What guitar strings did the Beatles use? Investigating the flatwound vs roundwound debate

The Beatles
(Image credit: Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

Many guitar nerds note that perhaps the most important detail of replicating the Beatles’ tones after their guitars and amps is the type of strings that they used. It is generally believed that Harrison and Lennon used flatwound electric guitar strings in the early years up until late 1965, just after the release of Rubber Soul. After that, from Revolver and beyond, they apparently switched to roundwound strings.

This argument seems to make sense from both sonic and historical perspectives. The more balanced and less brilliant tone of flatwounds certainly explains why some critical listeners today are under the mistaken impression that George didn’t play an electric 12-string on Ticket to Ride (George Martin’s handwritten notes indicate that Harrison did indeed use his Rickenbacker 360/12) since most guitarists today are used to the sound of electric 12-strings with roundwounds. 

A 12-string electric with flatwounds sounds more blended and even. Heavy-gauge flatwound strings (like Pyramid .012-.052) are also a critical element of Lennon’s Rickenbacker 325 Capri setup. Because the 325 has a short 20-inch scale length, modern lighter gauge slinky strings are too floppy and loose.

The Beatles’ shift to roundwound strings likely had more to do with the new instruments the band acquired than any personal preferences. Most electric guitars shipped with flatwound strings until the mid-’60s, so when John and George bought their new Epiphone Casinos, George bought his 1964 Gibson SG and McCartney acquired his 1964 Fender Esquire, these guitars probably came from the factory with roundwounds installed. 

Back in those wild and wooly days before guitar magazines existed, no one knew what brand of strings the Beatles preferred, and once when asked, McCartney coyly responded that he liked “long shiny ones”. 

After the fact, it’s been determined that the Beatles probably used Pyramid flatwounds in the early years and Gibson Sonomatic and Rotosounds during the latter part of the band’s career. Generally, they used heavy-gauge sets with .012 or .011 high E strings, although they may have used lighter gauges starting in 1968 or ’69.

For more on the Fab Four’s guitar gear, check out our guide to how the Beatles crafted the guitar and bass tones that forever changed the sound of rock music.

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Chris Gill

Chris is the co-author of Eruption - Conversations with Eddie Van Halen. He is a 40-year music industry veteran who started at Boardwalk Entertainment (Joan Jett, Night Ranger) and Roland US before becoming a guitar journalist in 1991. He has interviewed more than 600 artists, written more than 1,400 product reviews and contributed to Jeff Beck’s Beck 01: Hot Rods and Rock & Roll and Eric Clapton’s Six String Stories.