Paul McCartney's Hofner Bass: A History
A special article from The Walrus Was Crow! (c) 2004.
There is scarcely a more iconic Beatles image than Paul McCartneys Hofner bass. Like Ringo's Ludwig bass drum and John's Rickenbacker guitar, when we picture the Fab Four, we usually see Paul with his famous violin shaped bass. But how many did he have? When did he use them? Which one does he use now? The Walrus Was Crow will attempt to assemble all our available information and show you the history of this legendary instrument.
Paul got his first Hofner bass sometime around the end of April,1961. Stu Sutcliffe was ready to leave the band, and the Beatles were due to record with Producer Bert Kaempfert in June.So McCartney decided to take over the bass role in the band. Paul can be seen with the bass in photos with Stu.This was the Hofner with the vertical logo on the headstock and neck and middle position diamond logo pickups. Was it custom? According to Pete Best and Tony Sheridan, yes. Sheridan even says a left handed bass would never have been found in Germany in 1961. But it was apparently an easy job to transform it into a lefty, no scars are visible. Paul used this first Hofner on tour and in the studio for some time. Until a 2nd bass came along...and just in time for the Royal Command Performance...
Paul, with the first Hofner, looking somewhat stunned. 1962 . Note the original Diamond pickups, with one falling out!
The aforementioned 2nd bass is indeed the one we usually picture Paul with. It, of course, had a white/pearloid pickguard, 30" scale neck, a cursive horizontal logo, and neck and bridge position pickups with small surrounds. The bass was a 1963 500/1 model, and we say 1963 specifically because the next year Hofner changed the guitar a bit. The 1963 model featured a bound neck, raised plastic logo and, most telling, Gibson style large pickup surrounds. It was a fairly cheap bass, and not especially sturdy, especially in the neck area.
In late 1964 Paul apparently was to recieve another bass from Hofner. This 500/1 with gold-plated hardware was presented to Paul, but not exactly given to him, as it was instead sent on tour by Hofner! The bass had actually changed hands a couple of times over the years, but was never Pauls. So who did own it? For that whole fascinating story, click here...
Paul's 2nd bass with 1966 tour set list still taped to its' side. Trust us.
Paul continued to use his 2nd Hofner on tour, and less often, in studio. In 1966 he began using his Rickenbacker bass at Abbey Road, while also bringing it on tour as a backup.The stress on his Hofner was showing by this point. I have a picture of the famous bass during the video-shoot for the "Paperback Writer" and "Rain" promos in May of 1966. There are very noticeable cracks in the finish of the bass, in the upper right 'horn' and a little at the bottom. Slight cracks appear about 4 inches down the finish.It's enough to think that Paul felt maybe he ought to use this one sparingly in order to save it further wear and tear. I continue to believe Paul had the Hofner refinished around August, 1966. For more shots of the bass in action, click here!
Paul and the Hofner in action, Abbey Road Studio 2, 1965.
Films from around this point reveal Paul with a much darker looking bass, sans pickguard. When you consider the  possibility that Paul had the bass re-finished , the whole 'darker color' issue takes on a different hue. It had happened before, with Johns' Rickenbacker and the '61 Hofner. Now, I previously thought there to be a strong possibility, or at least a window of opportunity, for Paul to have done this during a break in touring ( July 4, Phillipines show, with pickguard, till Chicago on Aug. 12th). But photographic evidence seems to say otherwise. Either way, if McCartneys' current Hofner is the '63 model, I believe it had to have had undergone refinishing at some point. It was missing the pickguard and sporting new strings a few days after the Manila show.
The original Hofner had also undergone some changes. In late '64, Paul had the bass repainted and the pickups reinforced with  new surrounds (as one of the pickups was simply taped in by that point!). It surrounded both pickups, and nesseccitated cutting into the pickguard a bit. Paul seemed pleased about the job though; not so pleased that he actually used this bass much. He still loved the 'new' bass, even though it was phased out after touring eneded. He is handed the '63 model at the end of the "Penny Lane" video. This was the 2nd bass's final appearance for several years,until Paul took the Hofners out of the mothballs for the filming of "Let It Be".
Paul and John Live at the BBC, 1963
Men with wigs hand a victorian Paul his Hofner...it must be 1967! The "Penny Lane" video.
Paul with the 1963 Hofner during the "Let It Be" filming in January 1969. Note the BASSMAN sticker, which came from the box Johns Fender 'Bassman' amp was sent in. Copyright Apple Corps.
Paul notes on the first day of filming that the bass still has the '66 set list taped to the side, and offers to leave it out for close-ups. He had, for whatever reason, put a sticker on the guitar that read 'BASSMAN' (see picture below). The first Hofner can be seen in the video for "The Ballad of John and Yoko", but not in the film "LIB". The bass was seemingly stolen during or after filming. I tend to think 'after', since Paul never seems to mention its dissappearance during sessions; you'd think he'd be miffed and complain about it! The 2nd Hofner, therfore, became his main bass again, even seeing action on the "Abbey Road" LP. But it wasn't seen again until the 1980 video for "Coming Up",(see below for a photo) where Paul plays a rather Beatle-ish looking chap (Paul said that the video crew didn't even ask him for an autograph until he came in with the collarless suit and violin bass!). It was placed back in the closet until the recording of "My Brave Face" for the 1987 album "Flowers in the Dirt". Paul said:

