Ever since I first started playing the guitar when I was ten years old, I've been fascinated by musical gear. Guitars, basses, drums, amplifiers, effects...for me, it's gear porn (if you'll pardon the metaphor). In those long-ago years of my youth almost thirty years ago, as I listened to records by the Beatles, the Who, the Stones, the Kinks, Jimi Hendrix, Cream, Led Zeppelin, and others, I would not only pore over the album art and liner notes, but I would also pay special attention to the instruments and equipment they were using. Any time I'd look at a photograph or watch footage of my favorite bands, whether they be classic rock from the 1960s and 1970s or the alternative American and British rock I grew up listening to in the 1980s and 1990s, I'd pay almost as much attention to the gear as I did the music. The Beatles' gear, in particular, always interested me and I lusted after their guitars and basses for years (in particular Rickenbacker guitars and Vox amps, both of which I finally got my hands on in my 20s). When the first edition of Beatles Gear showed up years ago, I knew it was a book right up my alley. With the recent publication of the Ultimate Edition of this book, I knew it was one I had to check out and add to my Beatles library. As you'll see from this review, I wasn't disappointed and you won't be, either.
Andy Babiuk has written a few editions of Beatles Gear over the years, but this newest and final Ultimate Edition is the most up-to-date and comprehensive of them all. Having spent years of research and careful study of the instruments, amplifiers, effects, and microphones that the Beatles used throughout their entire career on stage and in the studio, the author tells the chronological story of the Beatles' career through their equipment. Starting with the very first instruments that John, Paul, George, Ringo, Pete Best, and Stuart Sutcliffe used when they started playing in the mid-1950s, Babiuk traces not only the evolution of the band's music throughout the 1960s, but also the evolution of musical instrument and (especially) amplifier technology. The book is broken into chapters dedicated to each year of the Beatles' career and tells the familiar story of their musical development as the 1960s progressed. Accompanying all of the descriptions of their gear are photographs of the actual instruments and amplifiers being discussed and used by the Beatles. If those could not be located or photographed, accurate replicas of the appropriate vintage are shown. Not only did the author do a copious amount of research on instruments currently owned by the Beatles and their estates, but much of his research has led to the recovery of previously lost or stolen guitars and amps. In particular, the saga surrounding John's original Gibson J-160E (bought in 1962), the gold-plated Hofner that Paul never owned, and George's cherry-red Gibson Les Paul "Lucy" (given to him by Eric Clapton in 1968) are fascinating cases in instrument sleuthing, tracing and solving the mystery of their whereabouts and who possessed many of them after they left the Beatles' ownership.
Delving even further, Babiuk is able to trace the usage of all of these instruments and equipment throughout the Beatles' career. Using photographic evidence as well as recording session documentation and interviews with the staff at Abbey Road Studios, the author is able to definitively state whether certain instruments and amps were used in the studio or on stage, and at which concert appearances or recording sessions. While I was familiar with almost all of the Beatles instruments, there were a few I wasn't aware of that I learned about in this book. Additionally, there were a lot of new surprises in the many cases where I was never aware of certain guitars being used in certain situations. Of particular interest was the research into the numerous drum kits used by Ringo over the years. There was a lot of in-depth research done on the evolution and usage of his famous oyster black pearl Ludwig kits between 1963 and 1968 which was fascinating (especially the photograph of him experimenting with a double bass drum set up during the White Album sessions in late 1968). Detailed photographs and attentions to detail, such as the fonts and angles of the Beatles drop-T logo and Ludwig logo on the various bass drum heads used through the 1960s are one of the things that make this book so great. If you're like me and discussions of things such as which type of speakers inside of an amplifier cabinet fascinate you, then this is the book for you.
Similar to the book on the Great British Recording Studios that I reviewed a while ago, Beatles Gear: The Ultimate Edition is pure bliss for those of you who, like me, are as into the technical aspects behind great music as the records themselves. Even if you're not as into the gear minutiae as some of us are, this is an enjoyable and interesting book on the history of guitars, amps, and drums as the technology evolved in the 1960s, technology that both inspired and was inspired by the music that was being created. The contemporary brochures and advertisements that accompany the various pieces of equipment are also fun to look at and show the difference between marketing in the 1960s as compared to today. Simply put, whether your a musician, a gear-head, or you just love their music, this is an enjoyable, educational, and essential book for Beatles fans young and old.
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