A new app for the iPad, The Guitar Collection: George Harrison, is rather like a little pocket book of the former Beatles’ most famous axes. It features the history, pics, guitar model specifications, and historic photographic images of the iconic instruments.
But unlike a book, it’s a multimedia feast full of 3D models, music clips, and videos of George and his pals talking rock ‘n’ roll. It’s a rich potpourri of sounds and visuals for Beatlemaniacs. Trouble is, there’s so much missing.
The app (priced at $9.99) highlights seven of George’s guitars. Each instrument is linked to a playlist of songs, mostly from the Beatles era, plus a smattering of post-Beatles solo recordings on which George played that particular guitar.
The guitars featured are some of those he used in roughly chronological order as a member of the Fab Four and beyond:
- A black Gretsch Duo Jet from the Liverpool Cavern Club days.
- A Gibson J-160E jumbo acoustic immediately recognizable from the film A Hard Day’s Night.
- A twelve-string Rickenbacker in Fireglo red that screams out mid-’60s Twaaaaang!
- A psychedelic hand-painted (by George himself) Fender Strat, named Rocky, used for the Sgt. Pepper recording sessions and conspicuous in the Magical Mystery Tour movie.
- A Ramirez classical guitar that was used on only one song, “And I Love Her.”
- A choc brown Fender Telecaster that George wielded in the famous Let It Be rooftop concert above London’s Apple Building in what was to be The Beatles’ final live performance.
- And a custom-built Zemaitis acoustic 12-string that George acquired in 1974.
An interesting component of the app is the video vault, featuring footage of George’s son Dhani Harrison, as well as some celebrity guitarists more-or-less associated with George such as Mike Campbell, Ben Harper, Josh Homme, and Gary Moore, playing and discussing anecdotes on George’s playing style and his guitars. This is my favorite feature of the app, actually–it’s striking to see how emotional nearly everyone became, confronted with George’s historic guitars, to be in the presence of these inanimate objects.
The guitar collection itself is presented in a gallery, and clicking on each instrument gives close-up, 360º rotating views and some facts on the history and personal appearances of the guitar as well as a playlist of songs on which it can be heard. There are also some notes on each guitar’s manufacturer. Finally, for some of the guitars there are brief audio soundbites of George talking about them and strumming a few chords.
This app is a great idea for Beatles fans and musicians alike. However, by aiming at a general audience it fails to satisfy the curiosity of both groups.
A Beatles fan will lament the absence of the other three Fabs. Only pics of Beatle George? It seems wrong, especially since we can hear songs by the band, mostly those penned and sung by John and Paul (and drummed by Ringo). So Beatles fans will miss the rest of the gang.
A musician, on the other hand, will have more to complain about. There are no details on how George managed to obtain the sounds on the records, using the guitars featured. We know that the Rickenbacker has twelve jangly strings and that a Fender Strat has a sweet sound for slide guitar, but how did George actually get the sounds that he did? Some more info would have been useful.
For instance, in one of the videos Gary Moore, with George’s 12-string Ricky on his knee, tells us that George himself explained to him how to play the opening chord to “A Hard Day’s Night,” which is arguably the most famous opening chord in pop history. No one in the world knows how to play it definitively–but when Moore plucks it, the camera doesn’t zoom in on his fingers… all we see is a gnarled fist over the fretboard. So we still don’t know how to play it.
There are some other pretty big oversights. For a start, two of George’s most famous guitars from countless appearances in the ‘60s, the Epiphone Casino and the Gretsch Country Gentleman, are not in it. Instead we are presented with the Ramirez Spanish guitar, which he used to record only once, and a rare guitar that he did not play on any recording, the Zemaitis. Why those? These two guitars are long out of production, so it doesn’t seem to be a marketing ploy by the manufacturers to show their axes plugged by a Beatle.
In recognition of the limited selection of George’s guitars featured in the app, the creators do promise to feature more guitars as free upgrades in future. I hope that George’s beloved uke eventually makes it for inclusion.
From a musician’s point of view, the selection of songs featuring each of the guitars is not very well thought out. Unless the user has each track already on iTunes, the app will only play a short preview of the track. And since The Beatles had two guitarists, John on rhythm and George on lead, on many songs it is hard to discriminate George’s guitar in the mix. A better showcase would be a hand-selected couple of tracks featuring George’s part prominently, such as a fine song arrangement or catchy solo.
There are some glaring errors as well. We are told contrarily that George uses both the Ramirez classical and the Ricky on “And I Love Her”–the latter guitar no way. And oh dear–George’s 12-string Rickenbacker is a model 330, not a 360–a completely different guitar. And although according to the app George used Rocky the Strat on “All You Need Is Love,” when he appeared playing that song on Our World, the 1967 first-ever global satellite broadcast, he is distinctly brandishing his brown Fender Tele. These kinds of omissions won’t get past Beatles fans and will undermine the credibility of the the app for musicians interested in emulating George’s sound.
So, all in all, a bit of a disappointing app. It doesn’t seem to know what it is–in the words of one of George’s songs, it’s a fish on the sand. It falls short of being a new source of info for Beatles fans and does not provide many insights for guitar players either–this despite the involvement of Dhani Harrison, who is not only George’s son and heir and the guitars’ curator and himself a musician.
Pros: Color closeups of George’s famous guitars in 360º, unseen videos of George and other musicians talking shop, and some interesting facts.
Cons: Lack of focus, way too short song previews, careless mistakes.