talks to Phil Harris about his Vintage and Specialist Musical
Instrument and Equipment Hire business, Harris Hire.
Hello Phil how are you doing?
I’m alright thanks, how are you?
I’m great thanks. Shall we fire away with the questions?
Yes please. I’m ready to go.
Can you tell me a little of the background to Harris Hire?
Harris Hire is a specialist and Vintage Guitar company. We’ve
been around for twenty five years now. We’ve hired to a lot of
top names. Richard Ashcroft and The Verve, Oasis, Madonna, Paul
Weller, Razorlight, The Kooks, Robbie Williams, Mark Knopfler….
The Beatles – we did the publicity work for the Anthology. All
the props and the Vintage Beatle equipment, - that was ours. With
the Beatles Anthology, Jeff Lynne overdubbed a lot of stuff –
George was still alive then and what we actually did was a lot of
the instruments and amps that they didn’t have for the overdubs.
We supplied them. We also did the equipment for the anniversary of
Buddy Holly’s death.
Is there much competition for what you do?
Well, not really because there are general hire companies and they
just do what they do, you know? They’re generic and if they want
anything specialist they keep a very small stock of it, usually
just a couple of main pieces and anything else they come to us.
But they don’t know the equipment like we do. I’m an
ex-musician and I’ve been a consultant for Christies for their
vintage Instrument auctions.
It keeps you busy.
A little bit, yeah.
I see that you’re passing the business on to your son.
That’s right, Chris knows a lot about it. Dave my youngest
son’s not involved in the company, but one day he may be and
when he does he’s also a musician and he knows all about the
That’s great news that the business is carrying on through the
Yes. For something like consultancy, if someone says “I want an
old echo unit” you’ve got to know what they’re trying to get
from it and what’s the suitable piece for the job. And
sometimes, especially with acoustic guitars, it’s a matter of
taste and we’ve got over sixty vintage acoustics. What we tend
to do if someone’s not entirely sure what sound they’re
looking for is we send in quite a few to them and we only charge
for the ones that are kept. So they can get the right piece they
want to use.
That’s very helpful. I bet people appreciate that sort of level
We do a lot of Vintage keyboards too. Mellotron, Hammonds, Vox
Continental organs. We’ve got some of the early analogue synths,
we’ve got mini-Moogs, Prophets and all that sort of thing. And
the same thing with drums, we’ve got a lot of vintage drum kits.
We’ve got the late John Bonham’s snare drum that he actually
owned and played. We hire that out. We’ve got a sister kit to
Ringo’s Beatle kit. There were three kits, one went to a jazz
drummer and two kits were supplied to The Beatles.
Yes, champagne oyster colour they call it. All sorts of things -
vintage cymbals. And if we’re doing video work we’ve got
vintage microphones and mike stands. All the original props you
can think of. We have guitar straps and even original leads.
We’ve done quite a lot of video and film work. We did The Life
And Times Of Peter Sellers. Strange Fruit with Jimmy Nail and
Timothy Spall on the drums. Quite a lot of famous videos, for Iggy
Pop, Inxs and Michael Hutchence. Gibson Everly Brothers acoustic.
We worked on the soundtrack side for Godley and Creme rather than
for their videos. We retailed to Graham Gouldman and to Eric
Stewart. I’ve known Eric Stewart since the 10cc days.
Eric’s a passionate collector isn’t he? Cars too.
Yeah, but I don’t know what he’s still got though. He had a
cull at one time. I sold him quite a lot of things- a 1956
Birdland, a 1951 Telecaster with a matching deluxe twin amp…
There’s a good argument to say once you’ve had it for a while,
then to pass it on.
If you’re not going to use it then it comes to that point. That
was the reason for my Hire Company. It was a glorified reason to
keep a massive guitar and amp collection. But now things have
refined themselves over the years and a lot of young musicians are
inquisitive and want to use specialist stuff and know about it.
Johnny Borrell on one of the Razorlight sessions used a 1931 OM28
Martin which is a very rare guitar. He liked the guitar, so much
so that I ended up selling him not guitars of that stature but
certainly he’s got some nice old-ish Martins. It’s educating
people. Even Jarvis Cocker, he wound up using our 1947 D28 to the
point that he wanted us to change the machine heads for him. These
guitars and amplifiers are obviously kept to originality. But
they’re not behind a glass screen – they have to work and be
ready. That’s the difference between Harris Hire and a retail
store. They may take something off the wall and say “Do you want
to hire it?” but it’s not been set up, it’s not got the
right strings, it’s not had the electrics cleaned out. Ours are
ready to race and rally.
The customer pays for insurance?
They do. Insurance liability from the second it’s collected into
the client. But 99% of our work is delivery so things are safe
because our vans are all carpeted on the inside.
Is it mainly UK?
We’ve done some stuff abroad, like for Stephen Segal when he was
making a film in Berlin with Wycliffe Jean. We took some original
Fenders over there for him. Clapton when he did the Pavarotti thing
we sent a Tweed Twin over to Eric. We do bits and pieces, Morrissey
when he went to France for his recent album and also U2 when they
went to record abroad and they’ve also used us a lot in the UK as
You must have a big Christmas card list?
