Paul McCartney’s 1961 Höfner 500/1 bass is last seen

Tuesday, January 21, 1969


While Paul McCartney enjoyed playing several Höfner violin basses throughout his career, his very first, a 1961 Höfner 500/1, held a special place. Sadly, this iconic instrument was lost for over five decades. Its last confirmed sighting came during the filming of The Beatles’ “Get Back” sessions on January 21, 1969, fueling rumours of its disappearance from Apple Studios in Savile Row around that time.

However, the bass remained in Paul’s possession until October 10, 1972, when it was stolen from a truck parked overnight. This marked the start of a 51-year disappearance.

In 2019 and 2023, Höfner launched online campaigns to trace the bass and get it back to Paul. Their efforts, combined with dedicated fans and investigators, finally bore fruit in late 2023. The lost treasure was discovered abandoned in an attic, returned to Paul McCartney in September 2023, and announced in February 2024.

From Paul’s Lost Bass (

One of the most important musical instruments in the world vanished, it’s widely presumed to have been stolen at sometime after early 1969, and has never been seen since. What happened to it? Does it still exist? Where is it? The instrument is Paul McCartney’s first bass guitar, a Höfner 500/1 model that he purchased in 1961.

Here is a short history of this bass and what happened:

In the spring of 1961, Paul McCartney, of the little known Liverpool r’n’r band The Beatles, became their full-time bass player. Being left-handed, he custom ordered his first bass, a Hofner 500/1, through the Steinway shop in Hamburg, Germany during a two month residency at the Top Ten Club. Back in England, he played all their Cavern Club gigs with his new bass, as seen on the BBC’s first Beatle’s footage. Hence its nickname, the Cavern Bass.

This instrument was solidly used by McCartney until October 1963 when he received a new Hofner bass from Selmer, the UK importer.

It was played on some iconic Beatles recordings including their very first studio outing in June 1961 in Hamburg, their first single Love Me Do in 1962 and their first two albums, Please Please Me and With The Beatles in 1963. It’s the one you hear on “She Loves You, “Twist and Shout”, it was played in Hamburg, at The Cavern Club, at Abbey Road, isn’t that enough alone to get this bass back! I know, because I talked with him about it, that Paul would be so happy, thrilled if this bass could get back to him.

McCartney kept his first violin bass until it went missing, using it as a back-up during the Beatles’ world tours and playing it again in the Revolution promo video and during the filming of Let It Be. He cherished his first bass as stated in 1966 Beat Instrumental interview: “I have had a Hofner ever since I started. I’ve got 3 models but the ancient one is still my favourite. It has seen so much work that some of it is held with sellotape!”.

The bass was in need of repairs and so it was sent to a firm in London, early in 1964, who carried these out. They resprayed the bass a darker 3 part sunburst and fitted new knobs. Most significantly they custom made an unusual single pickup frame to hold both pickups. It was very distinctive, no other 500/1 bass looks like this.

Exact McCartney ’61 bass specs are as follow:

Solid spruce top
Maple back and sides
1-piece flat back
3-piece neck (maple-beech-maple)
Two Diamond logo pickups with no poles
Van Gent ‘rugby balls’ tuners
Long tailpiece with arched thin bar

A 1961 Hofner 500/1 bass is regarded by most players and collectors alike as the best sounding and rarest violin bass of all. It is the only 500/1 that features a carved solid spruce top and powerful humbucking pick-ups, making its tone rich and distinctive. It was in production for less than 4 months and is therefore highly sought after.

What happened? The problem is nobody knows. It seems very likely that someone stole the bass. To this day it has remained a mystery. There have been rumours over the years, but this is all they amount to: rumours. […]

From McCartney’s lost 1961 Hofner Bass (

Over the last 55 years, all sorts of rumours have emerged about where the bass went, and where the bass could be. One rumour says ‘someone’ stole McCartney’s bass from a closet at Abbey Road, along with two of George Harrison’s lead guitars. The thief is said to have simply picked up the guitars and walked out the front door, before disappearing into Swinging London. 

Others say the bass went missing from the basement at the Beatles HQ at 3 Savile Row, whilst various bands and characters from the music industry partied 24 hours a day in the offices above.

Or perhaps it simply disappeared in some other way. Nobody really knows.

In 2015 the trail switched to Canada, and a mysterious McCartney fanatic known as ‘The Keeper’. 

This sinister-sounding lead came from an impeccable source; author Philip Norman who wrote ‘Shout’, the definitive book on The Beatles, and ‘The Life’, the McCartney biography.

