This week on #askNat we are hearing from Roger Tomlin in Augusta, Georgia who writes:
Hello Happy Nat! I’ve always been curious as to why Paul McCartney (sometime during 1966) removed the pick guard from his Hofner bass. Even to this day it’s missing. Why did he do this? I really like it better with the guard. Any ideas? Bitchin’ site Nat. I never miss it.
Thanks for the kind words, Roger. This is one of those questions that I wish I had Paul sitting right here with me to ask. It would make it so much easier. Why people do what they do sometimes is hard to say. Anyway, I will tell you what I know.
Back in 1961 when Stuart Sutcliffe was still on board as bass player in The Beatles, Paul had a Rosetti Solid Seven guitar that he had converted to a bass and would sometimes play the necessary parts that Stu had trouble with. The guitar was already in rough shape at that point and Paul dropped it one day and decided it wasn’t worth repairing. So instead the whole group joined in and commenced to smash the already damaged instrument to bits – just for fun! At that point Paul became the “pianist” for the group using the stage piano at the Top Ten Club in Hamburg where they were playing. He didn’t know how to play it really, but got by with a few chords.
Shortly before the group made the June 1961 recordings with Tony Sheridan (including “My Bonnie”), Stuart had made known his intentions of leaving The Beatles and Paul realized he needed to get a real bass and fill the vacancy as the official Beatles bassist. Stu lent Paul his Hofner 333 bass for a week while Paul tried to locate an affordable one for himself. In the meantime, being a lefty, Paul played Stu’s right-handed instrument upside down. Paul remembers buying his first Hofner 500/1 violin bass for 30 GBP around this time in Hamburg. He was happy that it’s symmetrical shape kept it from looking “daft” when played left handed.
By around October 1963, when The Beatles were making quite a name for themselves in their mother country, Paul acquired his second Hofner 500/1 violin bass. The 1963 model was similar in appearance to the 1961 but the pickups were mounted apart with one near the neck and one near the bridge. The older model had both pickups next to each other near the neck. (see photos above and below). Paul continued to use his 1963 Hofner through the final Beatles touring days in 1966. In fact, it was during their summer 1966 U.S. tour that Paul changed the appearance of it by removing the pick guard.
Photos taken during The Beatles 1966 U.S. tour reveal that this change occurred sometime between the Detroit appearance of August 13th and the Philadelphia appearance of August 16th. As to why Paul would want it removed, I can only point out a couple of things. First off, concerning the construction, I know that these floating pick guards are suspended over the body rather poorly by means of a couple of thick wire pins which attach at both the bridge and the heel of the neck. It may have become a bother to keep secure. Another possibility is that it may have been more to do with Paul’s preference on it’s appearance. Although I can’t say I’ve heard specifically from Paul on this but I do know that many players of this particular model do prefer the look of it without the pick guard.
After 1966 The Beatles ended their touring days and Paul retired the bass for a couple of years. In 1969 he began using it again and can be seen in the Let It Be film playing it during the legendary surprise Beatles rooftop concert in London on January 30th of that year.
Over the years in the sixties Paul’s second Hofner came to be referred to as “the Beatle bass” and is Paul’s signature instrument. He still has it and uses it on tour today and last I heard still has a 1966 set list taped to the side of the body. As apparent in the photos, he’s never bothered with replacing the pick guard. My apologies, Roger, for not having an actual confirmed account from Paul as to why. In any event, thank you for a great question! If anyone else has further info or something to add, I welcome your comments below.
Also I wish to acknowledge Andy Babiuk for much of the information in the post. His book Beatles Gear: All the Fab Four’s Instruments from Stage to Studio is a great source of information about instruments and other equipment The Beatles used throughout the sixties.
Thanks Roger! Again…anyone reading is welcome to comment below and keep the discussion going.
Thank you to everyone who has sent in their questions! Keep #askNat going by sending your questions to me in any of the following ways:
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Here are some Amazon links to read more on, or purchase, some music and literature related to this post:
1) Beatles Gear: All the Fab Four’s Instruments from Stage to Studio (Book) – 2009 edition of Andy Babiuk’s Beatles Gear. A thoroughly comprehensive account of instruments and equipment used by The Beatles.
2) The Beatles With Tony Sheridan: First Recordings 50th Anniversary Edition – 2011 50th anniversary 2-CD set featuring al the recordings The Beatles made with British singer/guitarist Tony Sheridan in Hamburg Germany in 1961.