Paul McCartney acquires his first bass guitar

April 1961


From “Paul wants it to be fixed up, so he can play it… He was excited as a school boy”: Paul McCartney’s long-lost Höfner violin bass has been found after 50 years | Guitar World:

It was on the second floor of the Steinway Musikhaus in the centre of Hamburg that McCartney first purchased the German-made Höfner 500/1 violin bass – the instrument the rest of the world now calls a “Beatle bass.”

Günter Höper was one of six salesmen at Steinway at the time. “Paul McCartney bought his Hofner bass from me,” Höper told Andy Babiuk for his 2001 book Beatles Gear. “We offered a ten-payment deal, and so we had to set up a contract, for which we needed his passport number. However, Paul had left his passport at the Top Ten club, so I went with him to the club to get the passport and do the deal.” The original price of the bass was 287 Deutschmarks.

“I couldn’t afford a Fender,” McCartney later told Bass Player. “All I could afford was about £30. So I found this Höfner violin bass. Because I was left-handed, it looked less daft because it was symmetrical, so if I turned it upside down it didn’t have a cutaway, where everything else did. So that became my main bass.”

Höper realized that McCartney was a left-hander, and so ordered a left-handed bass direct from Höfner. The only major change was to shift the pickguard and the hole for the electronics to the opposite side of the body. McCartney went on to use this bass until October 1963 when a new 500/1 was ordered.

From McCartney’s lost 1961 Hofner Bass (

In April 1961, The Beatles started a four-month residency at the Top Ten Club in the Reeperbahn; Hamburg’s boozy, red light district. The line up was Paul McCartney on piano and guitar. Stuart Sutcliffe on bass. John Lennon and George Harrison on guitar. And Pete Best on drums.

But this line up was short-lived. When Sutcliffe announced he was leaving the band to study at the University of Fine Art in Hamburg, The Beatles “elected” McCartney to take his place on bass. But there was one problem. McCartney didn’t have a bass. So in Spring 1961, 19-year-old Paul McCartney went to one of the most prestigious music shops in Hamburg, Steinway Musikhaus at Collonaden 29, and made his way to fourth floor where the guitars and drums were on sale.

From interviews given by McCartney, and from memories shared by the sales assistant at the Steinway shop, we know that McCartney didn’t have much money to spend. Despite working eight days a week on stage at the Top Ten Club, he had a budget of around £30. The Fenders were out of his price range. But he could afford a Höfner.

The sales assistant who sold McCartney his first Höfner bass was Günter Höper. When Hoper realised that McCartney was left-handed, he offered to order a left-handed bass from Höfner. Without knowing it, history was made.

“I’d gone out to Hamburg with a red Rosetti Solid 7, which was a real crappy guitar, but looked quite good. Stuart Sutcliffe was leaving the band and he wanted to stay in Hamburg, so we had to have a bass player. So I got elected bass player, or lumbered as the case may be.”

“I got my Violin Bass at the Steinway shop in the town centre. I remember going along and there was this bass which was quite cheap. It cost the German Mark equivalent of £30 or so.

“My dad had always hammered into us never to get into debt because we weren’t that rich. John and George went easily in debt and got beautiful guitars. John got a Club 40 and George had a Futurama – which is like a Fender copy – and then, later, Gretsches. Then John got the Rickenbackers. They were prepared to use hire-purchase credit. But it had been so battered into me not to do that, I wouldn’t risk it. All I could really afford was about £30.”

So for about £30, I found this Hofner violin bass. And to me, because I was left-handed, it looked less daft because it was symmetrical. I got into that. And once I bought it, I fell in love with it.”

Paul McCartney – From McCartney’s lost 1961 Hofner Bass (

Why did McCartney decide to buy a Höfner 500/1 bass?

It is a question that has intrigued many over the years and a question that has no definite answer. Here are a few things we know, and a few things we can only speculate about:

  • Höfner was a brand that McCartney was familiar with and would have known they were good quality. They were well known in Britain in the late 50s and early 60s, indeed there were very few, if any, American guitars available at that time. Harrison had used a Höfner President guitar and then swopped that for a Höfner Club 40 guitar. Lennon’s first electric guitar had been a Höfner Club 40. Sutcliffe had purchased a new Höfner 500/5 model bass and was still using it; McCartney is quoted as saying he used it for a while, playing it upside down.
  • In 1960 the Silver Beetles (soon to change to The Beatles) were the backing band for Johnny Gentle on a tour around Scotland. During this tour, they played at the Northern Meeting Ballroom in Inverness on May 21st 1960. Also on the bill that night was Ronnie Watt and the Chekkers. Watt was the bass player and owned a 1957 Höfner 500/1 bass which he showed to McCartney, possibly the first he had seen. Did he remember it a year later when he was at Steinway? Who knows?
  • The Beatles knew Tony Sheridan and his band The Jets who were also working in Hamburg. The bass player, Colin Melander (Crawley) owned a 500/1 bass which McCartney must have seen. Did this too influence his buying decision?
  • My good friend Clement Cachot-Coulom, owner of Guncotton Guitars, told me recently that McCartney probably saw the 1956 film “The Girl Can’t Help It” which included Little Richard and his backing band. The bass player used a Gibson EB1 bass, which was also violin-shaped, although not very much like a Höfner 500/1. McCartney was a big fan of Little Richard. Did he remember the shape of that bass? Again, we simply don’t know.
  • Perhaps he simply saw the bass, liked its look and how it played and decided to buy it because it was one he could afford.
Nick Wass – From McCartney’s lost 1961 Hofner Bass (

Last updated on February 18, 2024

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