The Beatles: Guitar Heroes 2

Share My Guitar is stoked to announce a new series of guest posts by John F. Crowley about guitars owned by members of the Beatles. Each week we will unleash another article covering the history and impact of these fab guitars.


1961: Hofner 500/1 3/4 scale “violin” bass: By the time The Beatles returned to Hamburg to play an engagement at the Top Ten Club in April 1961, McCartney had reluctantly assumed bass duty.

Stuart Sutcliffe had decided to leave the band — discouraged by his poor musicianship but also deeply in love with a German lass, Astrid Kirchherr — and to return to his art studies. And stand-in bassist Chas Newby had gone back to school.

The prevalent theme among the remaining Beatles was “Don’t look at me.” “Nobody wants to play bass, or nobody did in those days,” recalls McCartney in Many Years From Now (Barry Miles). “Bass was the thing that the fat boys got lumbered with and were asked to stand at the back and play . . . So I definitely didn’t want to do it but Stuart left, and I got lumbered with it. Later I was quite happy . . . ”

There are reports but no photos of McCartney playing Sutcliffe’s Hofner President bass — without re-stringing! — and apparently the re-worked Rosetti had finally disintegrated at this point, so McCartney found himself in Hamburg’s Steinway Musichaus one day. “I remember going along there, and there was this bass which was quite cheap. I couldn’t afford a Fender. Fenders even then seemed to be about £100. All I could really afford was about £30 . . . so for about £30 I found this Hofner violin bass. And to me it seemed like, because I was left-handed, it looked less daft because it was symmetrical. Didn’t look as bad as a cutaway which was the wrong way. So I got into that.”


The Hofner 500/1 Bass and more can be seen on Fab Guitars of the Beatles

As left-handed instruments were rarely seen hanging on shop walls at that time, some researchers contend McCartney merely saw a right-handed model and ordered a lefty. Whatever the case, as with Lennon and his Rickenbacker 325, McCartney soon would become forever associated with this distinctive model.

He used this bass on stage and in the studio through With The Beatles, at which point Hofner gave him a new, updated model. So in ’64, he had this first bass refinished in polyester sunburst by Sound City of London and had new pickups and pots installed. After that it served as a backup on the ’64 tours but in general took a back seat to its newer brother.

It appeared again in late ’68, minus its pickguard, for the “Revolution” video from the David Frost show, and it’s last seen in footage from Twickenham Studios, where the Beatles were filming “Let It Be.” Soon afterward, it was stolen, most likely from a closet at EMI’s Abbey Road studio, along with Harrison’s Gretsch Tennessean and second Ric 360-12.

Note to whoever has this instrument: It’s not like he hasn’t given you enough. It’s never too late to do the right thing. Give it back.

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