in the sixth bar of solo that include a b5 to #9 run (C#, C, Bb) and an answer that # # descends from the 13 (E) to the 5 (D ) to kind of resolve on the 11 of A minor (D). And then he hangs around there with this expressive, repeating vocal-like phrase.
For me, solos have never been about showing off practice-room exercises. I’m more into the ones that expand the arrangement, creating a musical section that lifts things up (see Dave Davies, Rick Nielson, Mike Campbell) or changes the vibe and takes you somewhere. Many of us can probably sing George’s solos, but to execute them with his soul, feel, rhythmic sense and creativity is impossible.”
STEVE LUKATHER (TOTO): “A perfect solo – like many of the Beatles’ tracks. It could not have been anyone else.”
6. Savoy Truffle
JOEY SANTIAGO (PIXIES): “The mix is all about a trip to the dentist’s office. The guitar tone – most likely run through a fuzz pedal – sounds like a drill. The bending, stabbing notes during the lyrics, ‘But you’ll have to get them all pulled out’ really gets the image of a dentist’s drill across vividly.
“I borrowed those bending, stabbing notes from him and have no intention of returning them anytime soon. The phrasing is total Harrison – even with the fuzz, you can tell it’s him. He does have that ‘George Harrison sound’ as well, but to identify a guitar player with phrasing is rare. It can be imitated; Eric Clapton’s solo on While My Guitar Gently Weeps sounds like a nod to George’s style.”
TROY VAN LEEUWEN (QUEENS OF THE STONE AGE): “The chord progression is really fun, and the guitar sound is on point with George’s voice. When I listen to the Beatles’ records in chronological order, I can hear Harrison’s influence on the band’s sound swing from his early country picking into a love of Eastern music with his sitar, then back to superb rock splendor with his slide playing.
“It seems it was the White Album that started the swing back to electric guitar-driven songs for him. I recently heard that the song was written about Eric Clapton’s love of chocolate. Just goes to show that you never know when inspiration will strike… or the craving for chocolate!”
BUZZ OSBORNE (MELVINS): “The solo is really cool. Totally dry and in-your-face production, which I think sounds fantastic. I love the guitar stabs he does throughout the chorus. All in all, a really cool song – and it even has distorted saxophones! One of George’s best.”
SADLER VADEN: “Not only does it showcase his wit behind the pen, but it’s also on full display with his guitar playing on this record. The solo section contains all the aspects of Harrison’s playing that I love. It bridges the gap between his melodic sensibilities and straight up rock ’n’ roll guitar. The tone has teeth! The way he composed his solos that also incorporated that lovely reckless abandon makes him one of my all-time favorite players, and this track is the perfect example.”
7. Strawberry Fields Forever
NELS CLINE (WILCO): “The isolated/solo guitar moment that brings in the extended coda to Strawberry Fields Forever has held magical/mystical sway over me since the moment my brother and I spun the single. We used to play the song over and over again just to experience that moment. It’s impossible to imitate/recreate. Galvanizing, transporting, a life-changing wonder.”
8. Till There Was You
ANDY TIMMONS: “George’s solo is incredibly melodic, and he just absolutely nails the chord changes. I really can’t imagine another guy in a rock band in 1963 playing something this crafty. It certainly set the tone for his ability to construct perfect solos. There’s a wonderful clip of the band playing this song for the Queen (Royal Variety Performance) and George nails the solo while nonchalantly looking around.”
BERNIE MARSDEN (WHITESNAKE): “Till There Was You shows George’s vast range of playing in 1963. He has lovely phrasing, uses diminished notes – and there’s a fantastic use of the Gretsch tremolo arm before a fabulous run into the middle eight. [Editor’s note: Although he used a nylon-string guitar on the studio recording, Harrison often performed the song with an electric guitar.] To my young ears, this was masterful guitar playing – and he then rocked out on Roll Over Beethoven and sang! This was almost too much to take in as a beginner.”
