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To celebrate its 50th birthday, we take a look at the instruments used on the Beatles' 'Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band' - the best album ever recorded.
As the Beatles ‘Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’ celebrates its 50th anniversary on June 1 2017, we decided to take a look back at the recording sessions and find out exactly what amplifiers, guitars and drums were used during the seminal Sgt. Pepper recording sessions in Abbey Road’s Studio 2.
When the Beatles ventured into Abbey Road’s world famous Studio Two, the band would try and push the boundaries of 'popular music' further than what they did with the now iconic ‘Revolver’ album. The process was made all the more better thanks to the fact the fab four had decided by the end of 1966 to become a fully-fledged studio band, utilising the studio as a tool rather than a place merely to record songs in preparation for the live arena. The resulting piece of work released in 1967 would become arguably the best album ever made.
Although the sessions, experimentation and tensions within the band are well recorded, we thought the instruments used on Sgt. Pepper could do with some love! So step back 50 years with us and discover how the Beatles got their sound with a Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band gear guide!
Guitars Used On Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band
After working with 21 year old Geoff Emerick on the Revolver sessions, and falling in love with his creativity and openness to experimentation against EMI's wishes (EMI had a strict policy and banned overloading of audio signals to create distortion and "unnatural" sounds and wouldn’t allow microphones to be placed closer than 18 inches to drum kit) the Beatles decided to keep this winning formula. Stepping into Abbey Road’s studio 2 along with George Martin, Lennon, McCartney and Harrison decided to use the same guitars and gear they had used for Revolver, just in a different way.
The main guitars used on Sgt pepper were the Epiphone Casino, Sonic Blue fender Stratocaster, Gibson J160 Acoustic, George Harrison’s Gibson SG and a Rickenbacker 4001s bass.
Paul McCartney, John Lennon and George Harrison favoured the Epiphone Casino
throughout the Sgt. Pepper Sessions, which is pretty much entirely a casino album! The wide-open sound and warmth of an Epiphone casino can be heard on a multitude of Beatles tracks, and is especially prevalent on McCartney’s solo on “Good Morning Good Morning”.
Lennon and Harrison had almost identical sunburst Epiphone Casino guitars, but during the Sgt. Pepper sessions, Lennon spray-painted a white outline on its back. He would eventually sand off the finish to reveal the natural wood underneath a year later after speaking to Scottish singer-songwriter Donovan Leitch in India, who suggested that it would allow the guitar to ‘breathe’ and improve the tone.
The Epiphone Casino’s 2 x P-90 pickups lend themselves extremely well to the jangly sounds of the sixties, but can beautifully respond to distortion, especially when coupled with a driven tube amp.
If you want the guitar sound of Sgt. Pepper, the Casino is the one you need!
Sonic Blue Fender Stratocaster
John Lennon’s Sonic Blue Fender Stratocaster was used heavily throughout the recordings of Sgt. Pepper. To get that classic John Lennon Sgt. Pepper Stratocaster look, we recommend the Fender American Special Stratocaster Rosewood Neck, Sonic Blue
. The lightweight alder body adds gorgeous resonance to the sound whilst the Custom Shop Texas Special pickups provide that beautifully glassy single coil tone with a little growl when you need it.
Gibson J160 acoustic
Lennon and Harrison used Harrison’s Gibson J160 acoustic frequently throughout their career and continued to do so on the Sgt. Pepper sessions. As Lennon’s was stolen in late 1963, he would borrow it from time to time from Harrison. Although Gibson no longer mass produce the J160, Epiphone have created a range of limited edition models, complete with Epiphone Stacked P-100 pickup. The Epiphone Ltd Ed. EJ-160E Electro Acoustic
, is a great addition to any collection.
If you like the shape of the J160, but want the pickup hidden away, we definitely recommend the Gibson J-45 Standard
that has similar sloped shoulders, solid mahogany back and sides to offer a warm, round sound as well as the LR Baggs VTC electronics which provide you with a gorgeous, transparent sound whether you plug into a PA or amplifier.
