Used Gear for Sale: Recording Consoles Used on Beatles 'Sgt. Pepper,' 'White Album,' 'Abbey Road' Up for Auction
Details from Rockaway Records:
British recording industry giant E.M.I. Corporation did so many things extremely well back in its heyday, including manufacturing its own professional recording equipment, namely the BTR (British Tape Recorder), a ¼” tape, twin-track valve (vacuum based) machine. In 1953, it began building the BTR2 tape recording console and these were considered state-of-the-art mono recorders at the time – the best that money could buy. They were extremely well built, using high quality components and expert craftsmanship. Originally made for 'in-house' use only, they were very highly regarded due to the fact that they were fabulous recording machines with great sound quality, were extremely dependable and relatively easy to operate. As such, there was a high demand for them outside of E.M.I as well. For example, orders were placed by the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), who ultimately purchased and used many BTR2s throughout Great Britain.
In 1957, E.M.I. Studios (renamed “Abbey Road Studios” in 1970), located on Abbey Road in London (where The Beatles recorded almost all of their music), took delivery of and started using the BTR2s, which were a noticeable upgrade from their predecessor, the BTR1. Originally manufactured and painted two-tone green (as all BTR2s were), the Abbey Road machines were all repainted two-tone grey in the late 1950s for the sake of consistency, in order to match some existing grey recording equipment and mixing consoles already in use at the studio. Of all the BTR2s manufactured by E.M.I., only E.M.I. / Abbey Road Studios-used machines were ever repainted grey - a crucial distinction that sets them apart from all others.
There were two BTR2s in each of the three studio control rooms, making for a total of six machines, each with four wheels at the bottom so they could be more easily moved as needed. They weigh about 550 pounds apiece and are approximately 43” x 32” x 29”. They operated at 15 IPS (inches per second) or 30 IPS and were switchable to either speed. These tape recording consoles were in use at Abbey Road throughout the entire time that The Beatles recorded there. They were the frontline mono machines when The Beatles began making records there in 1962. They were the machines used to record the entirety of the band’s first 2 albums in mono: "Please Please Me" and "With The Beatles", and also their first batch of hit singles, including "Love Me Do", "Please Please Me", "From Me To You", and "She Loves You".
The mighty BTR2s were the acknowledged work horses of E.M.I. / Abbey Road Studios throughout the 1960s. They were an extremely important and integral part of The Beatles’ recording process, remaining in constant use by the elite team of engineers and technicians employed at the studio on every album and single throughout the band’s time recording there until 1969. There are numerous photographs of the BTR2s in operation with one or more of The Beatles in the shot during recording sessions for many of their albums including “A Hard Day’s Night”, “Beatles For Sale”, “Revolver”, “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band”, “Magical Mystery Tour”, “The White Album” and “Abbey Road”. See the related photos. The fact that the BTR2s were still in heavy use in 1969 attests to the fact that they were among the best built and most reliable recorders of their time.
In addition to The Beatles, many other important artists recorded at E.M.I. Studios during the time that the BTR2s were in use there, including: John Lennon (solo), George Harrison (solo), Ringo Starr (solo), Pink Floyd, Gerry and the Pacemakers, Cilla Black, The Hollies, Peter and Gordon, Cliff Richard & The Shadows, Deep Purple, Jeff Beck, Shirley Bassey, Connie Francis, and The Pretty Things. In 1964, for 36 of the 52 weeks of that year, the #1 chart position in the U.K. was held by a record made at E.M.I. Studios – with the artists behind those #1s being The Beatles, Gerry and the Pacemakers and Cilla Black. It is interesting to note that all 3 acts were in manager Brian Epstein’s stable of recording artists and were produced by George Martin.
After many years of dependable use, Abbey Road Studios finally decommissioned the BTR2s in the mid-1970s, and shortly thereafter they were relegated to a basement storage area. In 1979, Abbey Road Studios came upon hard financial times and was facing fierce competition from a whole slew of smaller recording studios that had sprung up around London. Abbey Road was sold to another company, whose accountants suggested that all of the old equipment they had be sold off. In October of 1980, they had a 2 day on-site auction they called "The Sale of the Century". These BTR2s were sold in that auction as a pair and wound up with an audio engineer named Edd Leetham. In 1987, Mr. Leetham wrote to Abbey Road Studios with some questions about his Beatles recording consoles. He received a letter from the Chief Engineer there confirming that indeed these were absolutely used during The Beatles’ recording sessions. Leetham shortly thereafter put these recording consoles in a Sotheby’s London auction (August 1988), where the winning bidder was the Hard Rock Cafe corporation. However, the Hard Rock never put them on display in any of their restaurants, most likely because to display them would have taken the space of approximately a table for 6 or more customers. The current consignor bought these BTR2 recording consoles directly from the Hard Rock Cafe decades ago.
It is believed that these are the only two surviving Beatles E.M.I. / Abbey Road Studios frontline-used BTR2 machines, as the four others in use there have not turned up anywhere in any form and were most likely scrapped almost 50 years ago. With regard to Abbey Road Studios / Beatles recording equipment in any form, very little exists in any collection, public or private. As a result, the rarity and significance of these BTR2s cannot be overstated. These BTR2 recording consoles are of almost immeasurable importance in the recording history of The Beatles.
While these historic BTR2s have not operated for 50 years now, they could be restored and made to record once again. Note: a level meter was replaced on one of the machines while still in use at Abbey Road Studios. Also, in addition to the letter from the Abbey Road Chief Engineer, included with these recording consoles is their original instruction manual that was used at E.M.I. / Abbey Road Studios.
For any Beatles collector or audio recording aficionado to have bragging rights about owning and/or being able to record in analog on some of the very machines that were a vital part of the process of making all of The Beatles’ albums and singles recorded at E.M.I. / Abbey Road Studios would be something that no other person or studio can claim - not even Abbey Road Studios itself!