The Höfner 500/1 Violin Bass - As Iconic As McCartney

May 07, 2024 3 min read

The Höfner 500/1 Violin Bass - As Iconic As McCartney

We’ve covered a few iconic guitars in this blog, including the instruments of Eric Clapton and Peter Green. However, I’m an equal opportunist when it comes to iconic instruments and a sucker for a great story. 

That story? The recovery of Paul McCartney’s stolen original Höfner 500/1 Violin Bass. An instrument so iconic it’s hard to imagine Macca without it in his hands.

The Origins of the Instrument

First introduced at the 1956 Musikmesse in Frankfurt, Germany, the Hôfner 500/1 Violin Bass was initially conceived as a replacement for the upright bass. Its 30” scale length and flat-wound strings produce a full and thick sound that’s very unique.

The bass found prominence when, in 1961, Paul McCartney bought his first Höfner Violin Bass. He was initially attracted by the symmetrical nature of the body, with no cutaways that would be aesthetically bizarre with an upside-down right-handed instrument. The bass was also considerably cheaper, costing a third of the price (30 pounds in 1961) of a Fender bass (100 pounds) back then.

McCartney also had the advantage of having the controls customized on the bass, changing the placement of the controls to accommodate a left-handed player. Höfner would send him an updated model in 1963, and the 1961 model would be kept as a backup.

The placement of the pickups can easily distinguish both basses. The 1961 had two pickups in what would be considered the middle and neck positions of the instrument, while the 1963 had a more traditional bridge and neck placement.

The 1961 bass was stolen from the back of a van in 1972 while McCartney was on tour. Some previous accounts say that the bass was stolen from EMI’s Abbey Road Studios in 1969, but the 1972 theft was confirmed by Ian Thorn, McCartney’s then-sound engineer.

The thief (or thieves) eventually sold it to pub owner Ronald Guest, and it remained in his family since. If only Ronald knew what he had...

The Years In Between

The 1963 Höfner Violin Bass was last seen during the famous rooftop concert in 1969 and was used to round out theLet It Besessions. Traces of it might be heard onAbbey Road (though the bass used was more likely a Rickenbacker 4001S.) He would be more closely associated with the Rickenbacker during his years with Wings, and his solo run in the 1980s. He would also dabble with Wal basses (a five-string, to boot) during the tour for the 1989 album Flowers in the Dirt.

It was during the writing sessions with Elvis Costello for that album that gave the Höfner a new lease on life. Costello insisted that if he were to work with McCartney, Macca had to bring that bass out. The rest is history, with Paul and the 1963 Höfner seemingly joined at the hip ever since.

What About The 1961?

According to, in 2018, McCartney asked Nick Wass of Höfner if he could help track down the 1961 bass. What happened next was a team-up between Wass and journalists Scott and Naomi Jones, a website (The Lost Bass) and a five-year search for the instrument. With the media picking up on the story and running with it, the leads eventually led to Cathy Guest.

Ronald Guest (remember him from earlier?) had passed the bass down to his children after his death. It was with his son Haydn and his wife Cathy (Haydn passed in 2020). After realizing that the bass in her attic for so many years was indeed the one being searched for, it was returned to McCartney in February of 2024.

The bass is now being repaired and will have a new chance at life as McCartney plans to use the instrument rather than keep it locked away. 

There is a joy that is felt when instruments find their way home, especially stolen ones. Like a carpenter’s hammer, instruments are made to be played and inspire the player. Who knows what songs McCartney will pull out of that instrument now that it’s home, but there will be joy behind every note.

By Kevin Daoust -

Kevin Daoust is a guitarist, guitar educator and writer based in Gatineau, Quebec, Canada. When not tracking guitars for artists around the world, or writing music-related articles around the internet, he can be seen on stage with Accordion-Funk legends Hey, Wow, the acoustic duo Chanté et Kev, as well as a hired gun guitarist around Quebec and Ontario. He holds a Bachelor of Music in Guitar Performance from Carleton University in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.


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