This is a feature from the Spring 2012 issue of Guitar Aficionado.
THE GUITARS OF GEORGE HARRISON: Handled with Care
By Tom Beaujour • Photos 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-160E 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 (or were repatriated to) his private collection, but thanks to his son, Dhani, 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) arrived at 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 studied to be an aerodynamicist, 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 Bandwdth 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 Henry-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 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.”