George Harrison of the Beatles played many different guitars during his career, but perhaps the most iconic is Rocky, the 1961 Fender Stratocaster that is painted with psychedelic colors. Harrison bought the guitar in 1965, when he and John Lennon sent Beatles roadie Mal Evans out to purchase two Stratocasters. When George first got the guitar, however, it did not have the psychedelic paint job, but rather it was a pale blue color known in the arsenal of Fender guitars as Sonic Blue. It was his first Stratocaster, though he did play a few others during his solo career as well.
The first time George played Rocky with the Beatles was during the recording sessions for the 1965 single “Ticket To Ride”, which later appeared on the album Help!. After that it was used extensively during the recording sessions for Rubber Soul (1965), Revolver (1966), Sgt. Pepper ‘s Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967), Magical Mystery Tour (1967), and The Beatles (1968). Strangely enough, while Harrison enjoyed using Rocky in the studio and on their television appearances, he never once played the guitar at a Beatles concert, though he did use it live during his solo career.
Rocky received its now-famous psychedelic paint job in May of 1967, at or around the time of the Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band release party. Harrison reportedly did the paint job himself using day-glo paint and some of his then-wife Patti’s nail polish. It was notably seen with the fresh trippy paint job when the Beatles played “All You Need Is Love” on Our World, which marked the first live television broadcast seen around the world via satellite.
At some point in 1969, Harrison added to the original psychedelic design with some more artwork, most notably the word “BeBopALula”, which references Gene Vincent’s classic song “Be-Bop-A-Lula” that the Beatles often covered. George also added a painting of Eric Clapton’s face on the headstock. That may sound strange on the surface, but Clapton actually gave Harrison another one of his famous guitars, Lucy, during the recording sessions for The Beatles (White Album). Clapton also later went on to marry Harrison’s ex-wife, Patti, but that’s a story for another day.
Rocky also has the distinction of being the first guitar that George Harrison learned how to play slide on, in 1969 or 1970 with some guidance from his friend, the great guitarist Ry Cooder, who taught him to jack the bridge up high and put some thicker strings on the guitar to get a better sound.
It’s clear that Rocky was one of George Harrison’s favorite guitars, as he was seen in an interview in 1991 discussing the guitar and how he acquired it. He mentions that he first wanted a Stratocaster because he wasn’t happy with the guitar sound available to him, but in the 1960s these things were not so easy to find. Harrison explains that when he played the Strat for the first time he wished that he had started playing guitar with a Strat.
After Harrison’s death in 2001, Rocky was inherited by his estate, and is currently owned by his son Dhani. The legacy of Rocky lives on in custom, fan-made replicas as well as the official Fender Limited Edition Rocky Custom Strat. Rocky is one of the most iconic and recognizable guitars in the world, and rightfully so as it was used to record some of the most classic Beatles songs including “Drive My Car”, “Nowhere Man”, “Strawberry Fields Forever”, “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds”, “I Am The Walrus”, “All You Need Is Love”, “Hey Jude”, and “Happiness Is A Warm Gun”, and many more.
Watch a video interview with George Harrison discussing Rocky below.