You've seen it, you've heard it, the iconic Höfner 500/1 Bass played by Paul McCartney. It all started in Schonbach, Germany 1887 when violin maker, Karl Höfner found the famous Höfner company. In 1919, Höfner's sons, Joseph, had started working along side his father and two years later Walter Höfner, Karl's other son, had joined the company. With Walter now on the team his ideas had soon turned into his fathers love for the violin and the music styles changing, as it was now 1955, had created a short scale semi-acoustic bass. A year later at the Frankfurt Music Fair, his bass idea had evolved into the Höfner 500/1 and was ready to be launched. The bass didn't take off to outside countries until UK Distributor, Selmer, began promoting it leading the bass to get more recognition outside of Germany.
"He set a standard no one has ever reached."- George Martin
It was in Hamburg, Germany 1961 when The Beatles, as they were now called after going between many names from The Quarrymen to The Silver Beetles to The Beatles, were playing hours on end at The Top Ten Club. It was John Lennon and Paul McCartney taking lead vocals and guitar while jumping around the stage. George Harrison standing partially side stage playing riffs and lead guitar on his Black Duo Jet guitar, tapping his foot to the beat provided by drummer, Pete Best. Besides him, standing backwards was Stu Sutcliffe with his cool, black sunglasses plucking away at his bass that he had bought after being persuaded by John Lennon to join his band. Stu, himself was a dedicated artist with little to some interest in music which was the man reason he had his back to the audience when he was playing, to hide his incorrect playing. By this time, bass playing wasn't his top priority, he was in it to make a little extra money but really wanted to get back to his art and with help from his new girlfriend, Astrid Kirchherr, whom he and The Beatles met while playing in Hamburg. In 1961 Stu was out of the band and engaged to Astrid leaving the band in need of a bass player.
"Paul was one of the most innovative bass players ever. And all the stuff that is going on now is directly ripped off from his Beatles period."- John Lennon, Playboy Magazine
Colin Milander, bass player for performer Tony Sheridan had the new Höfner bass model, seeing it had made Paul get interested in playing. With Stu gone and Paul saving to buy a bass he had borrowed Stu's. When Paul had got enough money had bought the Höfner 500/1, which was later nicknamed The Beatles Bass or even when The Beatles became regulars at The Cavern Club on Mathew Street became known was The Cavern Bass.
"I remember going along there, and there was this bass which was quite cheap. I couldn't afford a Fender. Fenders even then seem to be about £100. All I could really afford was about £30 ... so for about £30 I found this Höfner violin bass. And to me it seemed like, because I was left-handed, it looked less daft because it was symmetrical. Didn't look as bad as a cutaway which was the wrong way. So I got that."- Paul McCartneyAs a left, Paul had down what he had with in his early days with right-handed instruments, he would simply play it upside down, which as mentioned before was a main reason for getting the style.
"Paul's influence on bassist have been so wide spread over numerous generations that there's no denying he's in everybody's playing at this point. We're all descendants."- Will Lee
Paul's had grown a love for the violin shaped bass and would keep it throughout his career. In 1963, the Höfner company had sent Paul an updated 1962 version of the bass, this would be the bass that McCartney would use more often. When The Beatles took the world by storm on 9 February on The Ed Sullivan Show the Höfner 500/1 became a worldwide icon. In 1964 Paul had sent his 1961 version to be refinished in sunburst and had new pickups and updated pickup surround system added.
Paul can be seen using the bass from The Cavern days up to The Beatles rooftop performance in 1969. During The Beatles Let It Be sessions, Paul's 1961 model, along with George Harrison's Gretsch Tennessean guitar and Rickenbacker 360/12 were stolen from Abbey Road Studios. From that point on Paul had continued to play his 1962 bass.
The following video is how to build the Höfner Bass;
The Höfner has taken a change throughout the years, Paul now playing the instrument with no white marble pick guard. He even has been seen with a violin bass with a painted Great Britain flag body.
Although the Höfner wasn't the only bass Paul had played, it's hard to forget his Rickenbacker bass as well as the others. Paul's bass playing it's self is incomparable and can be heard greatly throughout his years with The Beatles, Wings, and his solo work.
The following video is Paul teaching Bass;
"I'm very proud of my bass playing in The Beatles"- Paul McCartney