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The remarkable story of George Harrison’s prototype ‘mad’ guitar and the search for Jimi Hendrix’s and Frank Zappa’s.

A true story of history, mystery and intrigue.

Frying Pans, fist fights, Beatles, Zappa’s, Warm Guns, Helter Skelters, murder cults and detectives. George Harrison’s ‘Mad’ guitar, the highlight of BBC Antiques Roadshow 2021. 

An unexpected question, an enquiring mind, a relentless search and amazing discoveries. Take a journey back to the 1960s, the heyday of exciting new music in California and the British Invasion

that stirred it all up. The dawn of innovation, experimentation and creativity in the fledging development of electrified instruments.

Follow the revelations and discoveries, as we investigate one distinctive prototype guitar that led to a veritable gold mine of associations with the origins of the most iconic instrument of the 21st Century, the electric guitar.

Read 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.

Meet the innovators, the risk takers, and a forgotten founding father of the electric guitar. The electrifying instrument played by legendary artists who over the decades have made the electric guitar a global phenomenon.

Be blown away by the discovery of the missing Beatles guitar, the prototype Bartell fretless guitar from a small-town Californian company and its incredible associations with John Lennon, George Harrison, Jimi Hendrix, Frank Zappa, leading to the BBC’s Antiques Roadshow and beyond...

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

Fiona Bruce – BBC Antiques Roadshow. 

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George Harrison's  prototype Bartell fretless model was gifted to the Beatles legend by Hollywood session player and music shop owner Al Casey, whose wife Maxine took it to Blue Jay Way in the Hollywood Hills of Los Angeles while Harrison was staying there in 1967.

Returning to the UK with his new acquisition, it was used by Harrison and John Lennon on sessions for ‘Happiness is a Warm Gun’ and ‘Helter Skelter’ as the legendary Liverpool outfit recorded classic 1968 double-album The Beatles, aka The White Album.

Guitar experts and aficionados were previously unaware of the prototype’s important part in Beatles mythology, its history a mystery until 2019, after UK session guitarist Ray Russell asked, ‘Who knows anything about this guitar George Harrison gave me in 1985?’.

Finding Fretless sees author Paul Brett amend the history books, piecing together the jigsaw to tell the full story of the prototype Bartell alongside that of one of the forgotten founding fathers of the electric guitar, master luthier Paul Barth.

Within, Brett’s extensive research is supported by leading academics and established authors and personal memories of top session players who worked with the likes of Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley and The Beach Boys, Finding Fretless including forewords from two highly-regarded guitarists intrinsically linked to the tale – London session player, producer and composer Ray Russell, and American producer, sideman and session player Richard Bennett.

In a compelling story, Brett also shines light on the incredible history of Bartell and a seminal period in California that influenced musicians on both sides of the Atlantic.


Finding Fretless also brings in the guitar’s associations with Charles Manson’s infamous murderous cult, a million-dollar lawsuit, fire, frying pans, drunken fistfights, corporate shenanigans, Elvis, The Wrecking Crew, and much more.

And those interviewed include descendants of Bartell company presidents and surviving employees, Brett also revealing 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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