Dhani Harrison Talks Beatles Guitars and ‘The Guitar Collection: George Harrison’ iPad App

March 28th, 2012

By Tom Beaujour | Photography by Kevin Scanlon

George Harrison’s guitars are as iconic and important as any instruments in the history of popular music. But for Dhani Harrison, they are also family heirlooms that have always been a fixture in his life and home. Now thanks to the new The Guitar Collection: George Harrison iPad app, they can hold a place of pride in your abode as well.

George Harrison played many a classic guitar during the course of his career, popularizing some models so extensively that he is inextricably linked with them. In the Sixties, during his time with the Beatles, he helped make famous the Rickenbacker 360/12 electric 12-string, a rosewood version of the Fender Telecaster, and the Gibson J-160 acoustic/electric, among others, while his solo years saw him in possession of guitars by famed luthier Tony Zemaitis.

These instruments, and many others, have remained in his private collection, but thanks to his son, Dhani Harrison, they will be available for all to see and hear in exquisite detail, courtesy of The Guitar Collection: George Harrison, a new iPad app developed by Dhani.

The younger Harrison (who is the spitting image of his father) developed the concept shortly after work had concluded on 2009’s The Beatles: Rock Band video game, a project he had largely spearheaded. He was restless and looking for a new tech initiative to sink his teeth into when inspiration struck. Considering that Harrison has an engineering degree from Brown University, it’s not surprising that his muse came from the world of hard science.

“I ran across a really good app based on the periodic table of elements,” he recalls. “It’s kind of Star Wars-ey: you click on an element, like gold, and a photo of a bit of gold comes up and spins around. It’s super compelling compared to when we were kids and learning the periodic table from a book. I thought to myself, We should do this with guitars—the guitar table of elements. We just have to photograph the guitars and have them spinning around and be able to play them, you know? I want to be able to go on 3-D TV and strum it. We can’t do that with this iteration of the app, of course,” he says, with a laugh. “But it will be fully feasible with the next generation.”

And while The Guitar Collection: George Harrison app is not yet fully 3-D, it comes close. Users can spin the guitars and zoom in on them at will, providing a dynamic, interactive experience that one could never hope to achieve in print or by peering at the guitars through glass in a museum exhibit. The technology, developed by Tom Hartle of app developer Bandwidth Publishing, is flawless, and the guitar images, by famed fashion and music photographer Steven Sebring, are both vivid and detailed.

The process of capturing the guitars for the app, however, was nothing short of grueling. “There was no way the guitars were leaving the house,” Harrison explains. Instead, he, Sebring, Beatles archivist Richard Radford, and guitar tech to the stars Alan Rogan decamped to Harrison’s Friar Park Estate in Henley-on-Thames, where the guitars reside.

“Everyone moved in, and we took all the furniture in the living room and put it aside and built the 3-D rig in there,” Harrison says. Subsequently, each guitar was placed on a custom-built Plexiglas stand on a rotating platform and photographed hundreds of times. The project, although ultimately successful, was also fraught with unforeseen technical difficulties, some of them quite comical. “We had a light underneath illuminating the base and the guitars. And, of course, as the turntable spun, it wrapped the power cord around itself,” Harrison says, laughing. “So then every time you did it, you had to reset the thing. We were like, Okay, massive design oversight!”

Creating stands that would allow the guitars to rotate perfectly on their own axes was another obstacle. “We started with a generic stand, and the rotation looked all wobbly and made you seasick,” Harrison says. “I quickly realized that we were going to have to build new stands and custom fit everything to each one. The center of symmetry is different for every guitar design. Some of them rotate like on a loop, some of them rotate about one point, and some of them rotate about their neck. Some of them work better than others.”

Harrison, who plans to expand the Guitar Collection app to document other players’ instruments as well, is quick to note that the task of designing stands that conform to a variety of guitars’ rotational symmetry will continue to yield dividends as the project continues.

“The ultimate goal is to have the whole system contained in a road case that we can bring from one place to another, and just open it up and start shooting,” he explains. “I want to do Eric Clapton’s and Tom Petty’s collections as well as many others. And now we have all of the kinks worked out and stands made for a variety of instruments like Les Pauls, Strats, Teles, Rics, and all the other guitars that we might encounter. Except for Gibson Explorers. When we encounter one of them, we’ll be in trouble!”

