“ It's really a joke if you compare it to these days, because we used to have these little Vox AC-30 amps ... We were so naive in those days ... still just very modest in some respects. ” GEORGE HARRISON, RECALLING THE DAYS BEFORE MEGA-WATT AMPLIFICATION, AND HOW THE BEATLES SHOULD HAVE ASKED FOR MORE
THIS WAS THE YEAR THAT THE BEATLES CONQUERED BRITAIN. THE BAND'S CAREER WAS MOVING FORWARD AT AN EVER-INCREASING PACE AS BEATLEMANIA REVEALED ITSELF FOR THE FIRST TIME. BUT IT WAS ALSO THE YEAR THEY MADE SOME OF THE MOST DRASTIC AND EXTENSIVE CHANGES TO THEIR EQUIPMENT. HAVING LEARNED LESSONS DURING 1962 ABOUT THE IMPORTANCE OF GOOD "PROFESSIONAL" GEAR, BRIAN EPSTEIN AND THE GROUP TOOK ADVANTAGE OF THEIR POPULARITY AND NEW-FOUND INCOME TO ACQUIRE BETTER QUALITY DRUMS, GUITARS AND AMPS.
The year started with a brief five-dale tour of Scotland - during one of Britain's most severe winter storms. Epstein worked feverishly, keeping the band constantly busy. He managed to use the chart success of 'Love Me Do' and the pending release of the group's second single 'Please Please Me' to land them their first proper British tour, as a support act to singer Helen Shapiro who'd enjoyed two top-ten hits dining 1962. The tour was scheduled to start at the beginning of February 1963. But there was much work to be done before then.
Brian Epstein was forever trying to persuade the group to improve their stage appearance and performance. The way The Beatles looked on stage and the manner in which they presented themselves was almost an obsession for the manager. With this important British tour now scheduled, Epstein wanted his band - and their gear - to look good. So during the two weeks in which they were away in Hamburg at the end of 1962 arrangements had been made for Lennon and Harrison's Vox AC-30 amplifiers and McCartney's "coffin" bass cabinet to be sent to Barratt's music shop in Manchester for a facelift and overhaul. There the amplifiers were refurbished and re-covered with new black vinyl.
Billy Kinsley of The Merseybeats remembers the effect that the black Vox amps had in Liverpool. "You couldn't buy a black Vox back then," he reckons. "The Beatles had the original light brown ones. Some people think that they changed those for new black amps, but that's not right: they had them re-covered in black. Paul got his bass amp re-covered at the same time, because that was down to bare wood, though originally it had been painted black. When John and George had the Vox amps re-covered, he got his Coffin done too."1
Kinsley remembers that Harrison had been "pretty miffed" when Merseybeats guitarist Aaron Williams turned up at the Cavern a little later with a new black-finished Vox amp. The Beatles must have thought they had an exclusive. "George said, 'Who re-covered that for you?' And Aaron said, 'We bought it like that in London, at the Jennings shop.' So obviously, Vox must have heard about. The Beatles and decided, hey, good idea, we'll issue AC-30s in black." Vox had in fact been offering black-finished amps since about 1961, at first in small numbers but gradually increasing.
On January 11th 'Please Please Me' backed with 'Ask Me Why' was released in Britain on Parlophone and started a steady climb up the charts. In the meantime, Epstein continued to book The Beatles into a heavy daily schedule to promote their new record with radio and television appearances, in addition to the group's already strenuous regime of live performances. It was becoming clear that Epstein was determined to get The Beatles to the top.
By the start of 1963 the band's arsenal of equipment had grown to include a healthy number of "professional" instruments. Lennon usually played his trusty '58 Rickenbacker 325 and Harrison his Gretsch Duo jet, both using their newly re-covered black Vox AC-30 amplifiers. Lennon and Harrison used their Gibson J-160E acoustic-electric guitars as backups to their Rickenbacker and Gretsch instruments. Ever more frequently, the f-160Es were used live as well as on radio and television performances. McCartney played his '61 Hofner violin bass through his Quad amp and the newly re-covered "coffin" speaker cabinet. Starr meanwhile continued to play his mahogany-coloured Premier drum set with the Premier logo and "Ringo Starr" lettering painted on the from of the bass-drum head - although that would soon change.
With their first prestigious British tour scheduled to start on February 2nd, The Beatles decided once more to improve the appearance of their stage equipment. Starr's name had to be taken off the front of his drum-head. After all, the group were going to be seen by thousands of new potential fans during their first real tour. They didn't want people walking away after the performance wondering what the band was called ... or thinking it might be The Ringo Starr Band. It was time to design a Beatles logo for the front of the bass drum.
Various drawings that McCartney made for a Beatles logo were published in his brother Mike's 1981 book, The Macs. These interesting documents show the preliminary sketches that would eventually become the group's "bug" logo. The ideas were taken to a local signwriter in Liverpool, Tex O'Hara, whose brother Brian was guitarist in another Epstein-managed band, The Fourmost.
Tex explains, "We played around with different ideas to find out. which ones they liked. I did about live to ten drawings - which I've slill got - and showed them to the group. They settled on one logo, which was put on a piece of linen and stretched across the front of the drum."2 This second bass-drum head on Starr's Premier drum set was plain while, without the Premier brandname and with the new Beatle "bug" logo. This had a script-style "Beatles", the "B" of which was decorated with two bug-like antennae. It was simply drawn on a piece of cloth that was stretched across the drum head, and held down with the bass-drum's mounting hoops.
George sitting on a newly re-covered Vox AC-30, and holding a Gretsch Jet Fire Bird - similar to his Duo Jet - that he seems to have borrowed and used for only a short period in early 1963.
While this new logo was being created by O'Hara, Harrison had some work done to his Gretsch Duo Jet. Photos of the group rehearsing at the Cavern in January 1963 show him playing a Gretsch Jet Fire Bird. The model was similar to the Duo Jet, but had thumbnail-shape fingerboard inlays, a pair of Filter'Tron pickups, a black Gretsch pickguard, and the standard Gretsch trapeze-shape tailpiece. The guitar was almost certainly red in colour, although all the extant photographs of Harrison with it are black-and-white. When asked recently about this Gretsch, Harrison answered, "It was someone else's, I just tried it out at the Cavern."3 The same rehearsal shots also show Starr's Premier drum set with a plain white front bass-drum head, as it was before the addition of the cloth with the Beatle "bug" logo.