The Guitar Pairing of Lennon and Harrison

April 24, 2024 4 min read

The Guitar Pairing of Lennon and Harrison

Many a music scholar (professional or casual) may ask: “What is there left to say about The Beatles?” Their music has been examined and analyzed extensively, and with good reason. The Lennon and McCartney songwriting team (along with notable contributions from Harrison and Starr) gave us some of the 20th century's greatest pop songs. 

The one thing I think is often overlooked is the complementary nature between Lennon and Harrison‘s guitar playing. John was the textbook definition of a rhythm guitarist, while George could craft memorable licks and leads.

Additionally, their way of creating guitar parts is the epitome of excellent writing in a multi-guitar band: the ability to craft distinct parts, stay out of each other’s way, complement each other perfectly, and allow both players to be easily heard. 

Let’s take a moment and examine some examples where both players' styles shine together.

I Want To Hold Your Hand

From the 1963 song that gave the Beatles their cue to tour America, we have a prime example of Lennon's rhythm playing. In this song, he’s the one who drives the car with a steady strum that never falters. Even with a mono mix, we hear Harrison‘s part distinctly, as he intersperses lines and shots that work well with Lennon's rhythm playing and complement the vocal melody. Harrison just stays out of the way until he doesn’t have to.

And I Love Her   

This lovely ballad taken from the soundtrack to 1964’s A Hard Day’s Night demonstrates the complementary acoustic playing that both Lennon and Harrison were capable of. Both parts are, once again, very distinct, with John strumming a beautiful rhythm guitar part. At the same time, Harrison plays these lovely arpeggiated lines on his guitar’s higher registers, staying out of the way of the rhythm guitar and allowing both to be distinctly heard.

The song also showcases Harrison’s versatility as a guitarist. Mostly known for his electric and acoustic playing (though his slide playing is often overlooked), he demonstrates excellent finesse on his Ramirez classical guitar, particularly in the solo, where he mirrors the vocal line with beautiful phrasing worthy of a great, seasoned classical player.

Ticket to ride  

From the soundtrack from the 1965 movie Help! this song contains excellent examples of John’s ability to play a sparse guitar part while George rocks a 12-string arpeggio that gives us one of the song’s main hooks. Thanks to these different approaches, we can hear both Lennon and Harrison in the mix. Playing in different registers certainly helped with this as well.

One fun fact about the song is that Paul McCartney plays the lead breaks, coming out of the bridge back into the verses, and the guitar licks during the coda. Not bad for a bass player!

Nowhere Man 

A killer pop track from 1965’s Rubber Soul, John once again drives the truck with his steady acoustic rhythm guitar that underpins the song’s harmonic structure. Harrison demonstrates incredible restraint with his electric guitar, opting to play the occasional fill on his electric guitar. Both players mostly stay within the same instrument register, though the choice of tones and approaches allow both to be heard.

Harrison‘s tone in the song is also unique for its time. The guitars are heavily compressed and are most definitely double-tracked, leading to the chorus-like effect that we hear. Such an amazing sound!

Get Back

One of the great Beatles rock songs from 1970’s Let It Be, this song finds John and George’s usual roles reversed, showcasing a different side of each other’s playing. Harrison lays down the rhythm in this song and drives the bus, strumming away on a rosewood Fender Telecaster. At the same time, John knocks those memorable electric lines on his Epiphone Casino between his rhythm parts. Once again, both players stay out of each other‘s way, orchestrating two fantastic guitar parts that are distinct and appropriate when played off each other.

I can certainly come up with other examples from the Beatles catalogue, and these are just some of the more distinct examples of how Lennon and Harrison‘s playing styles mesh together so well on record. The craft and care they put into creating their guitar parts are just as crucial as anything discussed about their music. 

If you have other examples of the interplay between John Lennon and George Harrison, please leave them in the comments. In the meantime, I will play some of their albums on my turntable and just bask in the glory of John and George’s playing.

By Kevin Daoust -

Kevin Daoust is a guitarist, guitar educator and writer based in Gatineau, Quebec, Canada. When not tracking guitars for artists around the world, or writing music-related articles around the internet, he can be seen on stage with Accordion-Funk legends Hey, Wow, the acoustic duo Chanté et Kev, as well as a hired gun guitarist around Quebec and Ontario. He holds a Bachelor of Music in Guitar Performance from Carleton University in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.

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