The 2022 release of Peter Jackson’s Let It Be documentary has re-energized professionals and hobbyists alike to “get back” into the jam space and dig into playing some good old fashioned Rock n Roll. New and upcoming indie artists have been drawing inspiration from this movie all year. In addition, the newly restored, gorgeous color film has given us the best visuals to date of the gear The Beatles were using while writing, recording, and finally performing this masterpiece of Pop and Rock music.
Let’s take a look at the most prominent pieces of gear they were using.
One of the most consequential gear changes for The Beatles during the Let It Be sessions were three brand new Fender amps. In the past, The Beatles sound was largely defined by their Vox amplifiers, which they used in the studio and on stage up until their final live concert in 1966. Shipped from America, fresh out of the box, were two Silverface 1968 Fender Twin Reverb guitar amps for John and George, as well as a Silverface 1968 Bassman for Paul. These amps’ crisp, warm tones are noticeable on both Let It Be and Abbey Road.
John Lennon mainly played his 1965 Epiphone Casino, notable for being sanded of its original paint and lacquered with two layers of nitrocellulose. It was a popular thing for the era, as it was believed it made the guitar sound better. His certainly has a one of a kind sound, heard distinctly in the solo of “Get Back” and the rhythm guitar of “Don’t Let Me Down”. He also played his Martin D-28 and Harrison’s Gibson J-200, but the most interesting instrument we get to discover in the film is the bass he used when Paul would switch to piano or guitar. He’s not playing a Hoffner, but instead a Fender Bass VI, which looks like a regular 6 string guitar, except every string is an octave lower. So it has the four strings of a bass, with added B and E strings. You can hear it on “The Long and Winding Road” and “Two of Us”.
Paul McCartney brought two Hoffner violin basses, one from ’61 and another from ’63. Unfortunately at the end of the Twickenham sessions, the original ’61 bass was stolen. No one’s ever recovered it. And so the ’63 is what we hear on the final takes.
Paul also played a Bluthner grand piano, as well as John and George’s acoustics.
George Harrison played mainly two guitars, Lucy the 1957 Gibson Les Paul gifted to him by Eric Clapton and the brand new Rosewood 1968 Fender Telecaster. The Les Paul is used all over The Beatles (The White Album) and it continues to be used throughout these sessions.
The solid body Telecaster gifted by Fender was the first of its kind. It’s wood resonated beautifully and you could tell George really enjoyed playing it. It especially shines in the riffs and solo of “Dig a Pony”. The tone just cuts through, while still ringing like a bell.
Let It Be is unique, for all the innovation and experimentation The Beatles did between 1966-1968, this album is mostly clean microphones and pure amplifier sound. The only exception is you can see George using an Arbiter Fuzzface, also used by Jimi Hendrix.
FINAL WORD ON THE BEATLES’ GEAR
The Let It Be film is incredible on so many levels. As a casual listener, a superfan, a fan of 20th century Pop Culture, or a gear head, there is something for everyone. What’s coolest for us though, is getting to see things we never knew: John mainly playing George’s acoustic and not the two he brought, McCartney playing the ’63 Hofner out of necessity, John playing the Fender Bass IV and not Paul’s violin bass, and that George did have more working than just his amp, at least on that screaming lead in “I Got a Feeling”. It brings one of the finest albums ever made into rich, stereo, technicolor soaked focus.