"
When we came to record it, he (Elvis Costello, co-writer of the song) said 'what about your Beatles bass, Hofner bass?' I said I can try it, but it's not very good about keeping in tune, which it isn't, I'd got it along time ago. So I'd given up recording with it in favor of more modern instruments. But he said 'ah, I love the sound of it, come on let's try it!'. So I got it out ... and it recorded great. It's got a lovely tone for a little bass."
The last stand for Pauls original Hofner bass. Used early in the Let It Be sessions, this is probably from the first or second day of filming. From the video "The Ballad of John and Yoko" 1969.
Remember the 'outtakes' scene in the Anthology videos? All the legendary Beatles instruments were together again in Abbey Road Studio 2. But now the truth can be told...The Beatles were there WITH their legendary guitars and drums! In the first picture, look where Ringos looking, and over his shoulder, one can make out Pauls Hofner leaning against an amp. And in the next shot, Paul himself helpfully points ti the basses distinctive headstock. You think they played the guitars again in the same studio used to record "She Loves You"? Same instruments even! It boggles the guitar fans mind....
He, of course, went on to use the bass for the video of "My Brave Face". Paul continued to use the bass for his next two world tours, and finally had the intonation, a problem he'd complained about for years, fixed by Mandolin Bros. in the early '90's.
Paul continues to use the bass live, and as far as I know, for recording. The Hofner was definitely used on the "Run Devil Run" album. It can also be heard strong as ever on Pauls recent "Back In The U.S. Live 2002" CD.

E-mail us with comments and suggestions: joelcrowservo@yahoo.com
Paul with his beloved Hofner, still on the road together in 2002! Both seem to be doing well for their age...
Footnotes and Mysteries:
#1: What made Paul take notice of the Hofner? It's very possible that he saw Little Richards bassist on film. This gent was one of the first *ELECTRIC* bass players in Rock. And his bass of choice? A Gibson EB-1, the original violin shaped bass (as well as the second electric bass ever, right behind Fender's Precision.)

#2: Many wonder what the switches are on the Hofners control panel. They're 2 on/off switches for the pickups and one rhythm/solo switch. The knobs are both for volume.

#3: Of course, Paul had started using a Rickenbacker
4001/S bass pretty exclusively in the studio after 1965.

#4: Get out your copy of the "Revolution" video.
Look at the '61 Hofner Paul plays. Nice, huh?
Okay then, why is there a SPONGE stuck under
the strings by the bridge?! Well, I'm told he did
this to muffle the bass a bit, for a more distinctive
sound.

#
5: You may want to see John F. Crowleys new Pauls Guitars page. There's some very interesting stuff indeed...as well as the true fate of the first Hofner!!

#6:
One major problem McCartney always had with the Hofner was its tuning. It tended to go flat easily, and at certain frets. Could this be because he did not use a strap button for his guitar strap, but tied the thing around the neck and heel of the bass? That would do it...

#
7: The price of a Hofner bass in 1961? 30 pounds. The price of a Hofner bass TODAY? For a lefty, around $1500. Thats for the privledge of owning one, basically. No wonder notoriously-tight Paul keeps his old one in use!

#
8: Reports say a back-up Hofner (possibly a decoy?) was seen at Paul's  Cavern Club show.

#
9: Paul seems to own a Hofner knock-off bass. See the TV special (or the DVD I reckon)  "Back In The US Live" for a look.
Special thanks go to: John F. Crowley, Adam in Belfast, Macca67 and the great Andy Babiuk and his book "Beatles Gear" for making me re-think my theory and write a better article! And a very special thanks to John Bunning!
Great close-up of Paul and the Hofner bass guitar. 1994.
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Two great bassists think alike: Paul,1964; Crow T. Robot, in the not too distant future.
Paul in the 1980 "Coming Up" video. Wonder who hes supposed to be?...
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