‘Finding Fretless’ Reveals George Harrison Mad Guitar Story

Finding Fretless
Image Courtesy of This Day in Music Books

“Finding Fretless.” by author Paul Brett, is a story of an original guitar that proves to alter known history involving Beatles and beyond. The story ties together pieces to disclose the full truth of George Harrison’s prototype Bartell guitar – including renewed light on a forgotten father of the electric guitar, Paul Barth.

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Barth is known as a skillful designer and engineer who collaborated to invent the first electric guitars. The Bartell company, known for its fine instruments, was formed by Barth and Ted Peckels in the 1960s. Although most of their creations are rarely found today the most that are seen are Bartlell’s fretless bases.

With an employee making a proposal to build a fretless guitar Barth found himself designing the instrument in 1967. On August 1 of the same year, the prototype was brought to Al Casey – a well-known session musician who also owned a music store. Casey had his wife Maxine bring the instrument to Blue Jay Way in the Hollywood Hills of Los Angeles – to gift to George Harrison who was staying there.

‘Finding Fretless’ New Discovery

“Finding Fretless” relays the extraordinary account of an irreplaceable electric guitar – fondly nicknamed by George Harrison as the “Mad Guitar.” The story includes the remarkable story of the prototype guitar and the search for Jimi Hendrix and Frank Zappa.

The Beatle returned to the U.K. with his new guitar. The instrument was used by Harrison and John Lennon on sessions for the 1968 famed album “The Beatles” – known as “The White Album.” The “Finding Fretless” guitar was notably used in “Happiness is a Warm Gun” and “Helter Skelter.”

Harrison kept the instrument in his possession until 1985 when he gifted the guitar to session instrumentalist Ray Russell. Russell, a highly respected musician in London, was working with the Beatle on a film. Harrison was impressed by Russell’s talents playing the fretless guitar and made the decision to give him the Bartell.

It was not until 2019 that guitar experts and aficionados became aware of the fretless masterpiece’s place in Beatle’s mythology. A simple question, “Who knows anything about this guitar George Harrison gave me in 1985,” posed by Russell after a U.K. session began the search for “Finding Fretless.” In the summer of 2019, Russell took his beloved piece of history to the BBC “Antiques Roadshow” for appraisal.

Noted by Jon Baddeley, Global Director of Collectors’ sales for Bonhams:

“This is an incredibly rare Beatles guitar with an enviable history, which turns out to be one of the most valuable items ever seen … valued at £300,000 – £400,000”

‘Finding Fretless’ Researched History

Brett has performed extensive research to uncover the mystery and truths surrounding the impressive piece of Beatles History. His writing is supported by leading academics and established authors.

“Finding Fretless” includes personal memories of top session players who worked with the likes of Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley, and The Beach Boys. London session player, producer, and composer Russell, along with American producer, sideman, and session player Richard Bennett both wrote forewords for the book.

The story involves the famed guitar’s connection with Charles Manson’s infamous murderous cult. In addition, is the association of the Bartell with a million-dollar lawsuit, fire, frying pans, drunken fistfights, corporate shenanigans, Elvis, The Wrecking Crew, and much more.

Included in the sensational story of the guitar is the incredible history of Bartell and a seminal period in California that influenced musicians on both sides of the Atlantic. Those interviewed for the book include descendants of Bartell company presidents and surviving employees. Brett reveals previously untold memories of some of the most influential creators in the development of the electric guitar – including Barth, Beauchamp, Rickenbacker, Fender, and the Dopyera brothers.

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Noted by Fiona Bruce of BBC “Antiques Roadshow”:

“Paul has done an amazing bit of detective work for Finding Fretless, it would put Poirot to shame.”

Brett’s book reveals an entirely new bit of historical knowledge including the Beatles for fans of all ages. Beginning with a gift to Harrison crossing the Atlantic to live a life of song and intrigue makes for the compelling story that is “Finding Fretless.”

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