Roger McGuinn Recalls How George Harrison Inspired The Byrds’ Signature Sound

In an interview with Louder Sound, the Byrds frontman Roger McGuinn recently revealed that the Beatles’ George Harrison significantly influenced the band’s characteristic sound in their debut album.

Before the Byrds appeared in the music scene, the Beatles had already started establishing their sound by combining different genres. At the beginning of the ’60s, they started reaching a broad audience with their songs that blended rock and roll with classical music and traditional pop. Besides John Lennon and Paul McCartney’s songwriting talents, George Harrison’s signature guitar solos also influenced many in the rock scene.

The Byrds, who couldn’t escape his influence, appeared in the rock scene when the Beatles were at their peak. Inspired by the sound of the Beatles, they also popularized folk rock by combining contemporary and traditional folk music. The essential elements that distinguished the band from their contemporaries were their harmonious vocals and Roger McGuinn’s jangly twelve-string Rickenbacker guitar.

During a recent interview, McGuinn revealed that the guitar he used on the band’s first record, ‘Mr. Tambourine Man,’ was not the instrument he initially had in mind. In fact, he was inspired to change his guitar after watching the movie ‘A Hard Day’s Night’ and studying the Beatles’ instruments.

He recalled that after George Harrison’s guitar attracted his attention, he bought the same one. Then, with the outstanding contributions of their engineer and his different playing technique, they managed to create a different sound from the Beatles, which helped them stand out in that period.

Roger McGuinn said the following about his guitar:

“The signature 12-string Byrds guitar sound that we discovered on that album was not as deliberate as you might think. It came as a result of me watching the movie ‘A Hard Day’s Night’ and taking notice of the instruments that The Beatles were playing. George Harrison was playing what looked like a Rickenbacker six-string, and then he turned sideways, and I could see six other tuning pegs at the back like a classical guitar.

So I went and bought one, and we plugged it in in the studio. Ray Gerhardt was the engineer for the ‘Mr. Tambourine Man’ album, and he put a compression on the Rickenbacker 12-string that gave it a sustain that it didn’t have on either The Beatles recordings or anybody else’s recordings at that point. I think that’s what gave it the distinctive sound. And then I approached it as I had the five-string banjo, doing three-finger picking on the 12-string.

In the following years, they became an inspiration for the Beatles, just as the Beatles influenced them. George Harrison began to take an interest in the Byrds and Bob Dylan, which led the band into folk-rock creations. Harrison combined the elements of Indian classical music with the sound of the Byrds and Dylan in their new approach.