His instruments and amps from the Beatles to today

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Source: Linda McCartney

As music icon Paul McCartney celebrated his 80th birthday this week, we thought we’d get into the spirit of things and look at some of his iconic gear over the years. In the music recording world, the pursuit of the Beatles sound has become a rather fanatical religion.

Being a quarterback in the Fab Four and one of the band’s main songwriters means that McCartney’s gear choices certainly contributed to that mania and mystique that’s still very much alive today. Let’s take a look at some of its top picks.

Höfner 500/1

It is almost impossible to imagine Paul without his Höfner 500/1 violin double bass. When it comes to instruments, there are few such inseparable partnerships. Although he used other basses as the Beatles evolved, the Höfner remained his go-to bass throughout his solo career.

There are many rumors and speculations surrounding his purchase of the instrument in 1961 and whether it was the first left-handed Höfner bass produced or not. Either way, the love for Höfner basses is real and there are so many reasons to get your hands on them.

Paul McCartney Hofner 500

Paul playing his Hofner 500.


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Rickenbacker 4001

As a musician, there’s no better endorsement than when a manufacturer create an instrument just for you. In 1965, John Rickenbacker personally gave McCartney a southpaw 4001Swhen the Beatles were performing in Los Angeles.

The look and sound of the Rickenbacker really sums up the psychedelic era the group was moving in and he immediately appeared in the videos of their next sergeant. Pepper’s album. Paul continued to use the Rickenbacker on the Abbey Road album, where he shone Come togetherwhich is easily one of the most distinctive bass lines in the history of recorded music.

Paul's Rickenbacker 4001

Paul playing the Rickenbacker during the Hey Bulldog sessions.


Paul’s guitars

Undoubtedly, Paul McCartney’s contribution as a bassist is what most remember him for. It should be noted, however, that Paul is not a bad guitarist himself! If you’re lucky enough to see Paul McCartney perform live these days, you’ll likely see him wearing a Gibson Les Paul Standard. Paul has publicly stated how much he admires the design and Les Paul itself, and furthermore, he would own one of only two 1960 left-handed Les Pauls ever made!



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Voice Amplifiers

VOX-AC30

When you think of the Beatles, the sight of VOX amplifiers is not far behind. Even to this day, Paul McCartney can still be seen performing live with VOX amplifiers. Perhaps the amplifier most synonymous with the Beatles’ early career is the legendary VOX AC30. While we’ve come to think of the AC30 as just a guitar amplifier, it was regularly used back then for everything from guitar to bass, keyboards and even vocals!

As the Beatles moved to larger and more powerful VOX amplifiers around 1965, it should be noted that Paul McCartney used the AC30 extensively throughout his solo career. The sound of the AC30 can be heard by generations of guitarists, including U2s The Edge, Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood and many others who have thrived on the classical voice sound.

Paul McCartney and the Beatles at the Cavern Club

The UL730 and AC100

As crowds got bigger, Paul McCartney and the Beatles moved on to bigger (and nowadays much rarer) amplifiers. The AC100 with its matching 4X12 became Paul’s primary bass rig at most Beatles gigs beginning around 1964. However, in the studio, an even rarer amplifier provided the band with its signature sound.

The legendary Vox UL730 wasn’t just the sound of Revolver and sergeant. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. It has also been used by bands like The Rolling Stones, The Who and Led Zeppelin. The colorful tonal dynamics these amps are capable of making them extremely rare at the time and highly sought after to this day. Using a hybrid solid-state preamplifier and a valve power amplifier, only 30–40 of these amplifiers survive today.

John Lennon, George Martin and Paul McCartney

George Martin with Jean and Paul




Wings galore

VOX amplifiers are synonymous with Paul McCartney and the Beatles, but we really have to mention Fender amps too. If you watch one of the famous Get Back sequences, you’ll see wall-to-wall Fenders. Paul McCartney preferred a Fender Bassman head and cabinet which is widely reported to be the classic 6G6-B circuit model. Additionally, Fender Twin Reverb amplifiers were used extensively by the band; it is inevitable that Paul has played with Twin Reverb amps at some point in his career.


Keyboards

Paul McCartney used various keyboards on Beatles recordings, as well as throughout his solo career. From Rhodes and Wurlitzer electric pianos and Hammond organs with their accompanying Leslie speaker, to the most extravagant instruments like the Mellotron, Clavioline and Hohner Pianet.

McCartney has always had a knack for contextualizing these unique sounds in new ways, as he did with the Mellotron on Strawberry Fields. Original versions of these instruments can be hard to find, but thanks to the wonders of software and some great modern releases, we can still achieve similar sounds quite easily.

McCartney CS-80

Paul playing a CS-80



Abbey Road Studios

EMI was not only a record label, but also an electronics company; the inventions he produced ranged from medical equipment to some of the best sound tools never built. Abbey Road Studios became the testing laboratory for some of the earliest versions of so many rare instruments.

George Martin’s creativity and vast knowledge certainly became a catalyst in the Beatles recording process. He was skilled enough to take in even the most original ideas and bring them to life. Many consider his work on You never know what tomorrow brings as a turning point in modern music production.

Paul McCartney Abbey Road

George Martin in the studio with Paul and Ringo.


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