CHRIS BUCK: “[This song] typifies everything that made George’s playing so compelling from the out-set of the band – the right part, in exactly the right moment, every single time without fail; 15 seconds of flawlessly and melodically following the chords but never once feeling contrived or calculated.
“It’s a masterclass in ‘playing the changes’. The band the Beatles were in 1962 and the band they were by the time they split seven years later are light years apart, and George’s progression as a writer and player in that time was at the heart of the evolution. Sinatra musing that Something was the ‘greatest love song of the last 50 years’ (while simultaneously crediting it to Lennon/McCartney) is almost the perfect tribute to George; quiet, under-appreciated genius.”
9. Let It Be
CHRIS SHIFLETT (FOO FIGHTERS): “The solo – the way his lick comes in after the keyboard breakdown strikes the perfect emotion and uplift for the track [Editor’s note: Shiflett is clearly talking about the album version of the song, which has a completely different solo than the single version]. I’ve ripped it off a million times, and will probably rip it off a million more before I’m through. The tone is perfectly gritty but without a safety net and mixed way on top of the tune, warts and all. Love it.”
BRIAN FALLON (THE GASLIGHT ANTHEM): “My initial response is always the intro to Octopus’s Garden – because I enjoy the country licks George was jamming in there while still remaining true to the Ringo-esque nature of Ringo’s bop-and-stick rhythm of the song. But my favorite George guitar moment is actually the solo in Let It Be.
“It’s the blues solo over the most used I-V-vi-IV chords from Bach to Billie Eilish – and we love them. I love the predictability, and I love that George (and the most innovative band in history) were able to sit back and not be too snobby to play a pentatonic scale over C-G-Am-F.”
10. And Your Bird Can Sing
AARON LEE TASJAN: “When I listen to the lead guitar parts, I can’t help but be delighted by the ambition of the part and the ramshackle execution of it. I saw an interview where George said he couldn’t remember if John or Paul had played the other part, so I also love the sort of mysterious nature of how it came to be.
“When I hear it, it feels like something that just appeared out of thin air so it intrigues me that George, who always seemed quite thoughtful, from my vantage, was the channel for it. I know John dissed some of the lyrics later on in some interviews, but I love them. Either way, I’ll always listen to it for that fabulous guitar work. It never fails to make me smile.”
JAMES STRAUSS (NITA’S DAD:) “[His solo] drew influences from his early days listening to Buddy Holly and the Crickets – and dance hall music like Ray Davies and the Kinks. It was a beginning of the hopefulness his later music inspired.”
11. One After 909
WAYNE KRANTZ: “The solo is melodic with a spontaneous vibe, dead-on phrasing and a perfect segue into the bridge, with its stellar rhythm ’n fills behind the vocal. The groove is devastating; it puts the roll back into rock ’n’ roll and pushes the song forward. Flawless, George!”
12. I Saw Her Standing There
STEVE LUKATHER: “This solo was the on switch to my life, as was seeing them on The Ed Sullivan Show in 1964 – which is when I got my first guitar and a copy of Meet the Beatles! It would change my life forever. His solos and parts are perhaps simple by today’s standards, but [they’re] some of the most memorable in recorded history.
“Many people mistake his work as stuff Paul or John played, but George [had] style and amazingly varied tones throughout all their incredible eight years on record... and it’s his tones that make it obvious to me.
“No one changed the face of guitar more than George, in my opinion. In addition, I am honored to say we were friends from 1992 on. We spent some amazing times together and I cherish them forever. I miss him but will never forget his kindness, humor, genius and generosity. Just an amazing man.”
GARY ROSSINGTON (LYNYRD SKYNYRD): “Starting from the very first time I ever heard them, one of my favorite solos by George is the one he plays on I Saw Her Standing There. It’s so tasty and very well crafted – I just love it. George taught me that when it comes to guitar parts, sometimes less is more. Other big favorites are And I Love Her and I’ll Follow the Sun, songs that are so simple but so great.”
