This is the foreword I wrote for the Ultimate Edition of Beatles Gear, a much extended and revised version of the book that appeared in 2015. It’s almost exactly the same as the foreword that appeared in the book itself.
George Harrison told a reporter in 1964: “I started learning to play the guitar when I was 13 on an old Spanish model which my dad picked up for fifty bob. It’s funny how little things can change your whole life.” I know what he means. I probably thought it was just a little thing when I first met Andy Babiuk. It was back in the 90s, and I needed help with a chapter I was writing about Beatles guitars in one of my books. We got on well and revelled in a common love of all things Beatle, but especially the instruments the group used. Just how did they get that fantastic sound?
Andy told me about the ambitious project he’d started, a book that would cover the entire story of the guitars, drums, amps, keyboards, and anything else the group had strummed, hit, plugged into, blown, or otherwise got a sound from during their brief but illustrious career. My small firm ended up publishing Andy’s big book, and in 2001 it appeared at last: the first edition of Beatles Gear.
Andy had put together something remarkable. What I particularly liked about his approach was that, as a working musician, he was realistic about how The Beatles had dealt with the gear available to them. He was enough of a fan to want to know all the intimate details, but he was clear-sighted enough to know that what really happened was often an oddball mixture of chance, opportunity, and happenstance. Andy has a real knack for finding the stories behind the stories, and he won’t necessarily go along with the accepted “truth” just because that’s what’s always been said about such-and-such a Beatle instrument and how it came to be played on a particular record or tour. We published the book; we were all very proud; soon it became a hit. Now it’s time to remake and remodel.
I once rather cheekily asked George Martin if, on reflection, there was anything he’d change on the Sgt Pepper album. Ever the gentleman, he paused to think. “I would put a much longer gap between the end of ‘She’s Leaving Home’ and ‘Kite’,” he told me. “I think it needs more space. It’s such a poignant song, and that jars a bit. I thought it was hip at the time – so there we are. Another thing: listening on CD, I hear the hiss of the records that were used to dub in the sound effects on ‘Good Morning’. They were taken off discs. You didn’t notice it too much on the vinyl but, my god, you notice it on the CD! Sorry about that, folks.”
If it’s OK for George Martin to even consider redoing a small part of something like Sgt Pepper, then I’m entirely comfortable with what we’ve done to Beatles Gear. I do hope you enjoy this new surround-sound version of the book and all the bonus material. Have a splendid time!