Yeah. I don’t tend to meet them so it’s a one way street.
They’re always under the heading of ‘very busy’ and I’m
always sitting here doing nothing all day!
Yes, as I’ve noticed when I’ve been trying to get hold of you
for the past few days! So, sourcing of the gear, is it getting to be
All of the equipment we bought many, many years ago, over thirty odd
years ago. Obviously the fashions change, so that, for example,
these days everybody goes crazy about the Tele Deluxe, the neck
Humbucker, the later Tele Custom like Keith Richards had. So we have
to buy in things subject to fashion. When the acoustic bass guitars
hit the scene, what we tend to do is we go to the top of the tree.
If there’s a new instrument we’ll go and buy the ‘best of’.
In the late 80s we hired out acoustic bass guitars and a good friend
of mine, Benny Gallagher, he leant me his Samitis,
but it wasn’t very fair me hiring it out and wotnot. So,
eventually I went and bough a top of the range Martin. You must buy
the best new instruments. And we do, so that when the Coral Sitar
guitar became big I bought a lovely one - the Coral Sitar guitar
I’ve now got I bought many years ago from Graham Gouldman and it
was the one he used on all his sixties hits.
He wrote some fantastic stuff.
A very talented writer and producer as well as musician. So a lot of
the equipment we’ve got has been around for many years and
they’re established pieces of the musical instrument field. The
most coveted and prestigious item is a 1958-1960 Les Paul, which
changes hands for £150,000 and above.
Did you ever meet him?
I could have done, but no. I write my own column in Guitar and Bass
magazine and I write a column called Hooked On Classics and when Les
Paul died I was asked to do my personal appraisal of his life and
what his achievements were. With his name being on one of the most
iconic instruments ever. The most expensive production guitar on
this earth. I hope I did him some justice – if not he’ll come
and haunt me but he hasn’t done so yet.
He was doing some incredible stuff from the forties onwards wasn’t
he from his garage and the back of his car?
He was an innovator. Double tracking, he had the first headless
guitar. He had the first solid body guitar. What you’ve got to
bear in mind and I know Les Paul didn’t come on the scene until
1952 and Leo Fender beat him by some two and a half years. But Les
Paul was around in the mid-forties and if Gibson had been a bit
quicker on the uptake then Gibson would have beaten Fender to the
finishing line for the first solid body guitar. They just thought he
was a bit of a loony with this weird old thing that you had to clip
on – semi acoustic sides. Not only did this make the Les Paul
which is one of the most beautiful guitars ever made but also that
idea has been used on 335s,345s, 355s with the solid wood through
the middle and then the acoustic wings off. The EXACT idea was not
only made into a solid guitar but it was also made into a semi
What’s the biggest buzz you get out of this business?
Well, I like to see things. It’s always nice when I pull an amp or
a guitar out that I haven’t seen for a long while and I open up
the case. It never ceases to amaze me the ingenuity of how these
things were made and what they are.
Do you get invited to see them being used?
I do. There’s a new distribution called Lazy J and they’re built
on the theme of the late 50s Tweed Fender but that’s where the
similarity ends. But they’re built on original specification and
original ideals brought through to a 2010 conclusion. They’re
amazing and Pete Townshend bought a complete rig off me before the
Albert Hall gig. If you go on YouTube and type in Lazy J Albert
Hall... Eric Clapton’s used them and Clapton’s producer who also
plays in The Archangels. Eric Clapton in particular does his own
thing musically and couldn’t give a flying ferret for anyone else.
We actually customised his Fender amps and we put a valve tremolo
unit in it and Lazy J conversion in the Fenders and they’re now
saying they’re going to make an Eric Clapton amp based on our
People like to copy their heroes.
if you take a Lazy J amp the way it works with the ambience and the
harmonic response, Fender have never made an amplifier like that,
not from 1948 to 2010. They made some great amps but the Lazy J –
people go crazy about it. It’s another level. It takes Fender in
their original guise and actually beats them at their game.
The technology doesn’t seem to change that much.
No, point to point wired, the reverb unit is a reverb tape, a proper
pre-amp in there with a valve and its own little transformer. The
tremolo is a valve tremolo. Everything is using original ideas but
there’s certain things people don’t realise. On the amp it’s
got an attenuator and people think that’s a speaker attenuator.
It’s not, it’s an amplifier attenuator and it works on the amp
side and you can lower from a Lazy 20, which is our most popular
model which is a twenty watt 1x12. It lowers from twenty watts to
five. You still get the ambience, the tone, the harmonics at five
watts. With a regular speaker attenuator it just chokes it like a
road traffic accident and what comes out the other end is like a
strangled cat, at best.
Where’s the business going?
We’ve got the hire side, it’s now opened up to the retail side
and in the last year we’ve really opened up some nice retail.
