F in the main part of Helter Skelter? (Beatles)

I’m trying to teach myself Helter Skelter by the Beatles. In the E7 section:

“Do you, don’t you want me to love you
I’m coming down fast but I’m miles above you”

It sounds like the guitar is somehow playing a F note. But I can’t quite figure it out to make it sound right. I thought it might be the bass but then I found this YouTube video isolating the guitar.

Maybe I’m just hearing it wrong. Thoughts?

Can’t speak to the Beatles but when one of my bands played it - based on U2’s version from Rattle and Hum - I just went with a plain E. I suppose it wouldn’t be hard to add an F in there but I don’t hear it.

I think you might be hearing things in the song which aren’t there.

Wouldn’t be the first time.

Wow. I’ve never noticed that before, but in that isolated track, that sure as hell does sound like the E string is bending up to almost an F there. I don’t know what that is, but I never noticed it before. A comment from this Youtube video suggests it’s from strumming the strings so hard.

According to this ‘how to’, there is an F note in there.


Besides apparently being wrong, what the hell are you talking about. When have I been wrong about something I’ve heard?


I assume it’s a reference to Charles Manson who claimed that the Beatles spoke to him through the entire Helter Skelter album.
IIRC there are indeed some weird chords in that song, that also show up in some other songs which also were messages according to Manson.

I think he means it’s not the first time somebody has heard something in a song that isn’t there.

That doesn’t sound like the recording though. The recording sounds like a bent note while that guy is just fretting the F. Could be from strumming really hard I guess, it could also be from bending the neck. Only other possibility I can think of is that it was something with a whammy bar. But it doesn’t really sound like it.

Like Richard Pearse just said, I’ve always heard a bent note there. You hear the attack as F, or maybe a few microtones lower than F, and it glides down to E, or maybe a few microtones above E, which is probably why it sounds so wonderfully weird. It’s making a very small and quick dive through the space between the notes.

Problem is you have to fret a note in order to bend it, but that is being played on the open low E string. Bending the neck while playing would be really hard, and anyway it’s bending down instead of up. A whammy bar would be more likely, if the bar is applied while muting the string, then hitting the note while releasing the whammy bar, and doing that repeatedly really fast, something like 180 bpm. That also seems impracticable.

My guess was what’s been suggested above, a very heavy attack that tenses the string so that the attack sounds nearly a half-step higher and then the decay lowers the pitch. You can hear that effect on tabla, like on the concluding note of an energetic raga, when the drummer whacks it really hard. Problem with that is no matter how heavily I apply a sforzando attack to an open guitar string, I cannot duplicate that effect. I’m not sure it could work on a guitar. But if it were to work, it would work best on an open string. Maybe a really heavy-gauge low E would help. Maybe some sort of detuning is involved. <shrug> I can analyze theoretically what needs to be done for the downward bend to happen, but the technique eludes me.

Yeah, same here. I just can’t get that sound. The odd thing is, if I tune my guitar as closely as I can to the YouTube isolated track and play F at the moment I think I hear it the sound is pretty darn close.

I agree it sound like a bend but I couldn’t figure out how that would happen on an open string.

The only other possibility that I can imagine is if the guitarist places a fingertip or thumb tip half on the nut and half on the E string. By pushing down on the very end of the open string you might be able to bend it up almost a half step? Pulsing the finger there might produce that pitch wobbling between F and E—if it could be done without muting the string noticeably and without engaging the first fret. To counter the muting effect you may have to bash it very hard with the heaviest pick you can find and crank up the amp, considering the distortion heard with it. What do you think?

You could put your finger behind the nut. That would leave it as an open string and allow you to bend a bit if you push down hard.

Owww! I’d insist on a thimble.

Or you’ll get blisters on your fingers?

It’s quite likely played on an Epiphone Casino* where there’s a length of string free between the bridge and the tailpiece which you could push on (fairly) painlessly to get that effect.

  • That’s a type of guitar, not a building for gambling.

Epiphone Casino and tailpiece.

Jazz players often play big archtop guitars that have that style of tailpiece and push on them for a whammy effect. I don’t really hear Helter Skelter that way though. I wonder if guitars with a tailpiece like that get more of the play-sharp-when-you-hit-too-hard effect than hard tail guitars. Anyone know?