Subscribe to our newsletter

(Credit: Alamy)

Music

Why Paul McCartney gravitated to the Höfner bass

When Paul McCartney walked into the Steinway Musichaus in Hamburg, Germany in 1961, he was on a reluctant mission. Stuart Sutcliffe had informed his bandmates that he was going to focus on his art career and officially left The Beatles without a bass player. George Harrison was the nominal lead guitarist, and John Lennon flat out refused, which left only McCartney to take up the instrument.

“Bass was the thing that the fat boys got lumbered with and were asked to stand at the back and play,” McCartney later stated about being forced to play bass. “So I definitely didn’t want to do it but Stuart left, and I got lumbered with it. Later, I was quite happy.”

For the time being, McCartney had no choice but to find his own four-string so that The Beatles could continue their Hamburg gigs. When it came time to decide on which brand of instrument McCartney was going to choose, one name, in particular, stood out among the rest – Höfner.

“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 Höfner 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 was also innately familiarly with the Höfner brand. Lennon, Harrison, and Sutcliffe had all played Höfners during the band’s time in Hamburg, with McCartney even borrowing Sutcliffe’s 500/5 model for a brief time when he originally took up the instrument. McCartney even played Lennon’s Club 40 model of guitar for a time, appearing with it in an early five-man band photoshoot.

Ultimately, the familiarity, cheap cost, and singular architecture of the 500/1 would be a winner for McCartney. Even though it is his signature instrument, McCartney ever only owned two Höfners: his original one from 1961, which was later stolen and remains lost, and a 1963 model that McCartney continues to play in concert to this day. Even though brands like Rickenbacker, Wal, and eventually Fender would eventually be played by McCartney, the Höfner always found its way back into his hands.

See McCartney using his Höfner during a performance of ‘Help!’ in 1965 down below.