After the handwritten score of "Eleanor Rigby" went up for auction this month, a sitar owned by George Harrison is the latest piece of Beatles history set to be awarded to the highest bidder.
As the BBC reports, the Indian string instrument was crafted by a music shop in Kolkata and was purchased in London in 1965. After discovering it on the set of the band's film Help! that year, Harrison used the instrument on Beatles track "Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)," which appeared on their 1965 full-length Rubber Soul.
"We'd recorded the 'Norwegian Wood' backing track and it needed something. We would usually start looking through the cupboard to see if we could come up with something, a new sound, and I picked the sitar up — it was just lying around; I hadn't really figured out what to do with it," Harrison said in The Beatles Anthology series. "It was quite spontaneous: I found the notes that played the lick. It fitted and it worked."
Harrison gifted the sitar to a friend of first wife Patti Boyd the following year. He then went to India to learn the instrument under the tutelage of the late Ravi Shankar, who wasn't immediately impressed at Harrison's use of the instrument on the aforementioned "Norwegian Wood."
"I couldn't believe it," Shankar told the BBC in 2000. "It sounded so strange. Just imagine some Indian villager trying to play the violin when you know what it should sound like."
Harrison later agreed with his teacher by calling his skills "very rudimentary" at the time of recording. "I didn't know how to tune it properly, and it was a very cheap sitar to begin with," he said. "But that was the environment in the band, everybody was very open to bringing in new ideas."
The sitar will hit the auction block on September 28 with an opening bid of $50,000 USD.
Dive into George Harrison's extensive discography via Umusic.