This project started in 2013.
After seeing a few guitars online of custom “Rocky” guitars, (of which many are really, really bad artistic imposterization. Or is that proposterizations?? Don’t get me wrong, there are only a few that are truly done well and are note worthy) I decided to do a bit of investigation on the evolution of George Harrison’s psychedelic masterpiece.
In January of 2014 I purchased a 5th Edition of Andy Babiuk’s “Beatles Gear”. It had some great information in it, but only a picture of the front of the guitar. It seems that earlier editions had a picture of the back of the guitar, and I was able to find images of it online. You gotta love the internet!
My conclusion was to recreate the guitar in it’s original form. Prior to all the pickguard wear, glitter, Indian symbol, happy face, BEBOPALULA., GO CAT GO, clown face, and iconic “ROCKY”.
The guitar that debuted on the British television show Our World, the World Wide Telecast of “All You Need Is Love” and seen in The Beatles “Magical Mystery Tour”, specifically “I am the walrus”.
Now, correct me if I’m wrong, but I can’t remember if I read it or heard it somewhere that the clown face on the headstock is supposed to be Eric Clapton circa 1967 with big hair??
Like any project, you have to start somewhere, and seeing that I did not yet have a Strat to become my next muse, I began by designing a custom neck plate. This went through 3 incarnations before finally settling on a final image. There’s a guy on eBay that I’ve bought from before, that does some really great etched neck plates from your own image or he can help design something for you.
The final neck plate design was completed in early September of 2015.
I had finally bought an Indonesian black Squier Affinity Strat in January off of Craigslist. I love a bargain, and this one was in decent shape. It had a few stickers on the side of the neck with numbers as fret markers, obviously it had belonged to a beginner guitar player. After I got it home and did a little cleaning and better inspection, I found that the tremolo arm (which it did not come with) had actually broken off in the hole. This meant that I was either going to have to replace the tremolo or at the very least the trem block.
So, on to disassembling the entire guitar (sorry Johnny 5, not this time). In the neck socket and on the end of the neck were the stamps indicating that the guitar was built in the Indonesian Cort factory in May of 2004. I lightly sanded the entire surface of the guitar with some 1000 grit to give the paint something to adhere to. I had figured I would use paint that I had on hand from another project, and started with the body color. The paint is a light blue by Krylon and matched the ’61 Fender Sonic Blue Strats that George and John purchased in ’65.
At this time I also painted the headstock, tuners, washers, ferrules, string trees, and pickup covers.
The next steps would require scanning and a little bit of photo manipulation, especially when it came to sizing the pickguard. Which was why I had purchased the book. I then lightly drew out in pencil the outline of the colors on the face of the guitar.
Like I had mentioned earlier, I planned on using paint I had on hand. After doing the required reading and some other investigating, I decided that what I did have was not going to match close enough for me and that I was going to need to make a paint run. So, as I understood it, George used “Day-Glo” paint, and in my mind I’m thinking those 60’s Day-Glo Black Light bright psychedelic felt posters. So I bought a set of fluorescent paints in the various colors I would need….. Now before going full throttle with throwing down paint, I would try a few test spots, to make sure that the colors would match…… I was wrong. So I did a little more research. Day-Glo paints are bright colors and not fluorescent or neon. So I returned the paints (having only used a dollop on the test spot) and bought bright colors that would closely match the Day-Glo paint. I was quite pleased with the final results, even including an additional run for a blue that wasn’t as purple or dark as my first choices. I even repainted the headstock and pickup covers with the new colors so they would match the rest of the guitar. I left the tuners and washers as they were, because the enamel paints looked very nice on those chrome parts, and would not require a clear coat like the body and headstock would need.
Next it was time to address the pickguard. I wanted to print out an image full size, so that I could get the placement of all the elements as proportional as possible. Now, you would think that this would be an easy transfer, but the size of a ’61 Strat is a little different than that of a ’04 Squier Strat. This is where a little photomanipulation comes into play. I scanned the image from the book and the pickguard from the Squier and adjusted the book image to fit. A skew here, a stretch there, and all fit well enough.
It took the better part of a day to put all the details on the pickguard, including mixing a few colors that appeared to be different from the base colors. I added elements that had been worn away from George’s pickguard, interpreting these as I imagined they looked on the original. I could not find any closeup images online of the original version, and relied on what I could get. Even on the Blue-Ray “Magical Mystery Tour” there are no other images of George’s Strat that show any detail. Thank God for Google and the fact that you can search images by size. The only two hi-res images I did manage to find were actually posted by The Beatles – Apple Corp.
I bought a can of Rust-Oleum Painters Touch Ultra Cover 2X Gloss Clear, and was very pleased with the results. It set nicely with a high gloss, and would require little buffing at the end. I wasn’t as concerned with any “orange peel” effect on the pickguard, because of the depth variations in the artwork. Some hand rubbing with Meguiar’s Scratch X 2.0, and then a couple of buffed coats of AstroSheild.
At this point I’m almost ready to assemble the guitar, but was waiting on a replacement Squier tremolo to come in. My attempt to drill and tap out the broken piece turned out to be a bigger problem, because the tap snapped inside the hole I drilled. I had already received the neck plate and thought that the back could use just one more touch of personal artistic detail. So I designed a waterslide decal to go on the back of the tremolo cover. And what better than an image of Ringo’s bass drum.
I’m not sure if it’s a mistake, or if George actually reconfigured his Strat’s volume and tone pots, but typically the volume pot is at the top position, closest to the strings, then the neck tone control, followed by the middle tone control. The bridge pickup has no tone control. So keeping with what I see, I configured the pots to be T-T-V. Whether this is correct or not, I do like having the volume control at the bottom, because sometimes your hand can hit that knob while playing. The tremolo arrives and as I place it I notice that it does not quite line up. Obviously Squiers are not all made the same either. So I removed the trem block from the newly acquired tremolo and swapped it out on the original. It’s not as heavy as the original one, but it fit, and I assemble the guitar.
I did have intentions of placing a waterslide decal on the back of the headstock of the original sticker that reads: “Grimwoods: The Music People; Maidstone and Whitstable.” . But again, there are no hi-res images online of this either, so I opted not to place one there yet. If anyone reading this has an earlier edition of “Beatles Gear” with the photo of the back of the headstock and can scan or take a closeup picture of the detail, I could complete the Grimwoods sticker.
So, there you have it. My artistic interpretation of what George Harrison’s Magical Mystery Tour Guitar looked like in 1967.
*The Beatles perform I Am The Walrus for the film Magical Mystery Tour.
West Malling Air Station, Kent, England. 20th September 1967.
Credit: Apple Films Ltd. Promotional and review purposes only.
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