Did you ever wonder what record players were actually used by The Beatles to play their own personal records during the 1960s ? Well, hopefully this article well help you answer question with a little bit of detail. During the period 1962 through 1970, there were rapid advances in the technology used to play records and the most significant advancement for The Beatles' sound would be the advent of the enhanced stereo recording techniques and the availablity of true stereophonic records for the teen markets across the globe. After all, there was no point in crafting superb stereo sound in the studio if the fans could not replicate that sound on their home audio equipment. Special thanks to Mark Lewisohn for his generous help with this article.￼
The following article outlines the various types of record playing equipment used by The Beatles and John Lennon during their years as The Beatles. We hope you find this of interest and that further detailed information can be brought forth to fix some of the holes.
The Dansette was the most popular portable record player in England during the 1950s and 1960s. The British patent for the Dansette was applied for in 1952 and this included a BSR turntable. According to the makers of the Dansette …
"Many songwriters including John Lennon, Paul McCartney ... produced their work from listening to records on their Dansettes."
Although no pictures are presented here, it is a safe bet that both John and Paul had one of these when they were living at their homes in Liverpool.
The Dansette pictured below is the actual Dansette record player that was purchased by Mona Best (mother of Beatles drummer Pete best) for the Casbah Coffee Club in Liverpool in 1959. It could play 33 1/3 RPM, 45 RPM and 78 RPM discs. As The Beatles played there, they would also have used this Dansette.
In 1963, The Beatles had their first number one record in England with "Please Please Me" and their fortunes were made. As their financial situation improved in 1963, we see the start of a period in which The Beatles could pretty much afford to buy the very best of record playing equipment.
The Pye G63 console stereo was manufactured in Cambridge, England and the unit featured a Garrard 4-speed (16/33/45/78) automatic turntable in the centre under the centre lid. There are four control knobs inside. Horizonatlly from left to right they are 1. OFF=TREBLE, 2. VOLUME, 3. BALANCE, 4. BASS. The amplifier uses Mullard tubes and it usually took a minute or so for the amplifier to "warm up" so that it was ready for use. A separate large 8-inch Goodmans speaker was mounted inside the cabinet on either side of the central record playing area. A (red light bulb) lit Pye Stereophonic Black Box badge-plate was mounted at the bottom right hand corner of the front grille cloth. The mains (power suppply) could be adapted for British and North American uses.
The whole Pye unit was finished in beautiful shiny polyester lacquered "sapele and sycamore" wood veneers and was one of the very best stereo record players available in England at the time. My parents purchased one for our family in Salisbury, Wiltshire in 1962 and we loved it. It was the unit that my brother used to play his 1963 stsreo copy of the Parlophone Please Please Me LP. We brought the Pye unit back to Canada with us in August of 1963. It was used to play pretty much all of the Beatles albums and 45s as they were released in Canada during the 1960s. I enjoy the Pye G63 to this day and it retains a classic 1960s modern look that has yet to be replicated. This year it is 50 years old !
If you look closely at the picture of John above, you will see that he has a USA Tamla / Motown copy of the early 1963 Miracles LP "The Fabulous Miracles" sitting on the top of the record player. The Beatles would cover You've Really Got a Hold on Me from this album and it is highly probable that all four Beatles listened to the album on their Pye Stereophonic Black Box in order to work on that track for their "With The Beatles" LP.
John would only live with his band-mates at the Green Street flat from September through the end of November of 1963. John and his wife Cynthia and their son Julian moved to a new flat at 13 Emperor's Gate, Brompton, Knightsbridge, London SW7 in November 1963. By July 1964, Beatles fans had forced the family to move to a much larger home called Kenwood in Weybridge, Surrey. So the question is ... where did the Pye G63 end up after The Beatles left the flat at Green Street ? If anyone knows the answer to that qustion ... please let me know !
The significance of the Pye G63 is that it is probably the only record player that was shared by all four Beatles when they were together as a performing group. Just try and find one of the 1962 Pye G63 Stereophonic Black Box units today !
