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Since the dawn of Beatlemania in the early 1960s, through his final album, released posthumously in 2002, George Harrison was an icon of guitar, and his work has influenced generations of players.
It’s pretty easy to see some of his collection of guitars, but what about strings? What guitar strings did George Harrison use?
Among the kinds of guitar strings we know George Harrison used are RotoSound “Beat Kings,” Pyramid flatwounds, and flatwound Rickenbacker 12-string string sets. Over his career, Harrison used a wide variety of strings, but neither he nor any of the other Beatles were very concerned with the type of strings they used.
Let’s look at what we know about the strings Harrison used and the effect those strings might have had on his sound.
What Gauge Strings Did George Harrison Use?
One thing many modern players don’t know is that in the mid 20th Century, especially in Europe, which was still recovering from World War II, there was a much more limited selection of guitar strings.
There were fewer different types of strings being produced at the time, and distribution was also much more limited. That meant most players had to make do with whatever came on their guitar and whatever was available at their local music store. Some guitarists got really creative and tried making their own strings but that was the rare exception.
For the most part, that meant quite heavy gauge strings, which could make things like bending quite difficult. In interviews, Harrison, as well as other guitarists who played in the early 1960s, spoke about how they tried to find work-arounds.
One was to take a string from a banjo string set and replace the high E with that string, which was often much thinner than the high E that came with the string set. The rest of the strings shifted over, and the player discarded the low E string.
Harrison mentioned that in a 1987 interview, saying he and other musicians had heard about Eddie Cochran using that technique.
Harrison talked much more about guitar technique and songwriting in that interview than about the strings he used. In fact, it seems he rarely talked much about strings at all.
That doesn’t mean they didn’t matter to him, though, and we know some of the strings that Harrison used.
There are multiple stories of the Fab Four using flatwound strings made by European string maker Pyramid, which sold its strings under multiple brands and supplied them to instrument makers to be sold under their branding, as well.
The most common set at the time appears to be the 12-52 set, which runs .012″, .016″, .022″ (wound), .033″, .042″, .052″ from high E to low E.
Based on the story of a former employee of Harrison’s, we know he also used RotoSound Beat King strings, at least at some points in time. The strings, which ran .011″, .0145″, .0205″ (wound), .029″, .035″, .047″, from high E to low E.
Alan Herring, who was a chauffeur and handyman for both Harrison and Ringo Starr, said Harrison gave him the strings in 1969 when he also gave him his 1959 Hofner President, which Harrison called his first nice guitar.
A final set of strings we’re sure Harrison used was on his Rickenbacker 360/12. The recommended string set from Rickenbacker ran .010″/.010″, .013″/.013″, .020″ (wound)/.010″, .026″ (wound)/.013″, .036″/.020″ (plain), .046″/.026″ (wound) from high E to low E.
Did George Harrison Use Flatwound Strings?
Like the Pyramid strings, the Rickenbacker string set was flatwound. That’s part of the distinctive Rickenbacker 12-string electric sound, along with the fact the low string comes first in the double courses, the opposite of how such guitars are normally strung.
The fact the winding is flat helps to nearly eliminate the noise made when a players’ fingers slide up and down the strings. This creates a quieter sound, and the different composition of the strings also makes them noticeably less bright than roundwound strings.
Based on stories told by the Beatles themselves, their friends, and fellow musicians who knew them, nearly all of the Beatles started playing using relatively heavy, flatwound strings. That’s in part because such strings were common as factory equipment and were stocked in music stores, as well.
At least one story goes that the band all started using Pyramid strings after that brand came with Paul McCartney’s Hofner bass. Whether that’s true or not, McCartney’s iconic bass did come with flatwound strings.
As the years passed, a combination of newer string options and the increasing prominence of the band meant that Harrison, McCartney, and John Lennon could and did play whatever kind of strings they wanted.
It’s possible, though, that Harrison didn’t love the sound of flatwound strings. This requires some speculation, but follows from the story told by Alan Herring, which I mentioned earlier.
When Harrison gave Herring the Hofner President, he also gave him a set of RotoSound Beat King strings, which are roundwound, and Harrison said would sound better than what was on there. It’s unclear what strings were on the President at the time, but as the guitar was from Harrison’s earlier days, it might have had flatwound strings still.
Harrison was at first known as “the quiet Beatle,” but by the end of his career, he was recognized as a talented guitar player and songwriter.
His range of instruments and the sounds he could get from them, truly helped to shape the sound that made the Beatles the biggest band in the world throughout the 1960s. And that’s to say nothing of their legacy since they broke up in 1969.
This video shows the guitars Harrison used during his time with the Beatles.
We know a little big about the strings Harrison used, especially early on in his time with the Beatles, thanks in part to the recollections of others who were there, as well as photos and film.
The fact Harrison never spoke much about what strings he used is unsurprising. For most players, their strings contribute to their sound, but they don’t define it.
Harrison is the same — he would always sound like himself, no matter what strings he was using.
I’ve been a musician, particularly a guitarist, for more than 25 years. I love writing about guitars, gear, recording, music in general and more.