A sitar owned and played by George Harrison is going to be auctioned in the United States.
The instrument, purchased from a shop on London’s Oxford Street in 1965, was used by Harrison during the recording of the Beatles song Norwegian Wood.
The Indian string instrument, crafted by a well-known music shop in Kolkata, was later gifted to a friend of Harrison’s first wife, Patti Boyd.
Bidding for the sitar will begin on 28 September at $50,000 (£37,327).
Harrison had discovered the sitar in 1965, on the set of the Beatles’ second film, Help.
His love affair with oriental mysticism first made itself known in Norwegian Wood, John Lennon’s tale of an extra-marital fling. Acoustic guitar and muted bass were augmented by the Indian instrument.
“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 was quoted as saying in The Beatles Anthologies.
“It was quite spontaneous: I found the notes that played the lick. It fitted and it worked.”
Next year, Harrison gifted the sitar to George Drummond, a friend of Boyd, during the couple’s honeymoon in Barbados.
The Beatles recorded Norwegian Wood – the first Western rock band to use the sitar on a commercial recording – in October 1965, heralding a short lived “raga-rock” genre.
A year later, Harrison travelled to India to learn how to play the instrument under the renowned sitar maestro Ravi Shankar.
In an interview with the BBC’s Mark Tully in April 2000, Shankar said when he first heard Harrison playing the sitar in Norwegian Wood, he was not impressed.
“I couldn’t believe it,” he said, “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, saying the sitar on Norwegian Wood was “very rudimentary”.
“I didn’t know how to tune it properly, and it was a very cheap sitar to begin with. But that was the environment in the band, everybody was very open to bringing in new ideas.”
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