500/1 3/4 scale "violin" bass: By the time The Beatles
to Hamburg to play an engagement at the Top Ten Club in April 1961,
had reluctantly assumed bass duty. Stuart Sutcliffe had decided
leave the band -- discouraged by his poor musicianship but also deeply
in love with a German lass, Astrid Kirchherr -- and to return to his
And stand-in bassist Chas Newby had gone back to school.
prevalent theme among the remaining Beatles was "Don't look at
"Nobody wants to play bass, or nobody did in those days," recalls
in Many Years From Now (Barry Miles). "Bass was the
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,
I got lumbered with it. Later I was quite happy . . . " There are
but no photos of McCartney playing Sutcliffe's Hofner President bass --
without re-stringing! -- and apparently the re-worked Rosetti had
disintegrated at this point, so McCartney found himself in Hamburg's
Musichaus one day. "I remember going along there, and there was
bass which was quite cheap. I couldn't afford a Fender.
even then seemed to be about £100. All I could really
was about £30 . . . so for about £30 I found this Hofner
bass. And to me it seemed like, because I was left-handed, it
less daft because it was symmetrical. Didn't look as bad as a
which was the wrong way. So I got into that." As
instruments were rarely seen hanging on shop walls at that time, some
contend McCartney merely saw a right-handed model and ordered a
Whatever the case, as with Lennon and his Rickenbacker 325, McCartney
would become forever associated with this distinctive model. He
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,
had this first bass refinished in polyester sunburst by Sound City of
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
It appeared again in late '68, minus its pickguard, for the
video from the David Frost show, and it's last seen in footage from
Studios, where the Beatles were filming "Let It Be." Soon
it was stolen, most likely from a closet at EMI's Abbey Road studio,
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.
A Tale of Two Hofners: McCartney's original 500/1 (left) was relegated to backup duty when a new, improved model came along (next page).
(c)2000 - 2012 John F. Crowley