One of George Harrison’s most loved guitars was a 1964 Gibson SG and was used throughout the recording and touring of the album ‘Revolver’. It was brought out again during the Sgt. Pepper sessions as the band needed those classic humbucker sounds to beef up the guitar tracks. Yet again, his SG was another guitar that was shared with his bandmates and it appears regularly throughout the album according to Emerick. This 1964 Gibson SG with Vibrato tailpiece and smaller scratchplate was also used live by George with the Beatles at the 1966 NME Poll Winners concert, their last ever UK Concert.
We recommend the Gibson SG Standard in Heritage Cherry
to get that George Harrison sound. With its 57 classic pickups, slim-taper High performance neck and fast access heel, it’s a dream to play and will sound beautiful when coupled with a good valve amp.
Although McCartney was known for using a Hofner bass
almost exclusively throughout the early days of the Beatles (in fact he still uses it now) the Rickenbacker 4001S was the other guitar he was most associated with. The Fireglo Rickenbacker 4001s was originally shown to him by Rickenbacker owner F.C. Hall. Unfortunately there wasn’t a left handed model around at the time and F.C. Hall also asked for a small fee for the guitar, to which McCartney politely refused.
However his interest in Rickenbacker guitars was obviously not damaged as John Hall, F.C Hall’s son, presented McCartney with a left handed model at the Beatles Hollywood Bowl concert, free of charge. McCartney gladly accepted and thus began his love affair with Rickenbacker bass guitars. It can be heard on such tracks as ‘Penny Lane’ which should have appeared on Sgt pepper, and ‘Strawberry Fields’.
Although the 4001s is currently out of production, the 4003s replaced it. The Rickenbacker 4003s Bass guitar in Fireglo
is one of the finest bass guitars ever created. Each bass comes with mono and stereo output so you can have the choice of how you want your bass to come across and the 4003 single coil pickups sound amazing in all genres. It also features the dot inlays that McCartney preferred. There’s even a left-handed version too
Check out the full range of Rickenbacker 4003 models here
Amps Used On Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band
The Beatles kept it fairly simple when it came to choosing their amplifiers on the Sgt. Pepper album, utilising the amps that they had recorded with on the 'Revolver' sessions.
The main amps the Beatles used on the Sgt. Pepper sessions were a Vox Conqueror, Vox UL730, Vox 7120, Fender Showman Head, Fender Bassman Head with 2 x 12 cabinet, Selmer Thunderbird Twin 50 MkII and Vox UL4120 bass amp.
Emerick opted to experiment with the mic placement (against EMI’s wishes) to get different sounds and reportedly spent hours manipulating the EQ controls on the Vox amps to ensure each guitar track sounded unique.
Although most of these amps are pretty much impossible to come by today, there are a few alternatives that have been modelled on these vintage amps that will help you get that Sgt. Pepper sound.
Vox Conqueror, Vox UL730, Vox 7120 amplifiers VS. Vox AC30
The Beatles were renowned for using Vox amps
throughout their career, specifically the Vox Conqueror, Vox UL730, Vox 7120 amplifiers, all of which ranged from 30 watts to the 120 watts of the 7120.
Unfortunately all of these amps are now out of production, partly owing to the fact the Vox UL730, Vox 7120 amplifiers were actually returned by customers in exchange for the new solid state amplifiers that Vox amps introduced in 1967. Vox felt that there was no point in pursuing the lines anymore as the AC30 was quickly becoming a hit with bands and artists.
Along with the Vox Conqueror, Vox UL730, Vox 7120 amplifiers, which were separate head and cab set ups, the Beatles frequently used Vox AC30s throughout their touring and recording career, with Paul McCartney still using them today. So, we’d definitely recommend the Vox AC30
as a worthy substitute for the older (and less portable) amps they used in Abbey Road studio 2.
The key features of the Vox Conqueror, Vox UL730 and Vox 7120 are all extremely similar to the classic Vox AC30 - you have reverb tanks, tremolo and extra channels that allow you to create different sounds. However, the modern AC30 is far more reliable!
