The Gear of The Beatles' "Revolver"

For a band whose artistic developments were always closely watched and have been revisited again and again for decades, it's easy to become inured by all the references to "pivotal" moments in Beatles history.

But 1966's Revolver really was pivotal—a true turning point for the group, where they ditched much of the gear that had taken them through Beatlemania, set the folk stylings of Rubber Soul aside, and explored the studio as an instrument itself.

On Friday, October 28, a new reissue of Revolver will contain never-before-heard tracks and alternate takes, as well new stereo and Atmos mixes from the more-than-300 hours of studio time The Beatles put into the album.

We're taking it as an opportunity to explore the gear The Beatles used to make it.

An unused mix of "Got To Get You Into My Life," which features a fuzz guitar in place of the final mix's horns.

Revolver Guitars

Before Revolver, The Beatles were still playing many of the same guitars they had played throughout Beatlemania: like George Harrison's Tennessean, John Lennon's Rickenbacker 325, and the Epiphone Texan Paul McCartney often used on stage to perform "Yesterday."

But when they entered EMI Studio 3 on April 6, they had with them a bounty of fresh instruments they'd recently picked up. (With an "out with the old, in with the new" spirit, Lennon even gave away his own Gretsch 6120 Chet Atkins signature after one of the record's very first sessions.)

Harrison's new SG, a 1964 model he got in early '66, was his main instrument throughout Revolver, aside from his sitar experimentation and his Epiphone Casino. For Revolver, both Harrison and Lennon followed in McCartney's footsteps and got themselves a Casino each: Harrison's, like McCartney's, had a Bigsby, while Lennon's had the regular trapeze tailpiece. Both were '65s and both had sunburst finishes at the time.

Spot Harrison's '64 SG and Lennon's new Epiphone Casino in this promo video for the Revolver single "Paperback Writer"

Throughout the recordings, Lennon used his new Casino frequently. It would be a couple years before he stripped the finish to bare wood, but this Casino remained a go-to instrument for Lennon for the rest of his time with The Beatles, and it all started with the Revolver sessions.

The acoustics on the album were, at this point, nothing special for the band, like McCartney's Epiphone Texan, Harrison's Gibson J-160E, and Lennon's second J-160E, which he had bought in '64 to replace his first (which was stolen, lost, and then later rediscovered, becoming one of the most expensive guitars ever sold).

For the low-end of the record, McCartney did have in tow his trusty Hofner, but new to him was the Rickenbacker 4001S that played such a large role in the rest of his bass-playing life. While on tour in the US in August 1965, Rickenbacker's Francis and John Hall gifted the left-handed bass to McCartney.

One more mysterious bass addition can be found in the Burns Nu-Sonic. There's a well-known photograph of Harrison playing it during a rehearsal for "Paperback Writer," while McCartney played guitar on his own Casino. However, it's unlikely that the Nu-Sonic (or Harrison's bass playing) made it onto the final recording.

Revolver Amps and Effects

One of the most important amps to the proceedings was McCartney's piggyback-style Fender Bassman from 1963-'64. This cream-Tolex model, which he used on Rubber Soul before re-employing it for Revolver, had a separate head and 2x12" cabinet.

Joining the Bassman were a couple of Dual Showman heads and cabs. Instead of the cream Tolex and brown front panel of McCartney's older Bassman, these Showmans had Fender's new blackpanel design and matching black Tolex.

Vox 7120 amps also played a large role in the Revolver sessions, since Vox had recently gifted a set of its first 7120s to the band. These hybrid amps had a solid-state preamp and tube-based power section. They also had built-in fuzz circuits, since that effect was then on the rise. (The 7120 was a precursor to the Vox UL730, which became the amp behind Sgt. Pepper's.)

Around this time, The Beatles were known to have two separate fuzz pedals as well. One was a Gary Hurst-built Tone Bender (which they'd used on the bassline of Rubber Soul's "Think For Yourself." The other was a Rush PepBox, which Lennon was photographed using during the Revolver sessions.

Revolver Drums

Like Ringo Starr's presence in the band, his Ludwig drum sets remained unfussy and dependable during this time period. From the fills of "She Said, She Said" to the looped beat of "Tomorrow Never Knows," his drums never sounded better than they did on Revolver.

At this point in time, Starr had several versions of Ludwig drum kits. He acquired his second Super Classic (with a 22-inch bass drum and in Black Oyster Pearl wrap) during The Beatles' '65 US tour. But he played this newer one as well as the previous 22-inch kick Super Classic throughout the Revolver sessions.

According to Andy Babiuk in Beatles Gear, Ringo's second Super Classic had: a 14"x22" kick, 9"x13" tom, 16"x16 floor tom, model 201 WFL Speed King bass pedal, model 1400 flat-base cymbal stands, and a model 1123 hi-hat stand, along with 18" and 20" Avedis Zildjian cymbals and Zildjian New Beat 14" hats.

The snare was Ringo's famous 5.5"X14" 1963 Jazz Festival snare (an oddity that's a half-inch deeper than standard Jazz Festivals). And, of course, he used a well-placed pack of L&M or Chesterfield cigarettes to dampen it.

The Studio as an Instrument

The Beatles - "Tomorrow Never Knows"

What really sets Revolver apart from the Beatles records that came before is that the band was able to take the time to use the recording studio as an instrument itself. (And this was thanks, in no small part, to their label's willingness and George Martin's insistence that they be allowed to take more time, given the enormous success of previous albums.)

Geoff Emerick, at the time a 19-year-old audio engineer, was allowed to experiment with Abbey Road's mics, tape machines, and other gadgets in ways that were previously forbidden. As just one example, he simultaneously played five tapes of found sounds and, with Martin, mixed them on individual faders to create the swirling atmosphere of "Tomorrow Never Knows."

In his book on recording with The Beatles, Here, There, and Everywhere—which any producer or aspiring engineer really should read—he writes; "In the control room, George Martin and I huddled over the console, raising and lowering faders to shouted instructions from John, Paul, George and Ringo. … With each fader carrying a different loop, the mixing desk acted like a synthesizer, and we played it like a musical instrument, too."

For the famous vocal sound of that track, Emerick also figured out how to make Lennon's voice sound like it was getting whipped around a mountainside. He repurposed a Leslie speaker cabinet, rewiring it to accept a microphone signal instead of the organ it was built for. The band loved the sound so much, they pretty much wanted to put a Leslie on everything from that point forward.

Artificial double tracking (ADT) tech was also first developed out of the Revolver sessions, since Lennon was frustrated by the time it took to double his vocals in real time. Another engineer at the studio, Ken Townsend (who would play a big role in Sgt. Pepper's as well), took the varispeed function they were experimenting with on the tape machines to create a slightly delayed second voice from the original. (The phasing effects inherent in this way of doing it added to the fun.)

Whole books have been written on this subject, many of which were used to compile this article. Grab all of these books to learn more: Andy Babiuk's Beatles Gear: All the Fab Four's Instruments From Stage to Studio, Geoff Emerick's Here, There and Everywhere: My Life Recording the Music of the Beatles, and Jerry Hammack's The Beatles Recording Reference Manuals, "Help!" through "Revolver" 1965-1966.

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