George Harrison: A Rare Bartell Fretless Electric Guitar owned by George Harrison, believed made circa 1967,

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Lot 184Y
George Harrison: A Rare Bartell Fretless Electric Guitar owned by George Harrison,
believed made circa 1967,

Sold for £ 237,562 (US$ 309,377) inc. premium
The Beatles
George Harrison: A Rare Bartell Fretless Electric Guitar owned by George Harrison,
believed made circa 1967,
serial no. A132, an unconventional guitar manufactured by Bartell of California, presented to George Harrison in August 1967 whilst he was renting a house on Blue Jay Way, Los Angeles; the contoured maple hollow body with twin cutaways in three-tone sunburst finish, with two f-holes, two single coil pickups with four Daka-ware rotary volume/tone controls, selector switch, four-ply laminated scratchplate, compensator bridge and rectangular tailpiece, maple neck with rosewood cap and phenolic fingerboard with painted line markers, celluloid truss rod cover, 'Bartell of California' decal to the headstock, Kluson Deluxe machineheads, in padded gig bag; accompanied by a photograph of George Harrison with his guitar collection at Friar Park, circa 1974, this guitar clearly visible at his left elbow, and statements from the vendor and associates regarding the gifting of the guitar in the 1980s, accompanied by a letter of provenance, CITES licence no.593367/01, 40.5in (103cm) long

Footnotes

  • Provenance:
    Given by George Harrison to session guitarist Ray Russell when working on the music for the Handmade Films production, Water, in 1984.

    Offered with the letters of provenance is a 1985 vinyl pressing of the album The Golden Beatles, which includes the recording of an interview with the Beatles by DJ Kenny Everett, with producer Tony Olivestone operating the tape machine. The interview was conducted at Abbey Road Studios on Thursday 6th June 1968 during a long recording session for the White Album and broadcast on BBC Radio One on 9th June in The Kenny Everett Show. An edited version of the interview was committed to vinyl at the time as an Apple promo disc, but released only in Italy, as 'Una Sensazionale Intervista Dei Beatles'. A detailed description of the full interview is included in That Magic Feeling: The Beatles' Recorded Legacy 1966-1970 (John C. Winn, Random House USA Inc., 2009). The interview is also available on YouTube. www.youtube.com/watch?v=4DuRSC2eIps

    Everett's interview was typically unstructured and chaotic, with John being heard messing about on a guitar. Everett asks: "What kind of guitar's that, it's fairly strange-looking...?" to which John replies "A fretless guitar". Although there is, to date, no other documentary or photographic evidence of the Beatles using a fretless electric guitar, which at that time would have been an extremely rare instrument indeed, it is unlikely that it was anything other than the guitar offered here.

    It is not known whether the fretless found its way onto any Beatles recordings, but there is some interesting academic thought on this subject. For example, in February 2020, Kenny Jenkins, Senior Lecturer in Music Performance and Production at Leeds Beckett University, stated to the vendor that he believed this fretless was used on the White Album tracks Helter Skelter and Happiness Is A Warm Gun: "Having spent a fair amount of time playing a fretless guitar, I can definitely say that's what is being used on both these tracks. I've been listening to this record for over 40 years and I'd never noticed it before, but once I'm listening out for it, it's an unmistakable sound. It's particularly effective on Happiness Is A Warm Gun where it's drenched in fuzz, probably a Dallas Fuzz Face pedal. There weren't many fretless guitars in the world in 1968, so it seems obvious that it's your Bartell".

    In addition, the opinion was sought of Dr. Richard Perks, Lecturer in Music Performance, University of Kent, and one of Europe's leading exponents of the fretless electric guitar. In 2019 he was awarded a research grant to explore the fretless guitar scene of West-Asia and latest academic publications have addressed modern-day electric guitar performance. He stated that: "I can say with some degree of certainty that a fretless electric guitar was used during the recording of The Beatles (White Album). On the track Happiness is a Warm Gun, the characteristic timbre of a fretless guitar is unmistakable; I am also convinced it features at various points throughout Helter Skelter. Furthermore, there is sufficient evidence to suggest the use of a fretless guitar on Savoy Truffle. In each case, the fretless guitar parts exhibit a 'full' tone, which directly supports the view that the Bartell model – a hollow-body – was used."

    A Facebook post in 2019 gave details by Mark Moffatt, a former employee of Top Gear Musical Instruments in Denmark Street, London, that in 1973, Apple sent a number of George Harrison's guitars to the shop for servicing. Moffatt recalls: "It was thrilling opening cases to find legendary guitars like Rocky, the Ric 12, Epiphone Casino, Dobro lap steel and others but the mystery was the oddball Bartell fretless guitar that was among them". A year or so later, photographer Brian Aris captured these guitars amongst many others which surrounded George at home in Friar Park, with the Bartell at the back, but clearly visible below his left elbow.

    George, being interested in all things guitar, most likely kept the Bartell as something of a curio/novelty, even though it may have proved tricky to play. All in all, this guitar comes with an intriguing history and is a welcome addition to the list of instruments known to have been owned by George Harrison in the 1960s and beyond.

    With thanks to Paul Brett and Tony Bacon for their assistance and research, and to guitar technician, Steve Clarke.
Contacts
George Harrison: A Rare Bartell Fretless Electric Guitar owned by George Harrison, believed made circa 1967,
George Harrison: A Rare Bartell Fretless Electric Guitar owned by George Harrison, believed made circa 1967,
George Harrison: A Rare Bartell Fretless Electric Guitar owned by George Harrison, believed made circa 1967,
George Harrison: A Rare Bartell Fretless Electric Guitar owned by George Harrison, believed made circa 1967,
George Harrison: A Rare Bartell Fretless Electric Guitar owned by George Harrison, believed made circa 1967,
George Harrison: A Rare Bartell Fretless Electric Guitar owned by George Harrison, believed made circa 1967,
George Harrison: A Rare Bartell Fretless Electric Guitar owned by George Harrison, believed made circa 1967,
George Harrison: A Rare Bartell Fretless Electric Guitar owned by George Harrison, believed made circa 1967,
George Harrison: A Rare Bartell Fretless Electric Guitar owned by George Harrison, believed made circa 1967,
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Y CITES

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