A major change occurred when The Beatles returned to Hamburg for the second time in 1961: Paul McCartney was now playing bass. McCartney had been the band’s second guitarist for a number of years up to that point, but the departure of Stuart Sutcliffe in the summer of ’61 meant that McCartney was now saddled with the responsibility.
McCartney got by through the use of Sutcliffe’s Hofner President bass and a custom-modified Rosetti guitar fitted with bass strings. Sutcliffe eventually asked for his bass back and the Rosetti became damaged beyond repair, so McCartney had to seek out a permanent new four-string. Sticking with the Hofner brand, McCartney spied 500/1 violin bass at Hamburg’s Steinway Musichaus and decided he had found his instrument.
“I remember going along there, and there was this bass which was quite cheap,” McCartney recalled. “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.”
McCartney used this specific model, identifiable through its closely positioned pickups that were later separated on McCartney’s second model, throughout the band’s earliest recordings and tours, including on the album Please Please Me and With the Beatles. In gratitude for the publicity that McCartney had generated for the company, Hofner presented McCartney with an updated model in 1963, McCartney would use the ’63 model for the remainder of The Beatles’ live career and still uses the model today.
The ’61 Hofner was relegated to backup duty, and McCartney soon had the bass repainted with a sunburst finish. In 1965, McCartney largely switched to using a Rickenbacker 4001S in the studio, further negating the need for the ’61 Hofner. Still, McCartney busted out the original Hofner for the promotional video of the ‘Revolution’ single in 1968, and footage of McCartney using the bass can be seen in both Michael Lindsay-Hogg’s documentary Let It Be and Peter Jackson’s docu-series The Beatles: Get Back.
Soon after the Get Back/Let It Be sessions, a theft occurred at EMI Studios. A closet that contained McCartney’s ’61 Hofner, plus George Harrison’s Gretsch Tennesseean and his second Rickenbacker 360-12, was raided by an unknown assailant who walked out the front door with the priceless guitars. To this day the guitars remain missing, and the location of McCartney’s original 1961 Hofner bass may never be known.
Watch Paul McCartney play the 1961 Hofner bass at the Cavern Club in 1962 down below.