Paul McCartney’s first Höfner bass returned after five decades

Paul McCartney’s first Höfner bass guitar, a 500/1 model purchased in Hamburg, Germany, has been found and returned to the musician, more than five decades after it was stolen in 1972.

McCartney bought the ‘violin’ bass at the Steinway shop in Hamburg in 1961 while The Beatles were performing at the Top Ten Club. The instrument, priced at 287 Deutschmarks, was custom made for the young musician, with left-handed models being a rarity at the time.

I found a nice little shop in the centre of Hamburg, near a big department store called Karstadt. And I saw this bass in the window, this violin-shaped Höfner. It was a good price, because my dad had always said I shouldn’t do the never-never [buy on credit], but we were earning reasonable money. I liked the Höfner’s lightness, too. So I bought it, and I think it was only about 30 quid.
Paul McCartney, 1994
Music Radar

The bass was used in Hamburg, at the Cavern Club, on tour, and during recording sessions at EMI Studios, Abbey Road. Its value is now estimated to be £10 million.

Paul McCartney bought his Höfner bass from me. As usual in those days, he bought it in instalments. 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.
Günter Höper
Beatles Gear, Andy Babiuk

Paul McCartney – Twickenham Film Studios, 3 January 1969

In 1963 McCartney acquired a 1963 500/1 bass, which became his main instrument throughout The Beatles’ touring years. The 1961 bass was kept as a backup, but was used by McCartney occasionally in subsequent years, including the ‘Revolution’ promo clip in 1968 and the Get Back/Let It Be sessions in January 1969.

The bass can be identified by its dark-edged sunburst finish and the two pickups positioned near the neck, which in 1964 McCartney had encased in a new black surround after one of the original surrounds broke. He also had it refinished in the darker sunburst effect.

In November 2023 the Lost Bass Project was launched online, in an attempt to locate the missing instrument. It was led by Höfner executive Nick Wass, and Scott and Naomi Jones of media company Footprint.

Ian Horne, a former Wings sound engineer, came forward to reveal that the bass was stolen from a van on 10 October 1972 in London’s Notting Hill. The thief is believed to have lived in a top-floor flat in Cambridge Gardens, Ladbroke Grove.

When it was stolen in 1972, Paul told me not to worry, and I carried on working with him and Wings for another six years.

But I’ve never forgotten about the bass, and I’ve carried the guilt all my life. It was stolen on my watch so to help get the bass back today, I’m thrilled. It’s a huge weight off my mind.

Ian Horne
The Telegraph

The bass guitar was then sold to Ron Guest, the landlord of the Admiral Blake pub, for a nominal fee. It was then passed down to his son Graham, who died in 1976, and eventually ended up with Graham’s brother Hadyn Guest, who died in January 2022.

In December 2023 Hadyn’s wife Cathy contacted McCartney’s team to say the bass had been in her attic in Hastings, East Sussex, for two decades. It was returned to the former Beatle shortly thereafter.

Following the launch of last year’s Lost Bass project, Paul’s 1961 Höfner 500/1 bass guitar, which was stolen in 1972, has been returned. The guitar has been authenticated by Höfner and Paul is incredibly grateful to all those involved.

The news was broken online by Cathy Guest’s son Ruaidhri, a 21-year-old film student, who posted an image of himself holding the instrument.

Although the search for the bass was sparked by Höfner and the Lost Bass Project, the Guest family have confirmed that the instrument was returned to McCartney without third-party involvement.

My husband inherited it when another family member died and he’d had it for years.

He had no idea where it came from. He was a keen musician and used to play all the guitars at home, including Paul’s bass.

We both loved music and I still go to gigs every weekend…

I spoke to the security there [at McCartney’s organisation] and that’s how it all got started.

His people sent me pictures of the instrument they were looking for and I sent back pictures of the one I had. They confirmed it was the actual bass they were looking for. After that, they send somebody round to pick it up.

Cathy Guest
The Sun

Höfner’s Nick Wass said that the guitar was in need of repair, but could be restored. It had a cracked neck, a misaligned bridge, and faulty pickups.

But they can be sorted out, the neck can be repaired and we can make it playable again.
Nick Wass
Last updated: 22 February 2024
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