The World of Guitar According to Paul McCartney
Paul McCartney seems to have found another gear. Last year he undertook his record-breaking “On the Run” tour, staged several memorable one-off appearances (including a stunning Olympics Opening Ceremony concert) and released a terrific new album, Kisses on the Bottom. 2013 is shaping up to be just as busy. A few days ago, the legendary former Beatle announced that a new world tour – dubbed “Out There!” – will kick off June 22 in Poland. Plus, a new studio album is in the works. With this swirl of activity simmering, we decided to gather some choice commentary from Sir Paul on a range of topics. Below, he talks about his love of guitars, his approach to bass playing, and why “nicking” great riffs is not a bad thing to do.
On getting his first guitar, as told to Guitar Player (1990):
I bought a right-handed guitar, a Zenith, an old acoustic which I've still got. I sat down at home with a little chord book and started trying to work it out. It didn't feel good at all … very awkward. It was only when I saw a picture of Slim Whitman in a magazine, holding his guitar the "wrong" way, that I thought, “Oh, he must have turned his strings around." So I started on that problem, which is always the nut. I used to actually take matchsticks and build up the bass nut. It was only later that I was able to buy a left-handed guitar.
On his favorite guitar part as a Beatle, as told to Guitar Player (1990):
I like "Taxman" just because of what it was. I was very inspired by Jimi Hendrix. It was really my first voyage into feedback. It was just before George was into that. In fact, I don't really think George got too heavily into that kind of thing. George was generally a little more restrained in his guitar playing. He wasn't into heavy feedback.
On how he and Lennon wrote songs together, as told to Drowned in Sound (2012):
We had a kind of system, which was: you just sat with a pad of paper and a pencil, and you sat at your guitar or your piano, and you make a song, and within about three hours, you should have finished the song. That’s how we always did it.
On his love of the Epiphone Casino, as told to Drowned in Sound (2012):
I got that while I was with The Beatles, basically because I love Hendrix. I went into [a guitar shop] and said to the guy that I wanted something that would really feedback, and he said, “Well, this one will.” It had a hollow body and that was the reason I got it originally. I used it for the “Taxman” solo and for “Paperback Writer” because … through a Vox amp, it just gave a nice little dirty noise. I use that on stage now.
On “nicking” great guitar riffs, as told to Guitar Player (1990):
I'm always taking a little of this and a little of that. It's called being influenced … either that or stealing. What do they say? A good artist borrows; a great artist steals--or something like that. That makes us great artists then, because we stole a lot of stuff. If anyone ever said to us, "Wow! Where's that from?" we'd say, "Well, Chuck Berry," or that the "I Saw Her Standing There" riff is from [Berry's] "I'm Talking about You." We took a lot of stuff, but in blues, anyway, you do: People lift licks.
On how The Beatles emphasized variety, as told to Bass Player (1995):
We were very keen that every track sounded different. We thought in terms of singles. Our albums, right up to Sgt. Pepper’s, were albums of singles. We felt The Supremes were a bit boring; it always sounded like the same song, or very near. They were trying to keep that Motown-Supremes sound. Well, we weren't trying to keep the Beatles sound; we were always trying to move on. We were always trying to get a new sound on every single thing that we did.
On his affection for the bass, as told to Bass Player (1995)
Funnily enough, I'd always liked bass. My Dad was a musician, and I remember him giving me little lessons --not actual sit-down lessons but maybe there'd be something on the radio and he'd say, “Hear that low stuff? That's the bass.” Then I started listening to other bass players -- mainly Motown. [Motown’s] James Jamerson became my hero. Jamerson and later Brian Wilson were my two biggest influences: James because he was so good and melodic, and Brian because he went to very unusual places.
Oh how “Michelle” marked a turning point in his bass playing, as told to Bass Player (1995):
That [introductory bass line] was actually thought up on the spot. I remember that opening six-note phrase against the descending chords was a great moment in my life. I think I had enough musical experience after years of playing, so it was just in me. I realized I could do that. It's quite a well-known trick --I'm sure jazz players have done that against a descending sequence--but wherever I got it from something in the back of my brain said “Do that. It's a bit more clever for the arrangement, and it'll really sound good on those descending chords."
On his love of Les Pauls, as told to CNN (2010):
The thing about Les Paul guitars is that they’re beautiful guitars. That’s due to Les’s knowledge of the instrument and due to his technical knowledge. So he, together with Gibson, developed this amazing guitar. For me, it’s just beautiful to play. It’s a classic. One of the ones I have is 50 years old, so it’s a great antique as well as being a classic. It plays great, and I think that’s due to Les’s expertise. When you pick it up you fall in love with it.
On the pleasures of working alone, as told to Pitchfork (2007):
It's something I've done throughout my career, to describe it loosely. When I left The Beatles, I made an album called McCartney that I played everything on. And it was kind of a cool experience. I felt like a professor in a laboratory, just crafting stuff and adding things, putting this on and moving the microphone. It was very homemade … a good sort of bedroom experience. It’s just quicker that way, you know?
For Further Reading:
Maybe We’re Amazed: Paul McCartney’s Sensational Guitarists