We’ve sold some high-end guitars, amplifiers, effects pedals and
so on, percussion and keyboards. Everything we hire we now try to
trade in. Now we’re actively looking to buy product to sell
product. On our website it’s still only a shortlist – you
can’t update it every day or every week because things are coming
and going all the time. We did some work recently for Jimmy Page –
he asked me to go out and find something and it’s not on my list.
I’m every collector’s mate, because having a hire company means
I’m not worried about a cheap deal and I’ll pay anything for the
right item. So the collectors love me. And I don’t run a store so
I haven’t got the overheads, so someone can come to the office
here and try something out. We’ve got no sound problems here and
we’re not paying for staff or a place in Denmark Street. They’re
getting instruments that are superior to Denmark Street. And a
service that is superior with me or with Chris. Denmark Street is a
tourist money pit. Tourists who come there have to buy a plectrum
and others who buy there are being extorted and not every time are
they even getting what they think they’re buying. I won’t and
can’t plead ignorance so when I sell something it comes with a
complete thumbs up – this is exactly what it says on the box. I
pride myself that people can buy from me with confidence. The other
thing now is Lazy J – it was weird because I’m pro vintage but
also pro-specialist but vintage was my first love. And when these
amps were first introduced about two years ago being made as
one-offs, I saw one and the guy who makes them Jessie Hoff, is an
old buddy of mine. He brought one to my house and said “have a go
on it Phil” and I thought how you always feel when you listen to a
friend’s tape – you have to be polite don’t you?! So I plugged
into this thing and it was a very early version of what me make now
and I was so bowled over it was like that guy with the Remington
shaver. I bought the company.
That’s the man, not that I bought the company but certainly I’m
in charge of sales and distribution and he makes a pedal called a
Cruiser which is an outrageous pre-amp that doesn’t work on the
basis of all the other pre-amps around. Everything he makes is in
its own direction. The other thing that I’m very pleased about is
that people who have some nice instruments – these days you get a
lot of producers and we work with a lot of them – Steve Robson,
Juice, Pete Davis – a lot of big artists are through those people.
These people did amass bits and pieces in the 80s and 90s and I was
specking to Jimmy Hogarth who is a very good record producer who has
just done work with James Blunt and James Morrison. He said
“Everything I’ve got they go and buy” and I said “That’s
great, tell them to call me!” What’s happened is that all the
producers are now giving me their equipment – guitars, amps,
effects because now they want a really special eye to get them
working to the top of their game. They’re not interested in
looking at them, they‘re playing them. Mark Knopfler, who is one
of the fussiest, used to send his guitar to the States and I said
“What’s the point of sending it to America? By the time it’s
back it’s moved again and you’re back to square one.” So he
gave us his guitar tentatively to work on and he was so impressed
the next one we got was his famous Penta Suhr, the one he used for
all the Dire Straits work he did. This was followed
by the Sultans of Swing red strap which he had us re-spray and
restore which is the ultimate accolade. He trusts us. So we have an
amazing guitar repair guy and our amp repair guy used to work at Vox
in the sixties – you don’t get any better than that. He’s
actually writing a book at the moment on Vox
and because Harris Hire has a massive Vox collection he has a
free hand to use those for reference and pictures for the book.
Vox and Marshall are iconic brands.
I knew Terry Marshall, Jim Marshall’s son, years ago. It’s now
gone back to the fold.
Thanks Phil for that detailed look into the Vintage Musical
Instruments business. It was fascinating. Sounds like a great
business you’ve got there.
Thanks Digger. It’s a passion, a pleasure and a living
Mandolins, Backline & Effects, Keyboards,
Microphones, Drums & Percussion
Phil and Sue Harris have been meeting the demand for
vintage and specialist musical instruments for over
25 years, joined by their son Chris in 1993.
Musicians and bands who have used their extensive
catalog of instruments include The Beatles,
Madonna, U2, Razorlight, Oasis, Paul Weller, Richard
Ashcroft, White Stripes and many more..
Harris Hire built its
reputation on the best equipment, good custom and a
more personal customer relationship. In recent years
we have expanded to hire an extended range of
vintage and modern equipment.
Phil at Harris Hire is available not just to supply
equipment but also to advise on which piece is right
for the job. All Harris Hire instruments are
delivered to you in the best condition, whether old
original pieces or recent models. All our
amplification and effects are maintained to the
highest standards. We hope that our site will be of
benefit to all your musical requirements.
We at Harris Hire
have a repair service that includes guitar
customisation, restoration, refinishing, refrets,
set-ups, etc. We also offer a complete electronics
service that includes amp repair, restoration and
modification, speaker recones, etc, with expert
advice on all repair work carried out. A complete
sales service is also available on request.
We are always happy to talk about any aspect of our
business, so if you have any questions or just want
to say hello, please get in touch:
TEL + 44 (0) 20
8663 1807 | FAX + 44 (0) 20 8658 2803
MOB 07860 449 480 or 07785 240 240
OPEN 24 HOURS A
DAY - 7 DAYS A WEEK