The Beatles Effects Pedals Guide
The Beatles were musical pioneers, so it's no surprise that when artists started to use FX pedals, the Beatles were also on top of this trend. Here's a look at some of the pedals the Beatles have used...and what similar gear you can get to achieve similar tones!
One of the first FX pedals invented was the fuzz...which is not to be mistaken with overdrive or distortion. It's much harsher! Though, at low volumes (as it was probably most used by the Beatles to start with) it can add a little extra "kick" on your solos without distorting too much.
One of the first fuzzboxes invented was the Maestro Fuzztone, and the Beatles have used it. It can be seen on some photographs that seem to be dated from the 1063-1964 days:
Beatles and Maestro Fuzztone (click to enlarge)
Photographs showing the Beatles and the Maestro Fuzztone
Another fuzz pedal the Beatles have used was an WEM Pep Rush, reportedly used on the Paperback Writer recordings. The photograph below, taken around that same era, shows Lennon fiddling with the Pep Rush fuzz pedal:
Lennon and a Pep Rush fuzz
It's important to note that even though there's photographic evidence of the Beatles using fuzz pedals from as early as 63/ 64, it doesn't mean they used them live.
Other fuzz pedals the Beatles are said to have used include the Vox Tonebender, and a Fuzz Face, during the later, Let It Be era. All those pedals are very basic, harsh effects with no tone control. If you want to get a "Beatles fuzz" then, you should get something similar...like the aforementioned Fuzz Face, or maybe the Electro-Harmonix Double Muff, which is very basic and raw - perfect for vintage tones! Though the new Boss FZ-5, thanks to its COSM technology, is said to nail vintage fuzz tones (like...the Fuzztone!) pretty well.
Beatles with a Vox Tonebender - sitting bottom right, on top of amp head
The Beatles also used Vox Conqueror amps which at the time had in-built fuzz, and this may be the sound you hear in some Sgt. Pepper recordings.
The most basic FX pedal the Beatles have used, was a volume pedal. It was famously used in their b-side "Yes It Is" Apparently, according to legend, George Harrison wasn't quite able to play his guitar part and use the volume pedal at the same time, so John Lennon was controlling it instead, with his hand! If you want a volume pedal, you can get some pretty good ones now, such as the Dunlop Hi-Gain Volume or the vintage-style Fender Volume pedal.
For one of the Beatles' loudest records, the 'Revolution' version found as the b-side of 'Hey Jude', no FX pedals were used - to achieve the piercing fuzz sound, John Lennon's guitar was plugged directly into the mixing desk, with the channel's gain right up. They did this in order to get a really distorted sound but avoiding unwanted feedback.
Those were pretty much the only fx pedals the Beatles used for most of their career...but in 1969, during the Let It Be sessions, George Harrison started to experiment with more sounds, and besides the Fuzz Face, he also used a Wah Wah pedal. A Vox Wah or a Dunlop Cry Baby will be perfect for any fans of Let I Be-era Harrison. However, if you want vintage Wah authenticity, the best options are the Dunlop Jimi Hendrix Signature Wah or the Dunlop Classic Wah-Wah with Fasel, which are even more faithful to the sixties sound.
Another effect George Harrison explored in those final days of the Beatles, was the Leslie Rotating Speaker. Of course, Leslie cabs are incredibly rare and expensive now, but some really good pedals replicate that sound. Try the Hughes & Kettner Tube Rotosphere (by far the best one), or the Boss RT-20 Rotary Ensemble. They don't come cheap...so the best introduction to Leslie sounds is probably the Behringer RM600 Rotary Machine, which sounds really good, too.