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Monday 26 October 2015

The Höfner setlist

1 = 1961 Höfner, 2 = 1963 Höfner bass guitar.
Paul McCartney bought his first bass guitar, a 500/1 Höfner 'violin' 3/4 scaled model, while the Beatles were playing in Hamburg in 1961. He played it on stage and in the studio through "With The Beatles", at which point Hofner gave him a new, updated 1963 model. It was first seen in the "Ready, Steady, Go!" TV show, broadcast 4 October. In 1964, he had this first bass refinished in polyester sunburst by Sound City of London and had new pickups and pots installed. After that it served as a backup on the '64 tours but in general took a back seat to its newer brother. He then started using his new Rickenbacker bass guitar for recordings from Rubber Soul onwards, Paul McCartney still brought out the Höfner bass guitar for live performances. Some time in 1966 he removed the pickguard. As you know, the 1966 US tour which ended at Candlestick Park August 29, 1966 was the final concert for a paying audience.

Cellotaped to the bass guitar was the setlist from that concert.

When miming to the Revolution song for the music video at Twickenham, Paul opted for his first Höfner, the 1961 model, minus its pickguard. A few months later, both Höfner bass guitars were brought along to the "Let It Be" album sessions. The one seen in the film is the 1963 model, now with a Bassman sticker, lifted from his speaker cabinet. The 1961 Höfner can be seen only in outtakes from the film, for instance in the "Ballad of John and Yoko" promo clip.

The 1961 Höfner in the "Ballad for John & Yoko" video.
The 1963 Höfner with the Bassman sticker at the rooftop concert.
The cellotaped setlist from the 1963 model was read out loud by McCartney on January 8, 1969, as heard in outtakes from the "Let It Be" sessions. The 1961 bass guitar has since been stolen, so upon recreating his younger self for the "Coming Up" video in 1980, the 1963 model Höfner was brought out. Nine years later, it also reappeared in the "My Brave Face" music video, and Elvis Costello then persuaded McCartney to bring it back, and he then started using it on the road again. McCartney had strap buttons added so he'd no longer have to "dog-clip" one end to the tailpiece and tie the other end around the heel and under the fretboard.

The set list was still cellotaped to the bass guitar.
The set list that McCartney had cellotaped to his 1963 Höfner Violin Bass had started to go yellow and was having to have yet another layer of cellotape placed over it, to keep it attached to the guitar. As McCartney went on new tours in 1989-90, the short unplugged tour of 1991 and the new world tour in 1993, he had brought along a few Japanese replica violin bass guitars as back ups, but still preferred playing the original 1963 Höfner model on stage. In early 1993, Paul's assistant John Hammel took the bass guitar to New York, in order for it to be repaired by the world's finest luthier,
Flip Scipio. Because the Höfner was only a cheap instrument, it never held it's tune. Flip Scipio was able to sort this out in two days, before the New World Tour commenced. The Höfner had it's own seat on the Concorde flight.

Flip Scipio and John Hammel with the guitar.
At this time, there were so many layers of cellotape holding it onto the guitar, that the list of songs was now barely visible.
As McCartney then retired from touring indefinitely, the set list was finally removed from the Höfner during the "Flaming Pie" recording sessions.

The setlist as it appears today.
Here's the actual set list, as it looks today, after having removed it from the bass guitar and then peeled off the various layers of cellotape. You can see how yellow it has become, plus the horizontal cellotape marks are visible. The saving grace for the set list may have been that Paul originally had written it on a piece of a Senior Service cigarette box, which is on sturdy thin cardboard.

Still touring after all these years, the 1963 Höfner bass guitar.
After nearly a decade, Paul returned to touring again in 2002, and has been on a never ending tour with different names ever since. Still employing his 1963 model Höfner violin bass guitar on stage, it now no longer has the 1966 set list attached to it.

Thanks to Peter Hodgson for the photos and the story.

New "Cavern" Höfner violin bass, 2006
In 2006, Paul was presented with Serial # 1 of Höfner's 500/1 50th Anniversary Model. This model was produced by Höfner as a limited run of 150 basses to commemorate the 50 years over which the 500/1 Bass Guitar has been produced. It was modelled on Paul's first Höfner 500/1 Bass, and features a solid carved spruce top. Paul has never been seen to play it in concert.

The two vintage Höfner bass guitars:
The 1961 Model
The 1963 Model 


Matthew Love said...

Thanks for the info and for clearing up my confusion about exactly which bass is which. I think I'm getting confused with a Vox bass Bill Wyman was playing around the same era (68-69). Both look very similar to my eyes.

Unknown said...

You should probably also include the "Union Jack" Hofner that you previously reported on (5 June 2012)

LetEmOut said...

I remember reading somewhere that Macca uses a replica whilst on tour as he is afraid of damaging his original 1963 Hofner. I'm sure it was his words too.
Please don't ask me where or when I read this...? It was a long while ago!

The Butobi Brothers said...

Do you have any more info about the theft of the 1961 bass?

wogew said...

I heard that the 1961 Hofner wasn't stolen from Twickenham at all, and that Paul had it for a couple of years after that. It was in storage when it was stolen to order, and I heard it was when the fledgeling Wings were on the road.

Unknown said...

What a great and informative article. That violin bass guitar is without doubt the most iconic instrument in all of rock. You can't see it and not have Macca spring into your head.

Unknown said...

When giving concerts the Höfner bass is the only instrument that is personally transported by John Hammel. I saw him taking it out of the back of his car when he arrived at a hotel. Later he took it with him when he and Paul left the hotel. I doubt therefore that Paul is playing a replica. Look closely and you will see the damage on the guitar's wood.