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#askNat – concerning Paul McCartney’s Hofner and removed pick guard

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.

Paul McCartney in 1961 with his Rosetti Solid 7 guitar (converted to bass). Note that Paul is playing the instrument upside down with three bass strings. That’s an 18-yr old George Harrison in the background.

Paul McCartney in 1961 with his Rosetti Solid 7 guitar (converted to bass). Note that Paul is playing the instrument upside down with three bass strings. That’s an 18-yr old George Harrison in the background.

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.

Paul McCartney in 1963 with his first Hofner 500/1 violin bass

Paul McCartney in 1963 with his first Hofner 500/1 violin bass

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.

Paul McCartney with his 2nd Hofner violin bass onstage at Olympia Stadium in Detroit, MI on Aug. 13, 1966. Notice the pick guard is in place at this point.

Paul McCartney with his 2nd Hofner violin bass onstage at Olympia Stadium in Detroit, MI on Aug. 13, 1966. Notice the pick guard is in place at this point.

Paul McCartney with his 2nd Hofner violin bass onstage at JFK Stadium in Philadelphia, PA on Aug. 16, 1966. Notice the pick guard has now been removed.

Paul McCartney with his 2nd Hofner violin bass onstage at JFK Stadium in Philadelphia, PA on Aug. 16, 1966. Notice the pick guard has now been removed.

 

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.

The Beatles on the rooftop of their Apple Records headquarters performing a surprise lunchtime concert in London on January 30, 1969. Paul McCartney is playing his second Hofner violin bass.

The Beatles on the rooftop of their Apple Records headquarters performing a surprise lunchtime concert in London on January 30, 1969. Paul McCartney is playing his second Hofner violin bass.

 

Paul McCartney still tours today with his “Beatle bass.”

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:

1) There is a designated form that you fill out right on the website where you can give your name, location, email address and submit your question. The form is right here and is the same form used to submit requests for BROWs (Beatles Rarity Of The Weeks), but modfied to do both BROW requests and #askNat questions.

2) If you are a Facebook user, you can submit your question right on TheBeatlesRarity FB wall at www.facebook.com/beatlesrarity. If you think about it, try to remember to flag your question with “#askNat”.

3) Similarly, if you are a Google+ user, you can submit your question on TheBeatlesRarity Google+ page at www.gplus.to/beatlesrarity. Google+ supports hashtag searchability so it will be helpful if you preface your question with “#askNat” here too.

4) For you Twitter users, www.twitter.com/beatlesrarity gets you to the right place. Post your question and be sure to add “#askNat” somewhere in the tweet.


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.

3) Beatles Music: The Beatles, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr.

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29 Comments

  • Elliott Marx says:

    Very interesting question. Not something I had ever noticed and certainly never thought about. Perhaps something about the mother-of-pearl bowling-ball cheesiness of the pattern had to do with Paul’s decision. Seemed too 1950s American suburbs and not 60s swinging London enough. Maybe Mal Evans or another roadie chipped the pick guard in the chaos of an after show flee from premises and no Phillie music shop had a replacement.
    I know that some bassists feel a certain shame in playing with a pick, which is how McCartney generally plays. Maybe it seemed more credible to play Motown-like, all fingers and groove. Paul may have thought that a pick guard on a bass outed him as a pick user. Since electric bass is one of the youngest analogue instruments we have, McCartney wanted to appear on the right side of history in his technique? – I don’t know. That seems a stretch.

    For some reason I am amused by this topic. It is fun to pretend to be inside McCartney’s head in 1966.

  • Joe Garrity says:

    I personally agree with Nat’s first assessment of the facts. The ’66 tour was frought with issues–The Phillipines incident was still fresh in their minds, the ‘Bigger than Jesus’ comment was hounding them, and the rumors of the KKK showing up in Memphis in a few days must’ve all been swimming in everyone’s heads. I assume that Macca’s pick guard fell off (or was being troublesome), and it probably was the LEAST of his worries–it would’ve been ridiculous to send Mal out into the maelstrom to get it fixed/replaced, and it didn’t really cause a problem with the functionality of the instrument. Paul was already starting to experiment with other basses around that time anyway, leading to the abandonment of the pick guard as a non-issue. The real question in my mind is–where is it? I know that guitar cases end up being recepticles for loads of little bits and bobs over the years, and it could have possibly been carried around for ages. Does he still have it? That’s the question I want answered! :)

  • Andy says:

    Ironically, Lennon did the same with his Epiphone Casino, and Gibson decided (cha-ching!) to produce a line of Epiphone “Revolution” Casinos as such. I don’t know where I was going with this, but I do prefer the pickguard intact, as Hofner and Gibson intended.

  • Joe says:

    Agreed with Nat’s take on this, via Mr. Babiuk’s invaluable reference volume. And I agree with Andy (above), as well.

    I play bass, inspired to do so by the fellow pictured above. I lucked into a ’65 500/1 about twenty years back, pickguard removed. I wish it was still there.

    Still, having bought and played other Hofner basses over the years, I can understand the hassle of replacing one of these pieces after it’s been removed. I’d imagine no one had the patience for it, given that Paul’s noted ,amy times that he doesn’t consider himself a “gear-head.”

  • Great post. I remember seeing an interview with Paul where he confesses that to convert the Rosetti to a bass guitar he took some wire cutters under the hood of an unsuspecting piano. :)

    Also, I feel sure you already know that Paul’s first Hofner disappeared during the making of “Let It Be”. It’s gotta be out there somewhere!