The visual and interactive aspects of the Harrison app are immediately impressive, as are the detailed descriptions of the seven guitars included in the first iteration of the app: the 1957 Gretsch Duo Jet used during the Beatles’ earliest recordings, the ubiquitous 1962 J-160 acoustic/electric, the “A Hard Day’s Night” 1963 Rickenbacker 360/12, the 1961 “psychedelic” Stratocaster, the 1968 rosewood Telecaster, a 1974 Zemaitis Lotus 12-string acoustic, and a rare Thirties-era Gibson UB-2 ukulele/banjo hybrid. More guitars, including Harrison’s “Sweet Cherry” red Les Paul will follow in subsequent updates.

Included, too, are image galleries that feature photographs of George Harrison playing the guitars, as well as comprehensive lists of the songs on which the instruments were used. These link seamlessly with your device’s iTunes library, so that if you already own the songs in question, they will play from within the app when you select them.

But what makes this app a must for diehard fans is the audio content that accompanies each instrument, recorded by Dhani in the late Nineties before his father’s death. In it, George talks about and plays several instruments. The recordings are so intimate as to be disconcerting at first, as if George were in the room talking directly to you about the guitars.

“Back in 1999 or so while we were preparing the 30th anniversary reissue of All Things Must Pass, I got the idea that we should do a web site that would document all of the guitars,” Dhani explains. “It never got built, because the technology at the time was not yet up to snuff, but I had gone through all of the guitars with my dad and had him announce and play each one. I just had a Dictaphone, and we had an amp and all the guitars on the wall. I’d just go, ‘Play this one,’ and, ‘What’s it called?’ And he’d say, ‘This is the psychedelic Stratocaster,’ then play a bit. I took all of these little clips and put them in this web site that never came to fruition. I forgot about them, so no one’s ever heard them. When David Zhonshine, my manager, mentioned that we needed someone to introduce each guitar in the app, I remembered that I had the stuff.”

When pressed to pick his own favorite guitar in the collection, Harrison selects the 1968 rosewood Telecaster that his father most notably played on the Beatles’ legendary rooftop performance of “Get Back,” captured in the documentary Let It Be. “Other than the fact that it weighs seven times more than a normal Tele, it’s so nice to play. It’s like having a golden AK-47 or something. It’s something that you know so well and you wouldn’t be afraid to beat up, but this one is like the golden gun.”

But even legendary guitars are made out of wood, not steel, and they can crack, dry, and chip. Having immortalized the guitars in 360-degree detail also allows Harrison to rest a little easier knowing that, from now on, they will not have to travel, as they did recently to the Grammy Museum in Los Angeles, to be seen in minute detail. Even if the physical manifestations of the guitars decay, future generations, and perhaps, civilizations will still be able to study them.

“I’m really happy to know that those models exist,” Harrison says. “Like, if the world is wiped out and an alien finds a disc somewhere, they’ll be like, ‘Oh, that’s what those guitars looked like. Why didn’t everyone have 3-D models of their guitars? Why is it only George Harrison? I’d like to see all of Keith Richards’ guitars as well!’ ” Perhaps so. But as you’ll see over the next pages, George Harrison’s guitars are an excellent place to start.

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  • James Cashin

    Please, next time show us George Harrison’s Ukulele collection. Most Uke Heads know George was a fellow Uke Head. PEACE!

  • Wolfgang Bosch

    Great Guitars from George.

  • Probably no other guitarist influenced me as much as George.It’s why I play slide! My first decent electric was also a ‘Gretsch Duo-Jet”! George never over-played but always knew the right spot for a tasty lick! God bles G.H. RIP!

  • Dave Watson

    This alone will probably make me go and get an iPad. Thanks, Dhani and GA for a great idea and article.

  • Jim Long & Dale Adams

    To Dhani:
    I bought Meet The Beatles in February 1964; I was 17 and took it to my girlfriend’s to spin. She did not work out, but my Beatles interest has always been high, and I have long felt George did not get proper recognition for all his contributions. He did so much, and it is baked into the cake, so how do you tell? Using The Guitar Collection and other metadata derived from the music and the media, we have an interactive iPad app in development that can make this so clear and satisfying for the fan.
    Dale Adams and I really want to show you our work because we want to contribute to this effort and make a difference. It would be such an honor to work with you and your associates to illuminate the incredible talent and work of George Harrison.
    Thanks Dhani,
    Jim and Dale

  • Tom Petrizzo

    You are lucky to have had such a talented father and lovely man ..i saw your dad twice at Shea Stadium and also at bangla Desh concert in new york
    Thank You Tom Petrizzo

