I’ve been playing in a rock and roll band with Riffmaster Peter Van Wagner since the very early 1980’s. Not only is Pete a gifted shredder of the Fender Stratocaster, he knows more about rock and roll than it’s probably healthy to know. Especially where it concerns The Beatles — who, Pete will happily tell you, he actually saw live at Shea Stadium. (Pete was also at Woodstock. Yeah. That Woodstock.)
Over the years, my band mates have exchanged thousands of Emails in an informative and entertaining chain of rock trivia, history and lore that is sometimes staggering in its detail. Never more so than when our own guitar hero, Riffmaster Pete Van Wagner, drills down into the details of the equipment used by The Fab Four.
What follows is an Email that Riffmaster recently sent. Riff’s response was prompted by a photo of The Beatles in the studio, Emailed to the band by our brilliant drummer, Rockin’ Ronny Crawford.
From the Riffmaster:
What’s got me going a little bit crazy is the tan Vox amps in the September 1962 Black Eye studio photos. Prices for these amps have gone through the roof on the vintage market. But what’s the story with The Beatles’ tan Vox amps? I’ve always seen them with black Vox amps. When I first saw these photos I thought that maybe the amps were Abbey Road studio amps.
In earlier 1962 photos The Beatles are seen at the Cavern playing Gibson and Fender tweed amps.
This is April ’62:
That’s George’s Gibson GA-40 amp on the left behind John. That’s John’s Fender Deluxe amp on the right behind Paul. That’s Pete on the drums. Also note John’s Rickenbacker guitar, that he bought in Hamburg, is still it’s original Natural tan color. More on this later.
But here they are at band practice at the Cavern with Ringo in August. Pete’s out, Ringo’s in. The old Fender and Gibson amps are gone and the tan Vox amps are in. Hmmm. So I guess they are The Beatles’ amps, not Abbey Road’s.
Here they are at the Cavern not long after the September recording session. Black Vox amps. Also shirts, vests and ties. Brian Epstein’s been here. Note Ringo’s drum head still reading “Ringo Starr.” My brain is starting to hurt. The happy faces indicate how happy the Boys were with their free new Vox amps — and with Ringo Starr on skins.
Luckily I have the book, The Beatles Gear. Hopefully I’ll find answers there.
Here’s the story:
The Beatles came into EMI’s Abbey Road studios to record “Love Me Do” and three other tunes using their old Gibson, Fender and Paul’s TruVoice amp with what’s been called a coffin speaker cabinet. The TruVoice hummed a lot and the other amps weren’t much better. George Martin told Brian Epstein that The Beatles would need professional gear if they were going to continue to be recording artists. George also told Brian at this time that for the next session he, George, would provide a drummer as Pete wasn’t up to the task.
Brian went out to buy new amplifiers but was told that the Beatles still owed money for the TruVoice amp. Brian payed off the Beatles’ unpaid loans to Hessy’s Music shop in Liverpool and bought the tan Vox amps for George and John. Paul continued to use the Coffin speaker cab (on the far right in the picture above) with an unknown amp powering it. Hessy’s suggested to Brian the he contact Vox and try to work out a deal with Vox direct. Brian did and was given the black Vox AC30 amps in exchange for free use of The Beatles in any Vox promotion. And so it was that The Beatles were given free Vox amps for their entire career and Vox got to use the Beatles as free endorsers for years to come.
Note below: John’s Rickenbacker has now been refinished in black.
Shea Stadium 1966. Their last tour. I’m sitting over on the first base line with my cousin Michelle.