The Vox AC30C2 Custom Series Guitar Valve Amp
of today features 4 inputs (2 x lo-gain, 2 x high-gain), reverb and tremolo units as well as 30 watts of pure power pumping out through 2 x Celestion G12M Greenback speakers. Simple to use, extremely versatile yet instantly recognisable as the sound of the 60s, the Vox AC30 is a true performers amplifier favoured by professionals musicians today. The ‘Tone-Cut’ feature allows you to add or reduce the high ends of the amplifier and tweak your sound to get either a darker or brighter sounding tone instantly. Ideal for tracks like ‘Getting better’ and ‘A day In The Life’.
If you want the classic Beatles sound, this is the amp you need.
To get that extra vintage, handmade feel, we also recommend the VOX AC30HW2X Hand-wired Guitar Valve Amp
which has been put together by Vox engineers meticulously using the technique of turret board hand-wiring which results in superior tone. The retro oxblood grill cover and Vintage fawn-coloured vinyl also bring a seriously 60s vibe!
Fender Bassman Head with 2 x 12 cabinet VS. Fender Bassbreaker
The Beatles opted for the power and lower end dynamics inherent in the 1964 Fender Bassman Head for the Sgt. Pepper sessions. After all, it was Paul McCartney who used it as his main bass amp! Paul would play the Bassman through a 2x 12 cab for all his bass parts and eventually Lennon and Harrison decided to throw their guitars through it.
This resulted in a rich guitar sound that was full bodied, and less focused on the high-end frequencies. This was actually the most used amplifier the Beatles recorded with, eventually appearing on John Lennon’s first solo albums when George used it as a solo amp and throughout the recording sessions of Real Love/Free As A Bird. It was also on stage at the Concert For George – a tribute to its importance in the history of the Beatles. This amp dominated the recording sessions for not only Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, but everything from Rubber Soul (1965) to Abbey Road (1970).
There are many new incarnations of the Bassman amp, but if you want a vintage sound without paying vintage prices, we recommend the Fender Bassbreaker amplifiers
The Fender Bassbreaker 18/30 Combo Guitar Amp
is a fantastic option for those who want a vintage style tone with modern sensibilities and more importantly; modern reliability. The cool thing about the Bassbreaker 18/30 is the fact you have two amp circuits in one amp. On one side you have Channel One with all the clean bell like tones that Fender are so renowned for - great for lush chords and clean lead licks. However, Channel One also allows you to bust out some serious overdrive thanks to the Blackface Deluxe Circuitry and 30w output.
On the other side, Channel Two provides a huge range of rich dynamics as it’s based on an 18W 1961 brown Deluxe. This means you can flit between the two channels to provide different sounds or utilise the two at the same time, accessing both channels via the included footswitch. The four EL84 output tubes and 2 x 12” Celestion® V-Type speakers are a dream to play and will easily get you from the lush soundscapes of ‘A Day in The Life’ to the rocking tones on ‘Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band / Reprise’.
Drums Used On Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band
It’s well documented that Ringo Starr had a love for Ludwig drums
, and chose to play them almost exclusively throughout his career.
The most notable drum kit used on the Sgt. Pepper sessions was the Ludwig Oyster Black Pearl "Super Classic" Drum Set. This classic kit featured It a 9" x 13" Tom, 16" x 16" Floor Tom, 14" x 22" Bass Drum, 5.5" x 14" Snare Drum, and two cymbals. It also showed up in countless photos and videos including the likes of ‘Hello, Goodbye’ and ‘I Am The Walrus’. Of course, these songs aren’t on Sgt. Pepper’s but you get the idea.
To get that classic Sgt. Pepper drum sound, we recommend the Ludwig Keystone 22" 4 Piece Drum Kit in Mint Oyster
. This particular kit features a 3-ply maple core augmented with 1/16" inner- and outer-plies of American red oak. This combination of a 5-ply wood results in a thin yet dense drum shell that decays quickly – perfect for that Sgt. Pepper’s sound.
Alternatively, there’s also the Ludwig Signet 105 Terabeat 4 Piece Drum Kit in Alpine Blue
that has been crafted to provide a far more open tone with extended resonance making it a great option for live shows and larger rooms. We’d also advise throwing some tea towels over the drums to get the Ringo sound and scale back the resonance just a touch.
We hope you enjoyed our Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band gear guide!