Barclay James Harvest Equipment
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John Lees' Guitars
This page is adapted from an article which originally appeared in issues 59 and 60 of the fan club magazine, Nova Lepidoptera, in December 2002 and March 2003
In December 2001 John Lees was kind enough to show us his collection of over thirty guitars, and to tell us some of the history behind each one. This article will cover the most important instruments which have played a part in the Barclay James Harvest story.
Number One in the BJH classic guitar pantheon has to be the Alembic Customised Fender Stratocaster (top left), the guitar that gave the band “the BJH sound” in the mid-seventies on albums from Time Honoured Ghosts to XII. John had this Fender Strat with him when they recorded Time Honoured Ghosts in San Francisco, and as the Alembic Workshop was just across the road from His Masters Wheels studio, he had the guitar customised on the spot. This photo was taken shortly before John auctioned the guitar through this web site.
Before Time Honoured Ghosts, many of you will remember John playing a gold Fender Stratocaster (below left), which was actually recoloured (but John couldn’t remember for sure what its original colour was). This guitar was built back in 1961 and features heavily on the 1974 Barclay James Harvest Live album. Pictured below right is an acoustic Gibson J45, built in the late 1950s or early 1960s, which John bought when the band were working at Abbey Road. According to John, most of the acoustic numbers like “Hymn”, “Child Of The Universe”, “Poor Man’s Moody Blues” and more were written on this instrument.
Next up (below left) is a Gibson L5-S, a fine instrument which once belonged to Pete Townshend of The Who, until John swapped guitars with him, giving him his 12-string Rickenbacker guitar in exchange.
In the centre is a red Hamer with a rather exotic shape, which John used “because of its great sound”. Quite in line with the shape, he recorded, amongst others, “Psychedelic Child” on it. Unfortunately, the guitar got damaged in the studio.
Another Hamer which was a favourite of John’s in the later years is the blue one (below right), which John used on Caught In The Light and River Of Dreams and will also be familiar to those who saw the band on tour in the 1990s.
Below, the guitar that John played on “John Lennon’s Guitar”, a Gibson Epiphone Casino, N° 97957. Naturally, it is not John Lennon’s own one; neither did it look like his originally, so John had it altered to make it look like John Lennon’s one. This one had a lot of live exposure on tour in 1990 and 1992, albeit for only one song.
Right, John playing his Washburn Harvest acoustic guitar, demonstrating a number of his acoustic guitar songs to us. This one goes back to about 1984, when BJH had a sponsorship deal with Washburn, where they would use Washburn guitars, and Washburn, in turn, could use the band’s name to advertise their product. Just before that deal, or maybe as part of it, Washburn had developed this type of guitar and asked BJH to try four handmade copies out before going into mass production. John approved of it so much that he bought one of them, and Sam Brown, who was one of the two female singers on their 1984 tour (and would come to fame later with her single and album “Stop”) bought one of the others. According to John, “what wasn’t written on the Gibson (J45 acoustic guitar, as described above), was written on this.”
Below left is the mauve sunburst KET guitar which John played mainly from 1980 to 1982. It is the best one out of three that he had made especially for the Berlin gig, which all say “John Lees” on their heads. At the end of 2001, he auctioned his other two KET guitars, both white, through our Web Site, but kept this one.
Quite a collector’s item, the Gibson “The Paul” (above right) is one of only 100 copies that were ever made for the UK. John seemed rather proud of his copy...
Below left, the gold Hamer on which John wrote and played “African” and suchlike. He owns three hand built and three custom built Hamers. When the red one got damaged, he replaced it with a manufactured one. Centre: as mentioned previously, the Washburn Harvest.
Above right, John’s Parker Fly guitar, an extremely light instrument. This, together with the Line6 Pod and FB4 Pedal (below) which John currently uses, makes touring very easy, because he can achieve the sound of many other guitars with just one piece of luggage. He took this to Greece in 2001. “Once you’ve tried it, you won’t look back.”
Which brings us to the end of this brief look at John’s guitars. Hope you’ve enjoyed them, and many thanks to John for showing them to us.