  • YouKnowMyNameLookUpThe# says:

    So if his first Hofner disappeared, why does this one have a set list on it? Or do you mean, the first one as mentioned in the above story and not this one, the second one?

    BTW anyone looking for a neat shelf item, they sell miniature versions of most of the Beatles gear for different eras. Not expensive either. Guitars go for about $25 each and drum sets (including the MMT set) go for about $50 each. Set up with a backdrop of EMI studio wall images and you have a neat diorama near your Beatles collection.

  • Ethan says:

    I have a Hofner bass, and I played it for years with the pickguard on. The ‘floating’ pickguard is attached ito the bass in three places: to the body with a screw, to the neck with a pin, and to the bridge with a pin. Both of the pins are embedded into the plastic of the pickguard, and slot into a tiny hole in the wood. They’re not glued. If either of the pins are not in place, the pickguard flops around. Eventually, one of the pins came out of its home in the pickguard and was lost, which left me with three options: Find the pin and repair the pickguard, settle for a floppy pickguard, or remove the thing. And removing it was the easiest option, and it still looked cool. I don’t know if that’s what happened to Paul, but I could certainly see it being something as simple as that.

  • Robert Spinello says:

    Too bad it’s only one verse.

  • Gatorshoes says:

    pickguards (Hofner included) are plastics known to degrade / offgas to varying degrees over time and (especially if old and stored in a case) cause metal parts around them to turn green and corroded. This has happened to my 500/1 1963 vintage reissue, and from what I can tell, some other Hofner players as well. Anyone else have this?

    example
    http://www.rickresource.com/forum/viewtopic.php?f=14&t=403198

  • David says:

    I wrote some fairly popular articles on Pauls Hofners some years back, and I have my theories as to why he ditched the pickguard:

    The Beatles had taken a short break in touring, and it appears Paul MAY have had the paintjob/finish on the bass touched up just a bit. Some pretty severe cracks were beginning to show in the finish. Either way, he most certainly had the strings changed. John, Paul and George were known for dinking with their guitars, and in short order George’s Epiphone Casino also lost it’s pickguard. I suspect that Pauls was lost either due to a touch up, or, more likely, just plain goofing with the guitar to do it. Johns Epiphone also went minus the pickguard eventually, so you have a series of the lads doing what the other did, as they were wont to do with everything over the years!

  • Anthony says:

    Jut saw Sir Paul last week in Boston. He’s still using the ’63 Hofner without the pick guard. There’s definitely a small wear spot as can be seen in the picture above. The sound is still great!

  • Peter Hodgson says:

    Hello everyone, I had the pleasure of spending a day with Paul in March 1995 at his Mill Recording Studio in East Sussex.
    His first Violin bass, his 61 (cavern Bass ) was stolen during filming for Let it be.
    His 63 ( which was actually made in 62 ) which he still uses to this day, had the pick guard removed during their final US tour, purely to give it a different look, no other reason.
    In 1996/97 Paul took the set list off of the bass, as it has started to go yellow and was held on by layers and layers of cellotape. A big shame in my opinion.
    Around the same time, the bass was sent over with John Hammel to Mandolin Brothers in New York to have work done on the second fret.
    Whenever Paul was fretting an F sharp (4th string 2nd fret) it always played slightly sharper than it should have, even moving the bridge around would not cure the problem.
    This had been the case, believe it or not, from day one, even during Beatles recording sessions.
    I had the pleasure whilst with Paul, of him getting it out for me to have a look at, and to also pose for a photo with me playing it, Paul with his arm around my shoulder.
    Cheers
    Peter Hodgson
    Liverpool

  • Peter Hodgson says:

    Ps Note the blemish on the Hofner body, right next to the bridge pick up, it’s from Paul resting his third finger and pinkie on the body of the bass whilst playing, I call it the finger anchor blemish.
    It’s getting bigger and bigger, it started to appear gradually during the 1989/90 world tour.
    As Paul handed it to me, his exact words were ” whatever you do, don’t drop it, it’s insured for two million”
    Gods honest truth !!!!

  • Peter Hodgson says:

    Hello again, regarding Paul’s Rosetti, as stated above, he converted it to a Bass whilst in hamburg.
    He used Piano Strings, which placed a tremendous strain on the neck.
    In having to get the correct torque on the strings to reach the required note, the strain was unbelievable.
    As stated above, he cut bass strings out of the “house piano” he should have cut strings out of the piano that were a little higher up the scale, as to reach the required note when tuning, the tension on the string would have to be immensely higher than what would have been required with the correct string.
    The neck eventually gave way under the strain.
    The lads smashed it to pieces.
    Paul has stated a few times that it fell apart due to sweat etc… It was the piano strings that ended it’s life

  • Peter Hodgson says:

    Hello again, this is a great insight by Paul’s Technical Manager Keith smith

    http://youtu.be/NaVcSuldAp8

  • Peter Hodgson says:

    I enjoyed watching this video of a Violin Bass being made at The Hofner Factory

    http://youtu.be/qCOycca1ezo

  • Donald Albanese says:

    I was 10yrs. old when I first saw “The Beatles” on Ed Sullavan. I started playing drums at 15 because I was inspired by them. Now, finally, after 50yrs, I will see Paul McCartney at concert in New Orleans. I hope to see Ringo during my life.

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