Revealing The Story of George Harrison’s Mad Guitar

Finding Fretless: The Story of George Harrison’s Mad Guitar is the title of a new volume by Paul Brett who lives in Westham village, near Pevensey Castle.

Tuesday, 19th October 2021, 6:05 am
Paul Brett
Paul Brett

It has been published by This Day In Music Books at £24.99, available at thisdayinmusicbooks.com.

Paul, aged 57, said: “To be honest, it was all completely unintentional and not planned in any way at all!

“My friend Ray Russell, he’s a brilliant guitarist! Celebrating the birthday of his friend George Harrison, early in 2019 he posted an image of his rare fretless guitar on Facebook, with the question ‘Does anyone know anything about Bartell Guitars?’ The guitar was treasured by Ray for decades as part of his collection of instruments that he played as a prolific composer and professional guitarist.

“You will have heard Ray play on David Bowie’s Space Oddity, Tina Turner’s Private Dancer and numerous other tracks with artists as diverse as Freddie Mercury, Gil Evans and Andy Williams. He’s also a prolific award-winning composer. He’s spent decades composing TV sound-tracks, and performing with stars such as Van Morrison, Art Garfunkel, Dionne Warwick, Bryan Ferry, Jack Bruce, Cat Stevens, Phil Collins and Cliff Richard.

“I love music and I’m very passionate about guitars though I’m never going to claim to be anything other than an amateur guitarist. There was something about Ray’s guitar that intrigued me. When I dived into the internet, it slowly started to reveal some very interesting clues and an increasingly incredible story. Ray, my family and friends started to suggest I write a book and amazingly here I am launching Finding Fretless: The Story of George Harrison’s Mad Guitar.

“I suggested to Ray that we take his unique guitar along to the Antiques Roadshow that was being filmed at Battle Abbey in the summer of 2019. He was hesitant at first, but we thought it might be fun and I’d just found, after months of searching online, an image of George Harrison at his home in Henley with his collection of guitars. Incredibly there it was, right next to his left arm, Ray’s fretless guitar!

“The BBC were astounded, and we both ended up on air as the highlight of the show when the expert, Jon Baddeley from Bonhams declared ‘This is an incredibly rare Beatles guitar with an enviable history, which turns out to be one of the most valuable items ever seen … valued at £300,000-£400,000.’ Later, I was invited back to reveal more of my research to Fiona Bruce on the Christmas edition of What Happened Next at Pinewood Studios.

“On the face of it, Finding Fretless would appear to be just another Beatles publication or guitar book. However there is a real story worth reading. Think of frying pans, fist fights, Beatles, Zappas, Warm Guns, Helter Skelters, murder cults, corporate shenanigans, million-dollar lawsuits, wreaking crews, black widows, Elvis and detectives!

“In the book I interview the descendants of the Bartell company presidents, surviving employees, plus, established authors, musicians and academics on both sides of the Atlantic.

“One big breakthrough was finally linking that prototype guitar to the very origins of the electric guitar. Its designer, Paul Barth also co-created the electric pick-up in the 1930s from which all electric guitars are based today!

“The book includes untold memories of some of the most influential creators in the development of the guitar, including Paul Barth, a forgotten founding father of the electric guitar who should stand proudly alongside his friends, Adolph Rickenbacker, Leo Fender, and Les Paul. In my opinion and of many that I have interviewed, the history books need updating to truly reflect the importance and influence Barth had on the most popular instrument of the 21st century.

“I even uncovered a treasure trove of Paul Barth’s artefacts in a lock-up in Florida!

Incredibly, when I had nearly completed the book, I finally located Paul Barth’s 85-year-old daughter Sharon in California and his family who were blissfully unaware of the story. His granddaughter wrote to me saying ‘What a thrill that you got to give my family the gift of your book, and that we better understand now the greatness of our granddad.’

“The research was like binge watching a series on TV that you just can’t turn off, each new reve-lation, new piece of the jigsaw, each twist and turn opened up new leads and unbelievable coincidences.”