Norman was tipped off about The Keeper, who lives in Ottawa, by a taxi driver from Liverpool. Norman in turn told Paul McCartney, when the two met backstage at a concert in Liverpool in May 2015.

When McCartney left, one of his security team was seen speaking to Norman, typing details into his mobile phone. 

And when McCartney’s team heard about a 1961 Höfner 500/1 Violin Bass coming up for auction in Los Angeles, Nick Wass was asked to fly to LA to verify that this was indeed McCartney’s original Höfner. But soon after, the bass was swiftly withdrawn from the sale. The murky world of stolen guitars is now awash with forgeries and fakes.

From Peter Jackson’s film “The Beatles: Get Back“, 2021. Paul McCartney playing his 1961 Höfner 500/1 during the Get Back sessions, Twickenham studios, on January 3, 1969. It is briefly seen again at Apple Studios, Savile Row, on January 21, 1969.

From The Höfner setlist – The Daily Beatle (

Paul McCartney bought his first bass guitar, a 500/1 Höfner ‘violin’ 3/4 scaled model, while the Beatles were playing in Hamburg in 1961. He played it on stage and in the studio through “With The Beatles”, at which point Hofner gave him a new, updated 1963 model. It was first seen in the “Ready, Steady, Go!” TV show, broadcast 4 October.

In 1964, he had this first bass refinished in polyester sunburst by Sound City of London and had new pickups and pots installed. After that it served as a backup on the ’64 tours but in general took a back seat to its newer brother. He then started using his new Rickenbacker bass guitar for recordings from Rubber Soul onwards, Paul McCartney still brought out the Höfner bass guitar for live performances. Some time in 1966 he removed the pickguard. As you know, the 1966 US tour which ended at Candlestick Park August 29, 1966 was the final concert for a paying audience.

Cellotaped to the bass guitar was the setlist from that concert.

When miming to the Revolution song for the music video at Twickenham, Paul opted for his first Höfner, the 1961 model, minus its pickguard. A few months later, both Höfner bass guitars were brought along to the “Let It Be” album sessions. The one seen in the film is the 1963 model, now with a Bassman sticker, lifted from his speaker cabinet. The 1961 Höfner can be seen only in outtakes from the film, for instance in the “Ballad of John and Yoko” promo clip.

The cellotaped setlist from the 1963 model was read out loud by McCartney on January 8, 1969, as heard in outtakes from the “Let It Be” sessions. The 1961 bass guitar has since been stolen, so upon recreating his younger self for the “Coming Up” video in 1980, the 1963 model Höfner was brought out. Nine years later, it also reappeared in the “My Brave Face” music video, and Elvis Costello then persuaded McCartney to bring it back, and he then started using it on the road again. McCartney had strap buttons added so he’d no longer have to “dog-clip” one end to the tailpiece and tie the other end around the heel and under the fretboard.

The set list was still cellotaped to the bass guitar.

The set list that McCartney had cellotaped to his 1963 Höfner Violin Bass had started to go yellow and was having to have yet another layer of cellotape placed over it, to keep it attached to the guitar. As McCartney went on new tours in 1989-90, the short unplugged tour of 1991 and the new world tour in 1993, he had brought along a few Japanese replica violin bass guitars as back ups, but still preferred playing the original 1963 Höfner model on stage. In early 1993, Paul’s assistant John Hammel took the bass guitar to New York, in order for it to be repaired by the world’s finest luthier, Flip Scipio.

Because the Höfner was only a cheap instrument, it never held it’s tune. Flip Scipio was able to sort this out in two days, before the New World Tour commenced. The Höfner had it’s own seat on the Concorde flight.

Flip Scipio and John Hammel with the guitar.

At this time, there were so many layers of cellotape holding it onto the guitar, that the list of songs was now barely visible.

As McCartney then retired from touring indefinitely, the set list was finally removed from the Höfner during the “Flaming Pie” recording sessions.

The setlist as it appears today

After nearly a decade, Paul returned to touring again in 2002, and has been on a never ending tour with different names ever since. Still employing his 1963 model Höfner violin bass guitar on stage, it now no longer has the 1966 set list attached to it.

Thanks to Peter Hodgson for the photos and the story.

Last updated on February 18, 2024

Going further

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stephen 1 year ago

"Paul McCartney’s 1961 Höfner 500/1 bass gets missing"
You need a proof reader that can speak english mate.
it should be "Paul McCartney’s 1961 Höfner 500/1 bass goes missing"

The PaulMcCartney Project 1 year ago

@stephen Fixed ! Sorry, I'm only French :)

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