Paul McCartney at 80: His instruments & amps from The Beatles to today
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 signature gear over the years. In the world of music recording, the quest for that Beatles sound has become a rather fanatical religion.
Being one-fourth of the Fab Four and one of the main songwriters in the group means McCartney’s equipment choices certainly contributed to this mania and mystique that is still very much alive today. Let’s take a look at some of his top picks.
It’s almost impossible to picture Paul without his Höfner 500/1 violin bass. As far as instruments go, there are few partnerships as inseparable. Although he did use other basses as The Beatles evolved, the Höfner still remained his go-to bass throughout his solo career.
There are plenty of rumours and speculation surrounding his purchase of the instrument back in 1961 and whether it was the first left-handed bass Höfner produced or not. Either way, the love for Höfner basses is real and there are so many reasons to get your hands on one.
As a musician, there is no better endorsement than when a manufacturer creates an instrument just for you. Back in 1965, John Hall personally gave McCartney a left-handed 4001S, when The Beatles were performing in Los Angeles.
The look and sound of the Rickenbacker really encapsulated the psychedelic era the band was moving into and it immediately appeared in the videos for their upcoming Sgt. Pepper’s album. Paul went on to use the Rickenbacker on the Abbey Road album, where it shone on Come Together, which is easily one of the most distinctive basslines in the history of recorded music.
Undoubtedly, Paul McCartney’s contribution as a bass player is how most remember him. It’s worth noting, however, that Paul is a mean guitarist too! If you’re luck enough to catch Paul McCartney playing live, nowadays, you’ll likely see him toting a Gibson Les Paul Standard. Paul has gone on record to say how much he admires the design and Les Paul himself, and additionally is reported to own one of only two 1960 left-handed Les Paul’s ever made!
When you think of The Beatles, the sight of VOX amplifiers isn’t far behind. Even to this day, Paul McCartney can still be seen playing 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 purely a guitar amplifier, it was regularly used in period for everything from guitar to bass, to keyboards and even vocals!
While The Beatles moved onto larger and more powerful VOX amplifiers sometime around 1965, Paul McCartney has since used the AC30 extensively throughout his solo career. The AC30’s sound can be heard through generations of guitarists including U2s The Edge, Jonny Greenwood from Radiohead and many others who have thrived on the classic Vox sound.
The UL730 and AC100
As crowds got larger Paul McCartney and The Beatles switched to larger (and nowadays significantly rarer) amplifiers. The AC100 with its matching 4X12 became Paul’s main bass rig through most of The Beatles’ live shows from around 1964 onwards. However, in the studio an even rarer amplifier brought its sonic signature to the band.
The fabled Vox UL730 was not only the sound of Revolver and Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. It was also used by the likes of The Rolling Stones, The Who, and Led Zeppelin. The colourful tonal dynamics these amps are capable of made them extremely rare at the time and very much sought after to this day. Utilising a hybrid solid state pre-amplifier and valve power amplifier, only between 30-40 of these amplifiers survive, today.
VOX amplifiers are synonymous with Paul McCartney and The Beatles, but we really should mention Fender amplifiers too. If you watch any of the famous Get Back footage, you’ll see wall-to-wall Fenders. Paul McCartney favoured a Fender Bassman head and cabinet which is widely reported as being the classic 6G6-B circuit model. Additionally, Fender Twin Reverb amplifiers were used by the band extensively; its inevitable that Paul has played through Twin Reverb amps at some point in his career.
Paul McCartney used various keyboards on The 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 more outlandish instruments like the Mellotron, Clavioline, and the Hohner Pianet.
McCartney always had a knack for contextualizing these unique sounds in new ways, as he famously did with the Mellotron on Strawberry Fields. The original versions of these instruments may be hard to come by, but thanks to the wonders of software and some great modern versions we can still get similar sounds quite easily.
Abbey Road Studios
EMI wasn’t only a record label, but also an electronics company; the inventions it produced ranged from medical equipment to some of the finest audio tools ever built. Abbey Road Studios became the testing lab for some of the earliest versions of so many rare instruments.
The creativity and extensive knowledge of George Martin certainly became a catalyst in The Beatles’ recording process. He was adept enough to accommodate even the quirkiest of ideas and bring them to fruition. Many regard his work on Tomorrow Never Knows as a turning point in modern music production.
More about Paul McCartney and vintage gear:
- Everything vintage
- Paul’s Höfner 500 bass
- Untold Stories in GQ
- Paul McCartney Gear Rundown
- Paul with his Höfner bass: Universal Music Group / Author: Sam Rock
- Paul McCartney's guitar collection has always had some interesting picks over the years.: Universal Music Group / Author: Mary McCartney
- Paul McCartney, left, and John Lennon, right, perform on CBS' "Toast of the Town" in a performance that aired on Sept. 12, 1965.: Universal Music Group / The Beatles On Air - Live at the BBC Volume 2 Press photos
Epiphone Casino rather than Gibson Les Paul.
There are TONS of instruments missed and dates wrong here. What about the “Cavern” bass? What about the Fender Squire used on the Taxman solo, or on Sgt. Pepper. What about the Epiphone Casinos Fender or Fender Jazz Bass used on Abbey Road, and much more. What about his Wal bass in the 80’s, or his Yamaha? What about his Vox or Mesa amps over the same period. It goes on and on. Spend some time on:
…and learn something from people who have actually studied or even BEEN part of the Beatles story .
Interesting additions, but isn’t the Cavern bass the 500/1? What’s the Fender Squier bass, do you mean the Bass VI which I’ve heard was used on Taxman (and others like While My Guitar Gently Weeps)?
I think the truth needs to be reiterated about EMI. They were misers and would never give full equipment to anyone recording, including The Beatles. So to say they had everything would be false. They complained a lot.
Today? I didn’t see anything past the Beatles days. Where’s that Yamaha?
John Rickenbacker? Think you mean John C Hall, owner of Rickenbacker gave Paul the 4001S bass.
Geoff Emerick was responsible for the recorded sound on Tomorrow never knows and innovative Mike placement and compression used on Revover, SGT Pepper etc
Very interesting site.
Lovers of the Mellotron, the samples are available on the web in various formats. Since the Wavestate’s RAM was opened up on firmware V2, it has enough memory to easily load the main Mellotron multisamples. It’s fairly simple to make a vector patch with strings, violin, choir etc and use the joystick while playing to bring the sounds in and out. Wavestate makes a really good budget Mellotron for live use. You should get one Macca, at 80 you need music advice from we peasants 😁
for a mellotron sound….electroharmonix makes a mellotron pedal that sounds great.