‘The Beatles’: Why George Harrison Would Sometimes Switch Guitars Partway Through Performances

Article Highlights:

  • The Beatles sounded the same whether they were live or in the studio
  • Why George Harrison switched from a 12-string guitar to a six-string in “If I Fell”
  • Why Harrison struggled with songwriting
Paul McCartney and George Harrison of The Beatles, performing at a rehearsal for the 'Round The Beatles' TV show at the Rediffusion TV studios in Wembley, London, April 127, 1964.
Paul McCartney and George Harrison of The Beatles | Jim Gray/Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

If you were lucky enough to ever see The Beatles play, and the band performed “If I Fell,” you might have noticed George Harrison switching between two guitars. During an interview with journalist Larry Kane (who toured with the band when they did their American tours in 1964 and 1965), Harrison explained the reason why he was “always swapping ’round.” He also spoke about staying true to The Beatles’ sound when performing live and his songwriting aspirations.

The Beatles had no trouble replicating their sound in live performances

Kane traveled around with the band during their first two American tours. He rode in the same planes as them, stayed in the same hotels, and tried to get in questions whenever he could. During one of those interviews, he asked Harrison if The Beatles ever had any trouble replicating their sound onstage.

“No way, Larry,” responded Harrison, as recorded in the book George Harrison on George Harrison. “From the beginning, when we were taping, we always did it in one take. We never did any of that overdubbing and that stuff. We are what we are.”

No matter where The Beatles played — in the studio or on stage— they aimed to sound the same, because they played the same way each time.

Why George Harrison would sometimes switch guitars in the middle of a song

Kane also asked Harrison why he’d switch from his twelve-string guitar to a six-string, sometimes midway through a song, particularly in “If I Fell.”

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“Uh, ’cause it’s got a different sound, y’see,” Harrison explained. “With a twelve-string, it’s two sets of each—I mean, there’s two lots of each string, y’see. Only, instead of it being tuned the same, they’re in octaves, y’see, so instead of getting this note [plays note] like you would on a normal one, you get [plays same note an octave higher]. So you get [high note] and [low note] both together, so it gives you that noise, y’see. It’s—it’s a higher sound. And with it being electric, it’s a good sound, and I, so the one’s I’ve used, um, when I’ve used this on a record, I use it on stage as well, y’see, that’s why I’m always swapping ’round.”

If Harrison played a song with two guitars in the studio, you better believe he played it with two guitars on stage as well.

George Harrison’s songwriting efforts

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Harrison also spoke to the journalist about songwriting. Not the famous songwriter of the group, he often had trouble finishing what he was working on.

“I am still trying to turn out a couple,” said Harrison. “My main problem is trying to write lyrics, and I don’t think it is worth writing songs and getting someone else to write lyrics because you don’t feel as if you have done it, really. So I have written a few more songs I’ve got taped at home, but if I get something going, then I’ll tape it. I’ll leave if for about five weeks, then I’ll suddenly remember. Then I’ll add a bit more to it, and so it will probably take me about three months before I finish one song. I’m so lazy it’s ridiculous, but I’d like to write more.”