Global search for Paul McCartney’s missing Beatles-era Höfner bass guitar

Publish Date
Monday, 4 September 2023, 12:27PM
Paul McCartney pictured with his missing bass guitar. Photo / Apple Films

Paul McCartney pictured with his missing bass guitar. Photo / Apple Films

He was an unknown teenager when he bought it for just £30 (now $64) in a shop in Hamburg in 1961. But Sir Paul McCartney would soon use that bass guitar to power Beatlemania, until it disappeared shortly before the band broke up more than half a century ago.

The star has followed every rumoured reappearance of this Holy Grail of rock and roll in the decades since - and now a global search has been launched to reunite McCartney and his “favourite” guitar, which he played on Love Me Do, Twist and Shout and She Loves You.

McCartney used the violin-shaped Höfner 500/1 electric bass from 1961 to 1963 as he and his bandmates changed the sound of modern music.

Höfner has mounted the quest after McCartney recently told the company how much he wants the bass back. It is believed to be the one object that McCartney, now 81, hankers after.

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The guitar is conservatively valued at at least £10 million ($21m) but may be worth far more. The search launched today with the hashtag “tracingthebass”, inviting anyone around the world with any information regarding its whereabouts to come forward.

The deep, penetrating “thud” sound produced by the hollow body echoed across the Top Ten Club in Hamburg, the Cavern Club in Liverpool, and on the Beatles’ first recordings at the EMI studios on Abbey Road in London.

Though he put it to one side for several years, McCartney picked it up again in 1969, when the Beatles were in London recording the sessions for Let It Be. With its distinctive sunburst body, the bass can be seen in Get Back, the Peter Jackson documentary released in 2021, with McCartney composing the title track.

The bass was last seen days before McCartney, John Lennon, George Harrison and Ringo Starr went up onto the roof of their Savile Row offices on January 30, 1969 to play for the last time.

McCartney has owned four Höfner basses since 1961. Today, the bass he plays on stage is his second Höfner, which the German company gave him in October 1963.

The search has been launched by Höfner after a conversation with McCartney about his lost bass Interviewed about his guitars, McCartney said: “I have had a Höfner ever since I started, but the ancient one is still my favourite.”

The 1969 rooftop concert was the last time the distinctive violin-shaped bass guitar was seen. Photo / AP

Nick Wass, a bass expert and Höfner executive, is in regular contact with McCartney’s office. He told the Sunday Telegraph: “I’ve worked closely with Paul McCartney’s team over the years, and when I’ve met Paul, we’ve talked about his first Höfner bass and where it could be today. Paul said to me, ‘Heh, because you’re from Höfner, couldn’t you help find my bass?’ And that’s what sparked this great hunt. Sitting there, seeing what the lost bass means to Paul, I was determined to solve the mystery.”

Klaus Voormann, 85, a German musician who has been dubbed “the fifth Beatle”, having played with them in Hamburg, told the Sunday Telegraph: “I saw Paul playing the Höfner bass in Hamburg. I could see how good he felt playing it. A natural symbiosis and a deep friendship. Well, it seems, ‘Till death us do part’. I hope they find it and we can all see it once more.”

There are many theories about what happened to the bass. One rumour suggests a thief took McCartney’s bass from a closet at Abbey Road, along with two of Harrison’s lead guitars, simply picking them up and walking out the front door to disappear.

Another version has it that the bass went missing from the basement at the Beatles HQ at 3 Savile Row, as assorted bands and their hangers-on partied in the offices above.

More recently, Wass was about to fly out to Los Angeles to examine a 1961 Höfner 500/1 Violin Bass coming up for auction - before it was withdrawn from sale.

Paul McCartney's bass guitar could now be worth at least $21 million. Photo / NZ Herald

Recalling when he bought his bass while the Beatles were in residency in Hamburg, McCartney said: “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. So for about £30, I found this Höfner 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.”

The most expensive guitar ever sold is an acoustic used by Kurt Cobain of Nirvana, which was bought for £5m ($10.59m) at auction. Were it ever to go on sale, McCartney’s original Höfner bass would be worth more than double this figure because of its vastly greater cultural significance, experts believe.

Wass said: “The lost bass needs to be valued more like a Van Gogh or a Picasso than just an instrument. Other than Beethoven’s piano, no instrument on earth can be compared to McCartney’s original Höfner. But the true value is in its history. This is the bass Paul played in Hamburg, at the Cavern Club, and at Abbey Road. That’s why we need to get this bass back. I know, because I have talked with him about it, that Paul would be so happy, thrilled, if this bass could get back to him.”

- Daily Telegraph UK

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