Why did Paul choose the Höfner violin bass in the early Beatle days?

Discussion in 'Music Corner' started by RickH, Feb 14, 2017.

  1. RickH

    RickH Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Raleigh, NC
    ...instead of any number of other basses such as Fender, etc. Listening to some of those classic early recordings, one wonders what they might have sounded like with a more popular or common bass guitar brand. On "Doctor Robert", for example, the bass sounds a little wonky to me. (Please note that I've been listening to the Fab Four for well over 50 years, lifelong fan).
  2. ChrisScooter1

    ChrisScooter1 Forum Resident

    Athens, GA
    Here's where the story direct from Paul makes a lot of sense and is not a "tweaked" version of actual history...As a young man, Paul was not one to go into debt to purchase instruments (unlike George and John who had no trouble going into debt to obtain their guitars). Even though each Beatle was actually making (comparatively speaking) pretty decent money once they started gigging in Hamburg, Paul got "saddled" with the bass (post Stuart Sutcliffe) and he went looking for a decent sounding and playing instrument that was affordable and ended up liking the Hofner. They spent significant time in Germany and Hofners were more readily available than USA made Fenders or Ricks. Plus, the Hofner was symmetrical and looked "less daft" when strung/played left handed. Remember, this is WAY before modern computerized machinery existed and left handed instruments were costly to gear up and build, much less find in good supply in the UK and Europe, which was still slowly pulling out of the post WWII doldrums. Paul says that Fenders, back then, cost around 100 pounds, where as he could get a Hofner for about a third of the cost. Many UK musicians lusted after genuine Fender instruments, but until Fender Sales began making inroads into the UK market, they were very expensive to purchase and rarely seen in any real quantities in music stores. You are correct, the Hofner is a "little wonky" sounding, but they have a very cool sound, unique to themselves and the tone of the Hofner bass will always be imbedded into the sound of the Fab Four. Paul's bass sound and style, I would argue, was formed while using this bass. He never took the instrument serious until he was saddled with the role and he developed his style while using this instrument. To this day, Paul rarely, if ever uses a Fender. He has said in interviews, he never really quite got along with them. Even his use of the Rickenbacker, Yamaha and Wal basses during the 70's, 80's; all long scale basses, Paul talks about the extra weight and scale length to be a little bothersome. Paul just seems to be the kind of guy that was/is O.K. with finding something unique that he likes and he sticks with it. These days I think he still plays it for two reasons...(1) its now SO iconic, just the SIGHT of it, says "PAUL MCCARTNEY!" (2) Due to its light weight, it probably makes the 2 1/2 hour gigs in his mid-70's easier to manage. I'm in my late 40's and playing heavy guitars, while singing at the same time, is becoming increasingly more difficult for me. It is also worth noting, Paul's bass rig has cracked the code on the low output pickups on the Hofner. It is very easy these days, with some gentle gain boosts and EQ'ing, to make the Hofner sound very full and rich, without sacrificing the "woody" midrange tone that makes it so iconic.
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  3. BadJack

    BadJack Forum Resident

    Boston, MA
    He was using a Rickenbacker in the studio by "Revolver", right? It may be one on "Doctor Robert"...or it may not be. Judges?
    Keith V likes this.
  4. tremspeed

    tremspeed Well-Known Member

    Los Angeles, CA
    I think in those days, especially in the UK, things were very limited with what broke musicians could find and play. John and George played for a lot of gigs before the Rickenbacker and Gretsch were in their hands (and those in turn were shed as soon as Fender and Gibsons were easy for them to get!). Broke, young musicians have almost a burden of choices now.
  5. tremspeed

    tremspeed Well-Known Member

    Los Angeles, CA
    Yeah, he had the Rick in 65. I didn't actually know this but Rick had been making electric basses since 1957, though Paul was almost certainly the first name player to use one.
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  6. segue

    segue No Commercial Potential

    Stuart Sutcliffe played a Hofner before Paul. The German guitars were much easier to find & acquire than any of the American guitars at the time.
    RickH likes this.
  7. goodiesguy

    goodiesguy Boulful Sallad

    New Zealand
    I've always thought it looked rather silly TBH.
    mando_dan likes this.
  8. musicfan37

    musicfan37 Forum Resident

    I'm the opposite, when I first saw Paul with the Hofner, I couldn't believe how cool it looked. :)
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  9. SixOClockBoos

