When people think of Paul McCartney, they often think of him as the bass player for The Beatles. That is in terms of instruments played. Although, he grew up playing mostly guitar and was the archetype of the majority of Beatles guitar sections. Paul has hidden solos of his own mixed throughout the Beatles catalog and was an expert rhythm guitarist. He just happened to be great at bass so he assumed that role in the band when touring despite being “forced into it”. After watching The Beatles “Get Back” documentary and seeing his guitar capabilities at work, especially blues guitar, it got me wondering how did Paul learn guitar?
How Did Paul McCartney Learn Guitar? Paul McCartney learned guitar by ear and imitation. Paul was born with a great ear and musical talent allowing him to pick apart his favorite records and play them back on his guitar. From there he sought out other guitarists in Liverpool to show him licks and different chords. This gave him a basic understanding of the guitar allowing him to create his own melodies.
Continue reading to learn more about Paul’s guitar upbringing and how his playing shaped the trajectory for his music.
Did Paul McCartney Teach Himself Guitar
Yes, Paul McCartney taught himself guitar starting at the age of 14 after trading in his trumpet for a Zenith Model 17 Acoustic Guitar. Paul had an especially good ear and was able to pick apart the guitar parts of records and play them back shortly after. His father was a semi-professional musician which is likely where he got this music sense from. His harmonic and melodic talent was developed by his father after Paul was instructed to listen especially to the different musical elements in each song.
How Did Paul McCartney Learn Guitar
Paul McCartney taught himself how to play guitar on his own. Paul’s father encouraged him to play piano and take lessons but Paul preferred to learn by ear. He never received formal lessons for guitar.
As mentioned above, Paul’s first guitar was the Zenith Model 17 which he still has to this day in his studio. Paul was exceptional at picking apart each instrument contributing to the overall sound of an album. He did this with his favorite rock albums and learned the guitar parts. At the time, Liverpool had a bevy of up and coming guitarists. Paul and friends would learn from each other, exchanging licks and different chords to add to each others book of chords/licks.
After this guitar foundation, Paul was off to the races as a rhythm guitar player. This basic guitar knowledge combined with his musical talent allowed him to create melodies that were unique and transforming. In The Beatles studio sessions, it was often Paul that would create or think of the acoustic backing for most of their songs. In fact, he would only use an acoustic guitar or piano to transcribe the tune in his head. He did all this with a non-traditional approach to the guitar.
Paul remarked how he never learned the proper way of picking. He was never too concerned about the instrument as he was about the song. This is where his upbringing of learning everything by ear came to play. After years of learning guitar simply by ear, he was able to play the guitar a “non-traditional” way. He had a somewhat disinterest in the gear and cared more about the output he wanted to achieve. He always tried to incorporate the perfect amount of acoustic guitar. A balance of not overplaying and not leaving the song too sparse.
Paul always had the sound in mind first and technique second. When asked about his finger picking technique, Paul remarked how “I use a flat pick on more chordal stuff, but I did a bunch of that, yeah; it’s my own goofball version of fingerpicking.” Citing his use of his own style of finger picking which is plucking the low strings and flicking the high ones.
Paul’s Impact on Blues Guitar History
In terms of the blues, Paul is an exceptional rhythm player. This can be exemplified in this video of Paul playing the blues with a group of fellow guitarists. In this video you can see him playing rhythm for the group.
Paul had a remarkable effect on guitar history even outside of his playing. When the organizers for Monterey Pop Festival asked him if The Beatles would like to play. Paul declined because they were not performing live at the time. Instead, he told the event organizers about this new guitar sensation that he had recently seen perform in London. This guitar sensations name was Jimi Hendrix. Paul McCartney’s recommendation led to the organizers booking Hendrix for the festival and the rest is history.
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