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1974 Hofner 500/1 Bass, as made famous by Paul McCartney

As if it needed saying, that bass guitar, that bass guitarist.  Played with The Beatles first in rehearsal for Ready, Steady, Go in October 1963, and last on the Apple building rooftop in January 1969, mothballed following the break-up of the band, resurrected in 1987, and played ever since.  This one's 11 years younger than that 1963 Hofner 500/1, but a perfect bloodline descendant!

First introduced in 1956, the Hofner 500/1 was all set to live a relatively quiet and unassuming life.  Which it did, until Beatlemania catapulted it into the global spotlight.  Surprisingly, though, you'd be hard pressed to name any other bass guitarists that made it their instrument of choice in the 60s and 70s.  Many have fallen under the spell of the 500/1 since - Robbie Shakespeare, John Frusciante, Kevin Parker, Nick O'Malley to name a few.  But really it all started, and continues, with Paul McCartney.

I'm not going to add a jot of new insight into that association, and can only summarise the forensic analysis of the experts.  Of the four 500/1's that Paul McCartney has played in public, it's really two that carry the history.  He bought the first of these in Hamburg in 1961.  Bass guitarist Stuart Sutcliffe had announced he was leaving The Beatles, Paul was elected to take his place, and so he needed a bass.  At the request of the Steinway shop that Paul visited, that "61 Bass" was almost certainly the first left-handed 500/1 Hofner made.  And it made history, as the bass behind all those Cavern Club gigs, The Beatles' first two albums, and every single up to She Loves You.  It took quite a beating along the way, so became back-up bass in 1963, was stolen in 1972, and, amazingly, found and returned to Paul 51 years later in 2023.  Fortunately, the one Paul replaced it with in 1963 became the one that he played live through to 1966, for the Let It Be sessions, and that rooftop gig, mothballed for 17 years, resurrected during the Flowers In The Dirt sessions in 1987, and has returned to, live and in the studio, ever since.  Legendary!


This 1974 500/1 shares a lot of the characteristics of that "63 Bass".  Most obviously, the movement of the bridge pick-up from its previously central position on the "61 Bass" to a more typical bridge position - opening up a far wider range of tones.  Of course, the evolutions didn't stop with the 1963 model.  And this 1974 benefits from those evolutions: a single-piece maple neck, for greater resonance, a sloped and single step heel for easier upper fret access, precision-engineered Van Ghent tuners, and the Hofner-embossed 513B Blade pick-ups, giving you a modern growl and attack at the bridge, alongside all that warm thud you'd expect from the neck.  It's perfect!  Everything you could wish for from a vintage Beatles bass, and then some!

See & Hear It In Action
  • The Hofner Beatle Bass: A Short History: I know, I write too much.  So, thank heavens for Keith at Five Watt World for this far more easily digestible version of all that is above and below.  Plus some wonderful credited demos that really bring out the tonal difference between the neck and bridge pick-ups.   Perfect!


It's The Beatles Bass!!!  What are you waiting for?!





500/1 Bass


Brunette Sunburst



Serial  Number


Number of Frets

22 (+ zero fret)




Single-piece Maple


Spruce Top; Maple Back & Sides


Van Ghent Closed Cover


Hofner 513B Blade Double Magnet Single Coil


Hofner Fretted Floating Bridge

Scale Length:


Full Length:


Further Information:

  • You'd think, given Hofner's started off building violins in 1887, adding guitars in 1919, that they might have been the first to come up with a violin bass guitar.  That honour actually goes to Gibson, with their EB-1, introduced in 1953.  As a first attempt to compete with Fender's ground-breaking Precision Bass, it failed.  But It definitely did a better job to mimic what it was replacing - until you realise it's a solid piece of mahogany, carved into the shaped of a violin, with f-holes painted onto the top.   Check it out at Fly Guitars - a unique piece of history!

  • Sometimes it's better to be a first follower.  Hofner took inspiration from Gibson, added in 70 years of stringed-instrument craftsmanship, and launched a properly hollow-bodied violin bass, the 500/1, in 1956.  And by the early 1960s, thanks to Paul McCartney, they'd cornered the market.  And continue to do so today.  Check out the Hofner website for at least 20 issues and reissues of the 500/1, available today!

  • The late-60s and early-70s 500/1s share pretty much the same spec.  And while they don't seem to feature as reissues on the Hofner website, they should!  The single-piece maple neck gives you a lot more resonance than the earlier two- or three-piece necks.  The black radio knobs, with matched black switches, are less fiddly than the more ubiquitous teacup knobs,  And then there's those pickups.  The first Blade pick-ups, the 512Bs, were introduced in 1967.  The apparently indistinguishable 513Bs used on this bass followed in 1969.  The Blades are unusual twin-magnet single coil pick-ups, in contrast to the two coil humbucking 511Bs on McCartney's "63 Bass".  Which might explain the greater attack from the Blades.  You'll notice it especially if you switch to the bridge pick-up.  You'll still get the warmth of the McCartney sound, played mainly through the neck pick-up.  But be prepared for the punchy attack of that bridge pick-up.  It's a revelation!

  • This one has had a life, just like any other guitar that's served its players for 50 or more years.  When I first got it, the neck had warped into unplayability beyond the 12th fret.   Once again, massive thanks to guitar tech legend Joseph Kaye for restoring the neck to its original position - through a mix of clamps, heat treatment, and innate judgement.  He did it before with the 1997 Fender SRV Stratocaster.  And he's done it again with this 500/1.  "Wood has a memory."  But it takes a genius to unlock that memory!  Now it plays just beautifully. 

  • One final thing.  Just like any other detail about any of The Beatles, the subject of what bass strings Paul McCartney uses commands multiple pages on the internet.  Cut to the chase, apparently it's Hofner H1133B Flatwound Nickel, 40-55-70-100s for the 500/1.  And, the key to his sound is the use of a pick, with those flatwound strings.  Now, I'm all for replicating the McCartney sound, but that shouldn't discount the alternatives.  This one arrived strung with roundwounds.  And it sounds superb!!! I know, I know - heresy.  And, yes, if anyone wants flatwounds for their hire, then I'll make the switch.  But, in my heart, I'm loving this with roundwounds!

Sources & Links
  • Hofner 1969 Catalogue:  Another rare piece of material curated by the wonderful Vintage Guitar & Bass.. 1969 saw the introduction of those.513B pick-ups and, as far as I can tell, the sloped and stepped neck heel, both of which feature on this 1974 model. The teacup knobs are definitely the standard, but I've found 1969 500/1s with those black radio knobs, to match black slider switches,  Which makes the spec of this 1974 model pretty much identical to those late 1960s models.
  • The Players: Steve Russell's Vintage Hofner Site: Honestly, we need the experts.  Big thanks to the absolute treasure trove that is Steve Russell's Vintage Hofner Site.  The evolutions, the players, the Hofner Pick-ups, even the 500/1 Control Plate settings.  Everything really!  And not just for 500/1s, but for every make and model.  If you love vintage Hofners, there's no better place.
  • Paul McCartney's Hofner 500/1s: One of the best pieces I found - the history and the myths.behind those famous 500/1s, thanks to the forensic expertise of Nick Wass at Bass Player Magazine..
  • What Strings Does Paul McCartney Use?: A question often asked, if only in certain circles . . . And thanks to James Kelly at Range Of Sounds for the definitive answers!
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