Gear Breakdown: The Beatles Rooftop Concert
Of all the legendary performances throughout the 1960s, few matched the spontaneity and uniqueness of the Beatles’ January 1969 concert on top of Apple Corps HQ in London. With the 55th Anniversary of the concert coming up at the end of this month, we felt it only fitting to spotlight this legendary event. With cables and equipment strewn about, all of the gear and instruments used during the performance were on full display. For this blog, we will focus primarily on gear used by John Lennon, Paul McCartney, and George Harrison.
This surprise concert is immortalized on the Beatles’ final album, Let It Be, including four (or five, depending on the version) tracks recorded during their rooftop performance. Providing an even more in-depth look, Disney+ released an AI-remastered documentary titled “Get Back” in 2021. Using footage shot before, during, and after the performance, this doc provides a detailed behind-the-scenes look at the events leading up to the concert. After several tense sessions at Twickenham Studios working out new material, the Beatles set the date, January 29th, 1969, to take to the roof and surprise Londoners with a sneak peek of their new material. After bad weather pushed the date to the 30th, it was now or never for the impromptu concert.
For clarity, we will focus on each band member’s equipment individually, starting with Sir Paul McCartney. He uses his trusty 1963 Hofner 500/1 Violin Bass throughout the performance, sans pickguard, adorned with a blue (it appears green in the documentary due to the film restoration process) “Bassman” sticker, undoubtedly from the silver face Fender Bassman amp he’s plugged into for the duration of the performance. It seems that throughout the sessions and rooftop concert, Paul is using Rotosound black nylon tape wound strings on the bass for a slightly different output and feel. During rehearsals at Twickenham Studios, Paul used another one of his original Hofner basses that he had refinished (and was later stolen while he was with Wings).
Moving onto John Lennon, he is seen throughout the studio sessions and live performance with his trusty 1965 Epiphone Casino. George and John acquired Casinos after seeing Paul play his small headstock 1964 Casino on the track “Ticket to Ride.” This instrument was initially finished in Sunburst. After using the guitar extensively throughout their 1966 live tour dates, John first modified this Casino while recording Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band by spraying the back of the guitar with black and silver spray paint. Shortly after, the guitar was stripped down to its bare maple and mahogany wood finish and sealed with a thin clear coat. By this point, its pickguard was also removed. This is how the Casino appears during the Rooftop concert and how it remains to this day. John relied on the Casino’s hollow construction and dual P-90s to give a throaty, distorted tone, which he used to great effect, especially with his lead guitar track on “Get Back.”
John is plugged into a silver face “drip edge” Fender Twin Reverb amp for the entire show. In the lead-up to the concert, John was seen playing presumably a 1967 or 1968 Fender Bass VI in Sunburst, mostly on tracks like “Let it Be” or “The Long and Winding Road” when Paul played the piano.
Lastly, we have George Harrison, who used his custom-made Rosewood Telecaster. While John’s Casino and Paul’s Hofner are synonymous with the Beatles and famous in their own right, this Rosewood Telecaster became one of the most memorable instruments from the Rooftop concert. As explored in our other blogs, Fender feverishly experimented with the Telecaster model throughout the late 60s, as seen through their many prototypes and the development of the Thinline Telecaster.
Built by Fender Head of R&D Roger Rossmisel and assisted by Phil Kubicki, the Rosewood Telecaster prototype built for George featured a two-piece back and two-piece front, with a thin veneer of maple sandwiched between the two slabs of rosewood. To alleviate some of the weight from the incredibly dense rosewood, the guitar’s body was chambered to make it easier to play for long periods. The Rosewood neck is made like a slab-board neck, where the truss rod is inserted from the top, and the fretboard is glued over that. The electronics were completely standard for a catalog Telecaster at the time, and the overall guitar looks to be sealed in a matte finish. In the footage from the concert, you can see that George, like John, has his Rosewood Tele plugged into a silver face “drip edge” Fender Twin Reverb amp.
This Rooftop Concert would be the Beatles’ last public performance of their storied careers. All the gear used, clothing worn, and even the weather experienced are immortalized in the images and sounds recorded that day. Luckily, with modern technology, a new generation has been exposed to this legendary event in stunning high definition, thanks to Peter Jackson’s Get Back. If you haven’t seen it after reading this blog, check it out on Disney+!
Cover Photo Courtesy of Apple Corps
Babiuk, Andy. Beatles Gear: All the Fab Four’s Instruments, from Stage to Studio. Backbeat, An Imprint of Hal Leonard Corporation, 2015.
Jackson, Peter, director. Get Back, Disney.
Poulter, Rory. “The Beatles and Their ‘winter of Discontent’ in Twickenham Wins Fans around World in New Landmark Documentary.” Twickenham Nub News, 18 Apr. 2022, twickenham.nub.news/news/local-news/the-beatles-and-their-winter-of-discontent-in-twickenham-wins-fans-around-world-in-new-landmark-documentary.
Woolhouse, Luke. “Celebrating 50 Years – The Beatles Rooftop Concert Gear Guide.” PMT Online, PMT Online, 29 Jan. 2019, www.pmtonline.co.uk/blog/2019/01/29/celebrating-50-years-beatles-rooftop-concert-gear-guide/.