The story behind Paul McCartney's 1963 Höfner 500/1 violin bass

(Image credit: Future)

The Beatles played a series of gigs in Hamburg, Germany in early 1961, and while they were there, original Beatles bassist Stu Sutcliffe decided to leave the band. Paul McCartney, then 18, was tapped to move from piano to bass, which meant he had to get an instrument of his own. 

“Eventually, I found a little shop in the center of town, and I saw this violin-shaped bass guitar in the window,” he told Tony Bacon for a Bass Player cover story way back in the summer of 1995. McCartney recalled buying his first Höfner 500/1 violin bass, a right-handed model that he turned upside down, for the equivalent of $45. Unfortunately, his 1961 Höfner was stolen in the late ’60s.

This bass, given to McCartney by Höfner in 1963, was seen and heard starting as early as that year’s I Want to Hold Your Hand. He removed the pickguard in 1966 and used it all the way through the Let It Be rooftop concert in 1969, putting it away for years until Elvis Costello asked for it during sessions for 1989’s Flowers in the Dirt. It’s been on the road with Paul ever since. Apparently, it still has the setlist from the last Beatles shows, in 1966, taped to its side.

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