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Book Review: Beatles Gear: All the Fab Four’s Instruments from Stage to Studio by Andy Babiuk

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In Andy Babiuk's book Beatles Gear, the author writes of the film A Hard Day's Night: "many of the film's camera angles and shots offer close-ups and detailed views of gear that would soon be considered by fans virtually as extensions of the Beatles' own personalities." That notion drives this guide to every instrument and amplifier the group used, from their earliest incarnation as the Quarrymen to their breakup in 1970. Fans of both the Beatles and rock music will find Beatles Gear an enjoyable and educational trip through not only the Fab Four's history, but the development of instruments over time.

Year by year, Babiuk discusses how each member transitioned from their earliest guitars (amusingly, John Lennon's first guitar bore a manufacturer's sticker boasting "guaranteed not to split") to the latest gear, such as Lennon's Mellotron (a predecessor to the synthesizer, most famously used on "Strawberry Fields Forever"). It is clear that the instruments have become icons themselves, such as Paul McCartney's Hofner violin bass and Ringo Starr's Ludwig drum set. But why did they choose that particular gear? Babiuk addresses those questions as well as provide brief histories of the instrument manufacturers.

Numerous color photos accompany the text, showcasing the beauty and craftsmanship of the various guitars, basses, and more. Almost every instrument has a story to tell, and Babiuk illustrates the numerous paintings and other alterations that their equipment enjoyed. Rare photos of the band recording in the studio, particularly some portraits of George Harrison and Starr recording "Baby's in Black," also highlight the pages. Another interesting aspect of Beatles Gear is the descriptions of their numerous Vox amplifiers, most of them woefully underpowered. Seeing pictures and reading about their construction explains why audiences could barely hear the band live.

First published in 2001, Beatles Gear: All the Fab Four's Instruments from Stage to Studio is now in its third edition, back in hardcover. Due to its illustrations and lavish text, the book is best appreciated in this format. Other updates include previously unpublished photos of guitars owned by McCartney, details of recent auctions, and expanded research. Babiuk, a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame consultant and guitarist for the Chesterfield Kings, possesses a wealth of knowledge and a deep affection for his subject matter, evident in his lush descriptions of the Beatles' various instruments and equipment, and knowledge in how the group creatively used them to expand their unique sound.

Many books already exist on the Beatles, and their history and impact continue to be disseminated. But Beatles Gear lends a new perspective on their achievements through their instruments and other technical equipment rather than simply their songwriting talent. Fans of rock and roll history will find the examination of key guitar bass, and drum companies (e.g., Fender, Rickenbacker, and Gretsch) fascinating and informative. In general, Beatles Gear serves as an essential addition to any music lover's bookshelf, and provides a new way of looking at the Beatles' legacy.

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