13. Dig a Pony
KEVIN STARRS (UNCLE ACID AND THE DEADBEATS): “Dig a Pony sums up the genius of George’s guitar playing. Melodic, never flashy, and always there to serve the song. Although I love his earlier playing too, you can really hear the progression and maturity of his guitar work at this point.
“Starting off with a 3/4 blues riff played in unison with John and Paul, once the first verse kicks in Harrison drops off, allowing Lennon’s voice and rhythm playing to carry the song. Instead of simply doubling the rhythm part, George stays out of the way and delivers tasteful lead lines in between the vocals.
“He gives the song space where it’s needed and doesn’t clutter the sound or detract from the lead vocal. This is definitely something we could all learn from him.
“His choice of notes adds a sense of melancholy to the song, lifting it above what could otherwise have been a bit of a throw-away number. Lennon would later refer to the song as ‘garbage,’ but for me, Harrison’s class makes it an underrated gem. Although they made several attempts at recording this track in the studio, the ver-sion on Let It Be was taken from their January 1969 Apple rooftop performance.“
“Watching the footage, we get an insight into George’s excellent technique throughout the song; expertly switching between flat-picking, hybrid picking and straight finger picking to accent the lead lines and add texture to his parts.
“There’s a great shot where you can see him with his pick palmed while playing with his fingers, followed by a quick adjustment of the volume and tone controls, before swiftly returning the pick for some flatpicking. It’s skillfully done and impressive to watch.
“His strong country influence is clearly evident here, especially when he gets to the well-executed solo that stays concise and memorable, referencing elements of the now-familiar vocal melody. There are some tuning discrepancies between the guitars, thanks to the cold January air, but I love that live and raw sound. It certainly fits in with the overall feel of the song which is loose and a bit rough around the edges.”
GREG KOCH: “The plaintive, soulful neck-pickup-on-the-rosewood-Tele utterances during the solo fill me with glee!”
14. I'm Only Sleeping
NITA STRAUSS: “I feel like the music world mostly thinks of George Harrison as the phenomenal songwriter that he was, but I think he’s really underrated as a tone innovator.
“I remember reading a GW article [January 2014] about I’m only Sleeping and how George got this crazy tone by writing the solo, learning it backward and then recording it with the tape running back to front, resulting in the initial solo he had written with this insane, surreal effect. It’s so interesting to think about what that process would have been like, getting those tones in a completely analog studio setting.”
15. All My Loving
BERNIE MARSDEN: “I always listened to George carefully and I practiced and practiced – as much as my fingers could take. I’d play the guitar with the album and hear George play the solo in All My Loving and then the impeccable guitar in Till There Was You.
“These days, we are aware of George’s love of the country guitar pickers, and the solo on All My Loving certainly has elements of Chet Atkins and Scotty Moore. It swings beautifully within the track, and I remember mastering the very last lick.
“Alright, ‘mastering’ might be overpraising myself at age 12, but it definitely made me aware that I could actually make the guitar sound a bit like George, and that was a huge moment of influence for me.”
CHRISTONE “KINGFISH” INGRAM: “I love the melodic lines George plays in this solo. There’s a subtle rawness to his playing that is indeed inspiring.”
16. Here Comes the Sun
JOE SATRIANI: “It’s hard to find a more beautiful, iconic, guitar-oriented composition that not only represents its creator so completely but is also an undeniable, worldwide hit song loved by billions of people on the planet.
“The melody, lyrics, fingerpicking and unmistakable voice is all George Harrison, a sonic signature with 100 percent musicality. I’ve got a soft spot for his darker pieces like Don’t Bother Me and his work with the Traveling Wilburys, but Here Comes the Sun is just so original and wonderful.”
TOMMY EMMANUEL: “George’s Gibson J-200 acoustic is played with such feeling and perfect tuning, I can almost see the Fairchild compressor needle moving to help pour honey over his gorgeous playing. I could go on forever, somebody stop me!”
