New Guitar Collection: George Harrison iPad App Features Famous “Rocky” Stratocaster®
George Harrison’s self-painted “Rocky” Stratocaster, as displayed in the new Guitar Collection: George Harrison iPad app.
The new Guitar Collection: George Harrison iPad app from Bandwdth Publishing presents a fascinating digital guided tour of one of the world’s most historic guitar collections belonging to one of the world’s most famous and beloved guitarists. It delivers 360-degree views and an unbelievably detailed close-up look at every scratch, ding, dent and modification on the guitars with which Harrison made his many monumental contributions to music.
Fans can dive much deeper, too. Guitar Collection: George Harrison also presents the facts about and the story behind each guitar through detailed descriptions, a wealth of images, historical and contemporary video footage, a full list of Beatles and Harrison songs on which each guitar is heard, and even the voice of Harrison himself.
Among the many famous instruments on digital display, the app presents an unprecedented look at a remarkably distinctive Fender guitar that figured prominently in Harrison’s history: the psychedelic-painted “Rocky” Fender Stratocaster (as seen in the “I Am the Walrus” segment of 1967’s Magical Mystery Tour film, among many other notable appearances).
Harrison was first drawn to the then-relatively-new Stratocaster model in the mid-1950s while still a teenager in Liverpool, England, having seen one on the cover of a most influential 1957 debut album. Unfortunately at the time, however, a ban on U.S. imports prevented goods including Fender instruments from reaching the U.K., leaving many a youthful British guitar enthusiast with decidedly lesser options.
“If I’d had my way, the Strat would have been my first guitar,” Harrison said, as quoted in author Andy Babiuk’s seminal reference guide, Beatles Gear. “I’d seen Buddy Holly’s Strat … on the Chirping Crickets album cover, and tried to find one. But in Liverpool in those days the only thing I could find resembling a Strat was a Futurama. It was very difficult to play, (the strings were) about half an inch off the fingerboard … but nevertheless it did look kind of futuristic.”
Indeed, as described in Beatles Gear, the cheap, Czech-made Futurama “was the closest that most guitarists in Britain at the time could get to that holy grail of electric guitars, the Fender Stratocaster. Since late 1958 many keen British guitarists had been ogling the cover of a Buddy Holly record that had a shiny, space-age, three-pickup guitar on the front. George Harrison was one.”
It would be several more years before Harrison finally acquired a Stratocaster of his own. As the now world-famous Beatles returned to London’s Abbey Road Studios in February 1965 to start work on their fifth album (soon titled Help!), the group’s two guitarists sent a close confidant on a very specific errand.
“I decided I’d get a Strat, and John decided he’d get one too,” Harrison said, as quoted in Beatles Gear. “So we sent out our roadie, Mal Evans, said ‘Go and get us two Strats.’ And he came back with two of them, pale blue ones.”
Main screen of the Guitar Collection: George Harrison iPad app.
Ironically, Fender sales chief Don Randall had launched an unsuccessful bid only four months earlier to get the company’s instruments into the hands of the world’s most famous group. Now, with the Help! sessions under way and of their own accord, Harrison and John Lennon each had matching sonic blue Fender Stratocaster guitars, with rosewood fingerboards and white pickguards. Harrison’s Stratocaster, serial number 83840, had a neck dated December 1961, and had apparently spent some time at a music shop in Kent, as a worn label on the back of the headstock read “Grimwoods; the music people; Maidstone and Whitstable.”
It’s unclear whether either Beatle guitarist actually used his Stratocaster on any of the Help! tracks, but the guitars do show up in studio photos from the sessions. Further, the title track has a droning open A note that sounds remarkably Strat-like (if this is indeed the case, it would make Help! the first Beatles song on which a Fender instrument is heard), and the solo on “You’re Going to Lose That Girl” sounds very much like a Stratocaster (Beatles Gear notes that “the tone of a Fender Stratocaster seems evident” on the title track).
In any case, Harrison grew to rely on his Stratocaster more and more, and the guitar is all over the next two landmark albums, late 1965’s Rubber Soul and summer 1966’s Revolver.
Harrison also brought his ’65 Stratocaster back to Abbey Road for the recording of 1967 masterpiece Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Sometime between the end of those sessions and the June 25, 1967, live worldwide telecast of a new Beatles song commissioned by the BBC, “All You Need is Love,” Harrison’s Stratocaster underwent a radical transformation in the form of a new multicolored psychedelic paint job.
This was done in keeping with the colorful mood of the times, and all the Beatles painted their instruments. Lennon’s Stratocaster remained untouched, but Harrison himself took paint and brush to his instrument.
“It was just logical to have a colored guitar,” Harrison said, as quoted in Beatles Gear. “So I got some dayglo paint out of a tin and just painted (the Strat) with a brush. And it’s not so much a great paint job, but that’s the way it came out.”
As noted, one of the most notable appearances of Harrison’s now-psychedelic Stratocaster is during the “I Am the Walrus” segment of 1967’s Magical Mystery Tour film, and it remained a favorite of Harrison’s for the rest of the decade. It had acquired a few other colorful touches by December 1969, when Harrison played it onstage during several U.K. and Danish shows backing U.S. act Delaney & Bonnie at the invitation of close friend Eric Clapton. By that time, Harrison had applied the guitar’s nickname, “Rocky,” to the headstock. Further, he’d painted “Bebopalula” on the upper body and “Go Cat Go” on the pickguard.
Harrison never parted with his first Stratocaster. It remains in the possession of his family, and is now undoubtedly the most colorful of the many guitars presented in the Guitar Collection: George Harrison app.