    SixOClockBoos Forum Resident

    The Rubber Soul/Revolver era was mainly a mix of Hofner bass and Rickenbacker bass. Some have the Hofner and most have the Rickenbacker. By Sgt. Pepper, Paul mainly used the Rickenbacker and began using the Jazz bass a bit during the White album recording. Paul later went back to the Hofner for Let It Be sessions and back to Rick and maybe Jazz for Abbey Road.
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  10. SixOClockBoos

    SixOClockBoos Forum Resident

    No wonder why it became so iconic That was the first instance of a violin bass being propelled into popularity.
    musicfan37 likes this.
  11. videoman

    videoman Forum Resident

    Lake Tahoe, NV
    It's an easier bass to adjust too if you're a guitar player first, IMO
  12. Gila

    Gila Forum Resident

    Stuart played Hofner, but different model, looks like Hofner President bass.
    As already mentioned before, main reason was that Paul saw it in a shop and the price was affordable.

    However I remember reading versions of same story, one says he saw it there and it was left-handed model already, other version says he ordered a left handed model after seeing symmetrical body shape of it.

    If it was a right-handed model, when restrung for a lefty, that means when Paul played it in the early days, the tone control switches and knobs should be on top in the photos, are there any pictures like that?
  13. Purple Jim

    Purple Jim Forum Resident

    Little Britain
    I did read an interview with Paul where he said that he chose the Hofner initially because it was light and compact (because he was used to playing lighter rhythm guitars).
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  14. He told me that he liked it. :p
  15. CrombyMouse

    CrombyMouse Forum Resident

    Paul once told me that he liked Hofner initially. He also told me that I am a good man.
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  16. Sheik Yerbouti

    Sheik Yerbouti Forum Resident

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  17. guitarman1969

    guitarman1969 Forum Resident

    London, UK
    Although Paul himself has cited the 'didn't look as daft left-handed because it was symmetrical' as a deciding factor, his first Hofner was actually a custom-made left-handed model.
    Randon Ton likes this.
  18. What’s a “Hofner” bass? The correct spelling of the manufacturer’s name is Höfner: Höfner - Wikipedia
    Last edited: Feb 15, 2017
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  19. 12stringbassist

    12stringbassist Basso Profundo

    Manchester UK
    Paul was offered the bass a good while before he accepted it. He had previously spoken to John Entwistle from The Who about Rickenbacker basses and John's own experience was that the neck had bent on his and so he warned Macca off them. Eventually Paul accepted the bass, probably thinking if it fails, he could just use the Höfner.

    The 4001 became his main bass, both in the studio and live, for many years and he has a few of them. As said, the weight puts him off using them onstage.
    I saw him on the Flowers in the dirt tour and they brought the Höfner bass out first. It got an even bigger cheer than he did.

    Other name Ric users early on included Pink Floyd and the Kinks.
    hi_watt, andrewskyDE and tremspeed like this.
  20. alchemy

    alchemy Forum Resident

    Sterling, VA
    Did Paul ever get back his stolen 1961 bass?
  21. 12stringbassist

    12stringbassist Basso Profundo

    Manchester UK
    Apparently not.
  22. Gila

    Gila Forum Resident

    What other Rics he has? Wasn't the original one in red finish (or "fireglo", more likely), which he painted "psychedelic" with some whites and blues, but then sanded off the finish completely during Wings, actually sanded a bit more, so the horns and the bass looked actually thinner. There are other Rics in his possession?
  23. Mainline461

    Mainline461 Forum Resident

    Tamiami Trail
    Paul and his Hofner driving "Get Back" on the roof top sounded anything but "wonky". Great bass tone imo.
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  24. 12stringbassist

    12stringbassist Basso Profundo

    Manchester UK
    Yes. I think he has 4 of 5 including an all black 'Darkstar' model and a fretless mapleglo.
    It is discussed endlessly at the Rickenbacker resource forum.
  25. 12stringbassist

    12stringbassist Basso Profundo

    Manchester UK
    Why Paul turned down the originally offered bass (as per John Hall, CEO at Rickenbacker):
    "I know for fact that my dad took a right-handed bass to New York for the well known meeting, which was why Paul did not keep the bass, nothing more. Another lefty one was constructed later, reusing many of the parts off that original bass (for reasons unknown to me) and I presented him that one in Summer of 1965 when they did the Hollywood Bowl shows. End of story."

    He also says "The majority of his recorded work has been done with his RIC bass, when he can sit down to play in the studio. Live, the featherweight Hofner is much more kind on his aching back. At age 60 I have begun to sympathize greatly!"

    His fretless Mapleglo:


    His Darkstar:

    Last edited: Feb 15, 2017

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