ED ROBERTSON (BARENAKED LADIES): “[It’s] an absolutely iconic guitar part that sounds simple but is so packed with clever little nuances that reveal themselves throughout the song. Every guitar player thinks they’ll be able to play it by ear immediately, and then you discover it’s like opening a puzzle box of intricate design.”
MIKE DAWES: “Every acoustic player knows this classic riff, and it’s a big part of fingerstyle guitar, an absolutely iconic progression. Also, it’s my mum’s favorite riff ever, which is pretty cool.”
JOEL HOEKSTRA (WHITESNAKE): “What a great song! I think he’s capo’d up on the seventh fret. Either way, it’s a beautiful, chimey-sounding guitar part.”
17. I Me Mine
AYRON JONES: “Out of all of his work, I’d have to say this is the purest expression of George as an artist. His guitar playing bleeds of his American blues heroes on this track, reminiscent of the great Muddy Waters and the mythological Robert Johnson. Here, George grabs rock from its roots and puts in on display, showing us why he’s one of music history’s greatest.”
18. It's All Too Much
TASH NEAL: “I love the beautiful, while ominous, feedback intro. And that intro guitar riff tone is so heavy – and played with such swagger. The groove is also one of my favorites, while George gets spiritual in the lyrics. It blows my mind this isn’t a more popular tune.”
19. I Don't Want to Spoil the Party
LILLY HIATT: “Both bright and light and achy, it shows all the parts of George I love, hinting at what’s to come from him. You can hear him reaching toward something and doing the things that make the Beatles sound otherworldly.”
20. Got to Get You Into My Life
DAVID GRISSOM: “Revolver was the first LP I owned, and I remember hearing the count off for Taxman like it was yesterday. The whole album floored me, but it was this song that started my infatuation with guitar. The lick that happens at 1:50 still gives me goosebumps. That Vox midrange and George’s soulful doublestop bend on the second and fourth strings are as good as it gets.”
21. Dear Prudence
SAMANTHA FISH: “Even though it features George subtly, he has so many moments that contribute to the never-ending buildup that is this song. It’s just one of my favorites for all the parts that intertwine. George always added dynamics and character with his guitar work. It’s a beautiful song.”
22. Day Tripper
STEVE MORSE (DIXIE DREGS, DEEP PURPLE): “George’s riff pre-dated all the heavy guitar stuff like Led Zeppelin, but it sounded heavy – doubled and with the slightly distorted sound. It really fits the definition of a heavy guitar riff.
“One thing to point out is that a lot of George’s effectiveness came from him hanging way back and then waiting for a hole in the vocals to add a fill. You can hear it on the live tapes too; he wasn’t just playing full volume/full force all the time; he was selective about picking the best spot to come in with a great riff.”
23. The End
JIMMY HERRING (WIDESPREAD PANIC): “The first thing that comes to mind is the earth-shatteringly beautiful stuff George plays on The End after the lyrics, ‘And, in the end, the love you take... is equal to the love you make.’ His touch and beauty is right out front on that outro. It gives me goosebumps every time I hear it! But I could say the same about a million other things he played.”
24. Within You Without You
JOHN SCOFIELD: “[This] was my introduction to ‘faux’ Indian music – and some of the sounds that we string benders use all the time. As a guitarist, I was inspired by the string-bending sounds on the sitar and did my best to replicate them. I’ve never studied Indian music but appreciated it from afar, and this pointed a lot of us kids to the real stuff. Just as a piece of music, it’s a beautiful melody that we still quote to this day.”
REEVES GABRELS: “[This song] opened the ears – and minds – of Beatles fans and expanded the palette for the band’s contemporaries for years to come. Harrison fully incorporated the sitar and tambura into this composition and stretched the Western 12-tone system with slurs and embellishments. And he did so without the other Beatles, who don’t play on the track.”
STEVE MORSE: “Within You Without You is a great example of George leading the band into a mystical, heavy place. I’d say that this song, more than any other at the time, brought the most of George’s personality to the band’s direction. And by featuring studio musicians from India, it was one of the first fusion tunes I’d ever heard.”