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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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At first blush, Andy Babiuk’s exhaustively researched Beatles Gear might seem like a book with somewhat limited appeal, even to the most diehard Beatles fan.

While it is true that in many respects, this detailed study of the musical instruments used by history’s most celebrated rock group is geared most towards tech-heads — there is also a lot to like here for those of us who may not know the difference between a Rickenbacker and a Les Paul.

For starters, if you love the Beatles at all (and who doesn’t?) the pictures in this book will quite simply take your breath away. Beatles Gear is lavishly illustrated with hundreds of beautiful photographs of the Beatles’ musical tools of the trade. In addition to what fans would expect — such as McCartney’s violin-shaped Hofner bass, Lennon’s trademark Rickenbacker, George’s Gretsch hollow-body, and Ringo’s Ludwig drum kit — many of these photos are rarer, never-before-seen shots of the less historically celebrated instruments owned at one time or another by the Fabs.

Many of these previously unpublished photos were obtained through auctions and other means. There is also a multitude of shots featuring the Beatles themselves, many of which capture the group practicing their craft both onstage and in the studio.

Babiuk’s text, while rich with the sort of detail that is sure to make any self-respecting musical gear-head’s mouth water, also unfolds in a chronological, easy-to-follow order that even the most technically challenged Beatles fan will find engaging. While the focus here is definitely on the gear, Babiuk’s narrative also doubles as a history of the band from their earliest days (and instruments) in such incarnations as the Quarrymen to the their final days together at Abbey Road studios and, of course, the breakup which eventually shocked the music world.

In addition to the Beatles themselves, Babiuk’s story also covers the Beatles’ most important musical associates and accomplices — from George Martin and Alan Parsons to Billy Preston and Eric Clapton. Side projects like Lennon’s Plastic Ono Band and Harrison’s experiments with both Indian and electronic music also receive considerable ink — revealing that while Lennon and McCartney may have been the band’s creative force, it was probably George who was the most purely musical Beatle.

There are also new details on some of the more exotic instruments used on latter day Beatles records — like Harrison’s sitars and the mellotron — all accompanied by more of those gorgeous photographs. Of particular note to Beatles historians are insider accounts of the sessions for albums like Abbey Road and Let It Be — made as the group was essentially imploding — that transport the reader to the studio itself.

Beatles tech-heads will find Beatles Gear nothing short of manna from heaven itself. For the rest of us, it makes for a worthy addition to any Beatles collection, and perhaps even a somewhat essential one for the historical completists. Whichever camp you choose to pitch your tent with, Beatles Gear is a book that any Beatles fan can agree on.

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About Glen Boyd

Glen Boyd is the author of Neil Young FAQ, released in May 2012 by Backbeat Books/Hal Leonard Publishing. He is a former BC Music Editor and current contributor, whose work has also appeared in SPIN, The Rocket, The Source and other publications. You can read more of Glen's work at The Rockologist, and at the official Neil Young FAQ site. Follow Glen on Twitter and on Facebook.