  • Great Info on the history of Master George’s guitars.. Having just been inducted by “The Rickenbacker Guitar Hall of Fame” myself,I find all of his guitars very important..Thanks to Dhani Harrison..your Dad is proud of your work & putting this all together…PEACE & LOVE

  • Gerald Alistair Chow

    To Dhani,
    Your dad must be very proud of you for the effort and manner in which you have honored him for all posterity. Not that your dad needs any more recognition in the history of Rock-n-Roll Royalty for which your dad’s Royal Lineage now has become your Legacy indelibly etched into every fan of the Beatles. I have always felt that he was an exceptional human being first – a loving father and family man – blessed with his caring,generous, and giving nature of his mind – kindness and gentleness of his heart – enlighting freedom of liberating, insightful, self illumination, selflessly sharing with others without expectations of any kind nor would he accept remunerations in any form, which would define his very being and essence for purity associated with the nature of his spirit – and would become collectively his overall positive energy affect upon, impact on, directly influencing mankind’s perception of self to ultimately and indelibly etch for all time his essence of self, fabric of his existance, and the make up of his beautiful and magnificent nature of his soul – and, where thereafter his musical genius – followed by his being a Beatle; a group of musicians that would forever change the direction of music itself in becoming the first in every category for changing industry established norms to challenging every aspect for protocols, to ignoring industry standards, to create new rules of engagement for which it translates to “nothing” should ever become hurdles, barriers, obsticals, or limitations that would affect or impact upon visionary new directions yet to be explored by musicians to where the evolutionary process of change which drives consumer acceptance for any and all deviations from the norm – as evidenced by 13 very different albums created by the Fab Four’s transitional and directional paths for others to exceed, emmulate, copy (ultimate complement), or seek out new directions to pursue, expanding upon new jouneys for exploration – such was the Beatle’s claim to fame, impact upon social andd economic change, alter the perceptions of mankind’s future direction through the manipulation of the music industry all the way down to the vendors level and equipment suppliers. All of which is George Harrison’s Legacy for which you have proudly carried on. Dhani, you have no idea how much you are like your dad. A human being first, then whatever follows was just secondary. By the way, what happened to the famous Epiphone Casino’s where you dad’s version had a Bigsby installed. It came to be known as the Beatles favorite guitar. I ordered a custom made identical 1965 version of the Casino from Epiphone before the Casino’s became popular. My custom made version had a hard shell case made by TKL with custom interior. It is my favorite guitar. All me efforts to secure the Rosewood Tele have been in vain. I am attempting to build one from scratch but have no specs to guide me. A new one is too prohibitive in cost and I have no assurances of Fender not making any changes that are now obvious.
    Best Regards To All Your Future Endeavours,
    Gerald Alistair Chow
    P.S. I own 3 U.S. Patents that may be useful to you. It is yours to use in whatever manner you see fit at no cost to you. Let’s just say that it will be my contributions to your dreams. God Bless Dhani … you should be very proud of what you have achieved. While it may have cost you money to gain access to other peoples technology – the cost of your gaining access to my technology is absolutely free with no strings or conditions attached. I will send you my personal cell phone line upon receipt of any emails directly from you – not your staff.

  • zingbong

    Screw the iPad app crap.

  • Cássia Paiva

    Dhani, que Deus o abençoe sempre e ilumine seus caminhos, que alegria ter você em nossas vidas, e assim, manter vivo George HArrison por muitas e muitas gerações, Hare Krishna. Om Shanti

  • Bill Delaney

    George’s 1968 Rosewood Telecaster can be seen (and heard) in the hands of none other than Jerry Garcia. Delaney Bramlett let Jerry use it on stage in 1970. Check out the movie “Festival Express” when Delaney and Jerry jam on “C.C. Rider”. That guitar is unique and instantly recognizable!

  • Ohana

    Would love to see George’s ukulele collection too. Which were his favorites?

  • i have distinct memories of pictures of George Harrison round about 1964 0r 65 in the pages of Beat Instrumental playing a guitar that looked a bit like strat, but it had Rickenbacker on the headstock. have Rickenbacker any memory of making such a guitar.

  • For Dhani’s information Rob Armstrong the Coventry luthier made George some ukes. Rob keeps the cheque framed in his living room.

  • Hi Dhani. Love the app that you have designed. You were only a week old when for a few a moments i saw your dad with you’re mom in a black Porsche turbo outside Friar Park its a moment i’ll never forget, so i appreciate everything you do.I love his slide playing its so sublime.



  • Carolyn

    Love this site. Please proof read blogs. Henry??on Thames.
    Henley-on-Thames Friar Park….