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The Beatles' Secret Weapon: George Harrison’s 1963 Rickenbacker 360/12

(Image credit: Nigel Osbourne/Redferns/Getty Images)

Although the last thing the red-hot Beatles needed in early 1964 was a “secret weapon,” that’s exactly what they got when George Harrison received his first Rickenbacker 12-string, in a beautiful Fireglo finish, in February of that year, during the Beatles’ first U.S. tour.

The guitar was given to him by Francis C. Hall, owner and president of the California-based Rickenbacker company, which is now celebrating its 85th anniversary.Hall spoke to Brian Epstein before the Beatles arrived in the U.S. and arranged a meeting with the group. On February 8 at the Savoy Hilton in New York City, he showed the band several different models. Lennon tried out the 360/12 but thought it would be better for Harrison, who was sick in bed at the Plaza Hotel. When Harrison finally got to see it, he loved it immediately.

“Straight away I liked that you knew exactly which string was which,” Harrison said, referring to how the guitar’s 12 tuners are grouped in top- and side-mounted pairs on the headstock. “[On some] 12-strings, you spend hours trying to tune it.”

Harrison’s first 360/12 was the second Rickenbacker 12-string ever made; its serial number—CM107—dates it to December 1963. The main difference between it and the prototype is how they are strung. The first model had a conventional 12-string setup, in which the octave string is the first to be struck in each string pair. On Harrison’s model and subsequent Rickenbacker 12-strings, the octave strings occur second in the string pairs and the lower-pitched string is struck first.

Harrison’s guitar has a trapeze tailpiece, triangle inlays, double white pickguards, black control knobs and mono and stereo (Rick-O-Sound) outputs mounted on a chrome plate on the side of the guitar.

The guitar, with its unique, chiming sound, can be heard on "You Can't Do That," the bulk of the A Hard Day’s Night album, “I Call Your Name,” “What You’re Doing”—and several other songs, up to and including “Ticket to Ride.” His second 360/12, a 1965 model with rounded cutaways, is heard on “If I Needed Someone.”

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Damian is Editor-in-Chief of Guitar World magazine. In past lives, he was GW’s managing editor and online managing editor. He's written liner notes for major-label releases, including Stevie Ray Vaughan's 'The Complete Epic Recordings Collection' (Sony Legacy) and has interviewed everyone from Yngwie Malmsteen to Kevin Bacon (with a few memorable Eric Clapton chats thrown into the mix). Damian, a former member of Brooklyn's The Gas House Gorillas (opens in new tab), was the sole guitarist in Mister Neutron (opens in new tab), a trio that toured the U.S. and released three albums (opens in new tab). He now plays in two NYC-area bands.