"I just play what's left" - George Harrison's guitar style

Pitchfork today has a nice meditation on George Harrison's approach to playing guitar and what makes it so unique. Got me thinking a little, too, about my thoughts on the matter.

George wasn't a flashy player and didn't have, or profess to have, the technique of some of his 1960s peers. But he had a melodic approach to fills and leads that always served the song. Generally, that means keeping things simple, staying out of the way and not showing off. We know from reading Geoff Emerick and others that Harrison's solos didn't come easily. They were crafted slowly and sometimes painfully - Emerick mentions being annoyed by this.

But the results were always worthwhile, to the degree that when you sing along with a Beatles tune, you often keep singing when the solos come in - they stick in your memory, just like the rest of the melody, and are an intrinsic part of the song. Some Lennon and McCartney tunes should be Lennon-McCartney-Harrison tunes because the solos are such a part of the music.

And George did have chops. Listen to the soaring leads on "Something" and they tricky, rockabilly high-wire act solo in "A Hard Day's Night." Yes, I know those were recorded at half-speed because they were so hard for George to nail, but the construction of the solo and the imagination behind it are remarkable. I'm not much of a guitarist, but I'm proud to say I can play that lick and I'm impressed by Harrison's composition skills every time.

Nice quote from George's son Dhani from the Pitchfork piece:
“My father once said to me, ‘I play the notes you never hear,’” he remembers. “He focused on touch and control partly because he never thought he was any good, really.
He knew he was good at smaller things: not hitting any off notes, not making strings buzz, not playing anything that would jar you.
‘Everyone else has played all the other bullshit,’ he would say. ‘I just play what's left.’”