1961 Höfner 500/1 Bass Left Handed

In 1961, Paul McCartney purchased a specially made Left Handed Höfner 500/1 Violin Bass from Steinway and Sons in Hamburg, Germany. In just a couple of years, this event would help make Höfner a recognized brand around the world. As the Beatles gained global notoriety, the 500/1 Höfner violin bass would become an icon and be known famously by its "Beatle Bass" nickname.
The Höfner company was founded in 1887 by luthier Karl Höfner in the city of Schönbach, which was known as the center of stringed instrument manufacturing in Europe at the time. Höfner soon became the largest manufacturer of string instruments in the country. His sons, Josef and Walter, joined the company in the early 1920’s and the company expanded into export markets. The manufacturer suffered upheavals during and after World War II, particularly when Schönbach became part of Czechoslovakia. Unwilling to have a State Administrator run their company, Höfner relocated to Western Germany, building new factories in Bubenreuth in 1950. In the 1950s and 1960s, Höfner instruments were distributed by Selmer of London, making them much more easily accessible to young musicians compared to the expensive and hard to find American-made guitars.
McCartney’s bass has features predominantly used by Höfner in 1961 such as: individual “Rugby ball” tuners, 3 piece neck without binding, solid carve top, one piece flat back body, no body decal/logo, close spaced "Diamond" pick ups, short neck pick up surround, and a vertical headstock logo.
A mixing of features is not unusual because, as with many manufacturers in the 1950's and early 1960's, Höfner did not necessarily have standardized specifications and serial numbers for its various models. The body, neck and parts were often pre-made in batches and then assembled as needed at a later time. Since designs were continually changed, newer produced parts were often fitted to previously made parts. So, there is a multitude of combinations for these early produced guitars.
Upon taking possession, McCartney immediately made his 1961 Höfner his main instrument and would use it on many classic Beatles recordings, films, television shows and live performances. This bass saw very heavy use from 1961 to 1963 and was played virtually every day. It’s a testament to Höfner quality and workmanship that his 1961 bass did not disintegrate completely.
We are extremely proud to showcase the 1961 Höfner 500/1 Left Handed bass in our collection. It is identical to McCartney’s first iconic bass in every detail. Our bass has a Van Wouw (Dutch distributor) serial number, pot codes dating it to early 1961, and an original German Black shell/green felt case.
Höfner officials have confirmed that, although they do not have precise production records from those days, these are the only two Left Handed 500/1 basses with the unique combination of 1961 features to have ever surfaced. Since the whereabouts of McCartney’s bass is unknown, our original bass is considered a priceless historical artifact.

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A young Paul McCartney with his 1961 Höfner 500/1 Left Handed bass guitar.

2006 Höfner 50th Anniversary Prototype 500/1 Bass Left Handed

In October 1963, McCartney received his second 500/1 bass, a 1962/63 model which would take over the main duties. So, in early 1964, McCartney decided to have some maintenance work performed on his road worn 1961 bass. Sound City of London did the work and for some reason did not use Höfner original parts. While it is uncertain what internal work may have been performed, the cosmetic result was a total refinish in a Fender style tri-color sunburst; replacement of some tuner buttons; a new distinctive pickup surround and some generic “tall” style control knobs. Also around this time, the bass received a new British Selmer “Tweed” 500/1 case to replace the very battered original German Black case.
In an article during from the time period, McCartney indicated that he was pleased by the new look of his old workhorse and mentioned that people even thought it was a brand new Höfner model.
After the maintenance work, McCartney’s 1961 500/1 continued to serve as his backup bass during the 1964 tours. Photographs also show that he used the newly refurbished bass on at least one television appearance, the “Thank Your Lucky Stars” program in mid 1964. There is also a strong possibility that McCartney had to plug in the bass for part of one live performance on August 18, 1965 in Atlanta, Georgia. Audio recordings of that performance, just after “I Wanna Be Your Man” and before starting “Help!”, John Lennon is heard saying to the audience that they will all have to wait a minute while McCartney changes his bass because he has broken a string. No clear photographs have yet surfaced showing McCartney definitively playing the back up bass at this performance. By late 1965, backstage photographs reveal that McCartney had replaced Sound City’s “tall” style control knobs with original Höfner “tea cup” knobs. By 1966, photographs show the pick guard removed.
In 2006, Höfner recreated McCartney’s 1961 bass as part of the company’s 50th Anniversary celebration. These 50th Anniversary basses are quite special because, other than the early 1960’s, it is the only time Höfner has produced a 1961 reissue bass constructed exactly like McCartney’s original, with the combination of a solid carve top and one-piece back. In appreciation, Höfner presented McCartney with bass #1 (from a total worldwide production run of 150 basses).
This bass in our collection is a one-off prototype. In late 2006, we worked closely with Höfner to develop a bass exactly like McCartney’s right after the Sound City refurbishment. Höfner sent one of the 50th Anniversary Limited Edition basses from their German factory directly to their USA Custom Shop. We supplied the Rugby Ball tuners, distinctive double pick up surround and “tall” style control knobs. The result is a stunning bass identical to McCartney’s, as he would have received it back from Sound City in 1964.
The next major appearance for the 1961 Höfner bass was in the "Revolution" video for the David Frost show in late 1968. By this time McCartney had also added a distinctive guitar strap and a foam mute by the bridge. The last known sighting of the 1961 bass is in photos and film footage taken during the filming and recording of the Beatles “Let It Be” movie at Twickenham Studios. Soon afterwards, his legendary bass was stolen and never recovered.
McCartney playing his newly refurbished 1961 bass on the “Thank Your Luck Stars” television program in mid 1964.
One of the final times that McCartney would be photographed with his 1961 bass. It would be stolen soon after this photo was taken.
McCartney tuning up his refurbished 1961 bass backstage in Japan in 1966.
The original receipt for Paul McCartney’s first Höfner bass guitar.

2006 Höfner 50th Anniversary Prototype 500/1 Bass Left Handed “Revolution”

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