Which Beatle Played the Best Guitar Solo on ‘The End’?

By 1968, The Beatles featured three premiere songwriters vying for space on the band’s records. If you didn’t deliver your best work, there was a good chance your song would get bumped. That happened to George Harrison on Sgt. Pepper a year earlier; then it happened again on The White Album.

Indeed, even on a double album, The Beatles didn’t have room for George’s “Sour Milk Sea” or “Not Guilty.” So it’s safe to say there was some stiff competition at this point in the band’s run. That’s going to happen with Paul McCartney and John Lennon writing songs for the same records.

But the competition didn’t end with songwriting. Since these three Beatles all played guitar, bass, and keyboard, you also had jockeying for who might play what on a particular track. Hence Paul taking a guitar solo on “Taxman” and John doing the same on “Get Back.”

That brought everyone to “The End,” the final track on the Fab Four’s last recorded album, Abbey Road. With space for a solo and the three bandmates wanting something special to close with, they decided to trade guitar licks on “The End.”

The 3 Beatles each took turns on 3 short guitar solos

Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and John Lennon of the Beatles play their final live performance on the roof of Apple headquarters, January 30, 1969. | Jeff Hochberg/Getty Images

“The End” actually featured solos from every Beatle. Though he didn’t want to do it at first, Ringo Starr gets the train rolling with a short drum solo at 0:20. After about 15 seconds, the guitars return with the sung chorus of “Love-you.” Then, at 0:53, the guitar duel begins.

First comes Paul with two bars from a muddy-toned guitar. Before he finishes his final phrase, George jumps in (at 0:58) with a bright, singing tone and some solid riffs. At 1:02, John takes a turn with a very heavy sound in the low register. Then Paul starts the cycle all over again (at 1:05).

The second turn finds Paul hitting some staccato high notes before George tries some tasteful strumming (1:09). Once again, John follows with some quality growling (1:13) that sounds like he’s heard the first Led Zeppelin album.

At 1:18 in the music, we get the third round from these heavyweights. Paul again goes with a clear, syncopated line before George (at 1:21) pulls off a singing riff worthy of his pal Eric Clapton. Then John gets the last word with some low, barking chords.

George’s solos really sparkle in ‘The End’

The Beatles pose at the press launch for their new album ‘Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,’ 19 May 1967. | John Downing/Getty Images

While George was reportedly the most reluctant to engage in this informal guitar battle, he agreed to Paul and John’s suggestion. And you can easily make the case George took down his dueling opponents that day in the studio. There’s hardly a note out of place in his three runs.

No one had a chance to take their solo home or otherwise practice much. After engineers set up their preferred guitar and amps — each getting a different tone — the three Beatles quickly worked out their lines and recorded the round of solos in a single take.

George’s clean, elegant lines came out best to these ears. (That’s George also taking the song home in magnificent fashion, starting at 1:47.) While George admitted his exploration of the sitar hurt his guitar technique a touch in earlier years, he was close to his peak form by 1969’s Abbey Road. And he nailed it on “The End.”

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