Paul ... had a Philips Automignon record player fitted to his factory fresh 1964 Aston Martin DB5.
George ... had a Philips Automignon record player fitted to his brand new 1964 Jaguar E-Type 3.8.
It would appear that both Brian Epstein and John lennon ordered their Swiss KB Discomatic jukebox units at about the same time in 1965. Brian's unit was used at his office while John's unit was delivered to his home Kenwood at Weybridge, Surrey. The unit could hold fourty 45 RPM discs and of course this was for mono playback only as stereo 45s would not arrive on the mass market until 1969.
This was an AC (alternating current) portable unit that had been fitted to his 1965 Rolls Royce Phanton V in December of 1965 just as the new Rubber Soul LP was topping the album charts (Source: Beatlology Magazine Vol. 2 No. 2 - November / December 1999). The Philips "Automignon" units were introduced in 1962 but did not really catch on ... by the way "mignon" is a French word for cute or dainty ! John's portable record player could only play 45 RPM records and it was fitted into the centre console in the rear passenger area.
The pictures below were taken by Brian Schofield for the Beatlology Magazine issued in December 1999 (who did a great issue on the history of the car), the inset photo on the left shows the Philips Automignon at the bottom of the console.
The caption stating that "phono unit missing" is in fact incorrect is in fact incorrect. What is missing in the centre, is in fact the Philips portable tape deck. The Philips Automignon looks a lot like a CD player doesn't it ? One of John's favourite discs during the months of April and May of 1967 was the Deram 45 "A Whiter Shade Of Pale" by Procol Harum and Derek Taylor has stated that John played that record many times on the Philips Automigon unit in his Rolls Royce.
In late 1968 while the White Album was being recorded, Ringo sublet his ground floor and lower-ground floor flat (Flat 1) at 34 Montagu Sqaure to John and Yoko. Paul had also rented the flat at one point in 1966. John and Yoko lived in the flat just prior to moving to Tittenhurst Park (Source: Mark Lewisohn). Jimi Hendrix had also lived there in late 1966 and early 1967 (when he was evicted by Ringo !) and it was also here that John and Yoko took the famous photographs for their Two Virgins album cover. The photo below shows Lennon listening to music and it is apparent that the main source of audio is from a component hi-fi system that has been temporarily set up on the floor - as this was a temporary living space for John and Yoko. It is my best guess that Lennon had one or two component sets in this flat and that one may have been used just for the 4 track tapes that are seen in the picture. As he is seen holding a 45 it is a good assumption that he was listening to a 45 at the moment the picture was taken by Ethan Russell. Any further information about the record player and audio equipment in this picture would be appreciated.
The photo below was gleaned from an old colour video interview of John and Yoko and at one point John begins playing a copy of their brand new Apple LP "Live Peace In Toronto" at their home. It is probable that this was filmed at their home and was an out-take from the BBC documentary show "24 Hours: The World Of John And Yoko" which wads filmed in early December 1969. You can see that John is hunched over the turntable and he is putting the LP on the record player. Those are his arms ! The turntable was inside the cabinet. You can also see an amplifier to the right in the picture and the whole cabinet was painted white. I strongly suspect that this could have been at Tittenhurst Park and they moved there in August of 1969 and much of their interiors were painted white as part of their extensive refurbishment of the property. Any further information would be appreciated but I would suspect that the cabinet was indeed custom made with the components appearing to be "built ins". I do not have any images of the speakers as of yet. Any further information would be appreciated.
Technology played a huge role in the evolution of The Beatles music and sound by way of their choice of the newest instruments as well as the state-of-the-art equipment used to record their musical compositions. This short article has shown that the same evolution also applied to the use of technology that The Beatles used to play the recorded music that influenced them. In their early days they were hard-pressed to afford a new diamond stylus for their Dansettes, however, their financial status after the rise of Beatlemania in 1963 allowed them to cherry-pick the best record playing equipment on offer and the evidence is pretty clear that they did exactly that.