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Paul McCartney’s musical mystery has finally been solved

Stolen for decades, the bass responsible for Love Me Do and She Loves You is now back in the hands of the Beatle.

From Prince’s Cloud guitar to Kurt Cobain’s Fender Jaguar, some of the best musicians of all time owned instruments as famous as they are. And The Beatles are no exception. When the four Liverpudlian lads burst onto a global stage in 1964, peeking underneath a shaggy bowl cut, the undeniably charming Paul McCartney thumbed some of the most iconic songs in rock history on a Höfner bass.

It’s responsible for some of the greatest songs of all time. But in 1972 it was stolen and never seen again – until now.

The story of Paul McCartney’s stolen bass begins in 1961. The Beatles had returned to Hamburg for a second time to take up a residency at the Top Ten Club. But the band’s original bassist, Stuart Sutcliffe, quit the band to pursue his love of painting.

The remaining members quickly elected Paul to take over the vacant bass position. Though anyone else may have come to resent being ‘relegated’ to playing bass, the ever-optimistic Paul took it as a challenge.

circa 1965: Paul McCartney of The Beatles with his Hohner bass. (Photo by Express/Express/Getty Images)
Few musical instruments are as iconic as Paul McCartney’s Höfner bass.

“From the word go, once I got over the fact that I was lumbered with the bass,” the Beatle recalled in a 1994 interview. “I did get quite proud to be a bass player, quite proud of the idea.”

Though the Fender Jazz Bass was the go-to choice for bass players at the time, Paul stumbled on a much more interesting guitar. Upon learning of his new position, Paul promptly headed down to a local music shop in Hamburg. Here, a strange looking violin-shaped bass caught his eye. The young Beatle felt the symmetrical body of the bass meant it wouldn’t look awkward when he played it left-handed. 

He purchased the bass for £30. Over the next three years he used it in live performances and the first two Beatles records – giving the early Beatles tracks that characteristic ‘thump-thump’ bass tone.

By 1964, the bass had fallen well into disrepair. It had been chucked in the back of vans, dropped and heavily played. By now, The Beatles were well and truly on top of the world. So when Paul needed a replacement Höfner, he no longer had to scrounge together loose change he had made from gigs. Instead, a flashy new bass was ordered for the Beatle and the original 61’ bass became a backup.

Though it didn’t appear on any tracks after 1963, the original bass continued to appear in promotional pictures. It even made a cameo in the Let It Be (retitled to Get Back in 2021) film.

Three years later, Paul was in Notting Hill where he was preparing for Wings’ first tour of the UK. The band rented a truck to ferry the band’s equipment across the various rehearsing and recording spaces in London.

“One night, after a long day, we got to Notting Hill, where Trevor lived, and decided to park the truck up there for the night,” Ian Horne, a sound engineer with Wings, told The Telegraph.

“We knew there was a huge padlock on the back doors. But when I got up in the morning and saw the van, with the broken padlock lying in the road, I knew it was bad news.”

“He told us not to worry, and we kept our jobs. He’s a good man, Paul. I worked for him for six years after the bass went missing. But I’ve carried the guilt all my life.”

Since that night the bass’ whereabouts has been radio silent. The bass has never been seen or heard in over fifty years – until now.

Last year, after Paul told Höfner how special it would be to be reunited with his beloved bass. So the company launched a mass appeal to locate the famed guitar. Shortly after this, some few hundred emails flooded through with various tips and clues.

Investigators found that the famed bass was sold to a landlord of a pub in the area shortly after the theft. It then made its way to Sussex, where it has been sitting in a family’s attic. The bass was found back in September, 2023 but news held as Höfner worked to authenticate the guitar.

Paul was properly reunited with his bass in December once it was confirmed to indeed be his long lost instrument.

“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,” a statement from Paul McCartney’s team reads. “The guitar has been authenticated by Höfner and Paul is incredibly grateful to all those involved,”.

Here’s to hoping the reunification inspires some new tunes from the 81-year-old rocker.

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